The Who locked up eternal life in Tin Pan Valhalla by creating the rock opera, with Tommy. The latest inductees, Fleetwood Mac, have earned their immortality by living rock’s first soap opera. If the heart is a wheel, then success is a centrifuge, and just as their LP Fleetwood Mac was becoming last year’s hottest seller this side of Frampton (four million), domestic disaster struck all five of them. Singer/keyboardist Chris McVie and husband/co-founder/bassist John McVie were legally separated after seven years of marriage; singer Stevie Nicks and lead guitarist/singer Lindsey Buckingham, the Californians who had recently joined the three veteran English stars, saw their eight-year relationship sink into the west; and drummer Mick Fleetwood, the other co-founder and the only Mac mated with a civilian, got divorced from wife Jenny Boyd after six years.
Rather than allow the fourth and finest incarnation of the 10-year-old outfit to go asunder, the Macs forced themselves to become a sort of inadvertent recording T-group, putting their 24-track trauma into the inventive LP Rumours. Delicately autobiographical (but not maudlin) with tunes like “Second Hand News” and single hits “Go Your Own Way” and “Dreams”, Rumours has already inspired nearly three million big Mac attacks in record stores. The album crested at No. 1 on all charts last week.
Not only did the band withstand all that psychic heat for 11 months in the crock-pot of the taping studio, it is also currently weathering a massive city tour of America’s largest indoor and outdoor arenas. The experience has been maturing and mellowing.
No Mac flinches any longer when an ex brings a companion aboard—Chris’s boyfriend is the tour lighting director, Curry Grant. Indeed, they can even come together for inspired closely woven harmonies, especially when Stevie’s overworked voice is in form. What holds the music in place is Mick Fleetwood’s uncomplicated, crunching drumwork. And at 29 he is the band’s underpinning offstage as well. Its “Mother Hen,” by his own term, though Big Daddy might be more apt—he’s the 6½-footer they look up to for stability and counsel, particularly now, he says wryly, “because my divorce failed.” After four months he remarried wife Jenny last fall. “But I’ve always been the most protective of Fleetwood Mac,” he says, justifiably, considering the personnel shifts every few albums. “It is,” he says, curling half a smile over his euphemism, “an invigorating situation.”
“When we started Rumours in early 1976,” he recalls, “we were all in an emotional ditch. Everybody knew everything about everybody. But I was the piggy in the middle because I had less trauma than the others.” Meaning that he alone didn’t have to work with his ex-spouse. Recording, says Fleetwood, who is more reflective than most rockers, “is like an expedition—you learn fast who you can and can’t stand. But remarkably,” he adds, perhaps idealizing a bit, “there is no competition in our writing. All material is chosen by consensus, and everyone seems to take criticism without putting up walls”—which is to say they’ve somehow sublimated romantic discord into artistic harmony. (Rumours’ eleven tunes were written by Buckingham, Nicks and Chris McVie.)
Fleetwood, who with John McVie heads the group’s Seedy Management Inc. office in L.A., acts as the band’s manager. He reads all their official mail—from promo men gloating over a single turning gold in Holland to attorneys suing into submission the imposter “Fleetwood Mac” touring group. Along the way Mick has also had to cope with difficulties like the loss of earlier Macs. Of the two original lead guitarists, Jeremy Spencer wound up in a Jesus-freak movement, Peter Green in a psychiatric hospital. To keep things in order this time around—though it’s soiled their Cinderella image—the band has surrounded itself with officious, oppressive roadies and crew members who insulate the rock heroes from fans and press.
Fleetwood is that rarity among rock stars, a glutton for busywork and responsibility. “I need it, I cling to it,” he says, raising his eyebrows for emphasis. “Something hidden in me attracts a weight to keep me preoccupied. I have never faced living without that. If someone put me on a couch for therapy, it would probably come out that I feel I don’t have a chance to admit any weaknesses. But I’m not a superman,” he pauses. “I too might need a little help when I’m vaguely off the rails.”
Indeed, of all the Mac matchups, it was Mick’s that derailed first, and he concedes the possibility that “my split-up catalyzed the others in the band.” At the time of the separation, he crashed with friends when not touring, and Jenny took daughters Lucy, now 6, and Amy, 4, to an L.A. apartment. “Jenny knows now that being with me equals being with the Blob. I was never really aware of leaving her out of the scene, and I was not about to change to make it work. It was selfish of me.” (Rock tours and other pilgrimages should be nothing new to Jenny, however. Her sister Patti married George Harrison in 1966 but is now getting divorced after living with Eric Clapton for several years.)
“Mick and I saw each other throughout,” says Jenny, 29. After a brief involvement with another man, she went to the U.K.—a trip which “cleared the cupboard out,” according to Fleetwood. “I went home to England to be by myself,” she says. “I’m very close to Mick’s sister and I stayed with her. I realized what was happening. That brought me back to reality.” She continues: “The love was always there. I joined him on the road last summer again, and it’s been wonderful ever since. We’re much closer, more understanding.”
“Now,” Mick admits, “I am more aware that there is someone at home.” So, rather unromantically, are painters, carpenters and other overalled—if not overawed (“I’m being royally taken—they all think I have an endless stream of money”)—workers remodeling Mick’s new $110,000 home. It sits high over the rolling rocks of Topanga, at the top of a paved slalom winding down to Pacific Coast Highway.
The son of a now retired British Air Force wing commander, Fleetwood was born in Cornwall but spent three years in Cairo and later lived in Norway when his dad was with NATO. “I shot up at 9” (height, not heroin), he says, and in boarding schools he used his wingspan to clear advantage as a fencer and soccer goalie nicknamed Spider Man. When he decided to drum in blues-rock bands in England at 15, his parents were totally supportive: his father bought the drums. “It was always ‘Go off and see it through,’ and for that my parents today have complete respect for what I’ve done.” (Just possibly there is a master’s thesis to be written explaining the fact that Elton John and John Denver were also air force brats.)
Fleetwood is still a U.K. citizen but pays the majority of his taxes here as a permanent U.S. resident. “When we first came here, we didn’t make enough money to become exiles,” he explains. Like the other Macs, they’ve settled in California. Fleetwood says their last LP did not, as reported, earn them $400,000 apiece. But a quarter of a million, in his own estimate, isn’t just fish and chips. “I know this business bloody well. It’s up and down, up and down. Eleven years of sloggin’ away and now,” Mick pauses, almost too weary to fully connect with the size of it all, “incredibly successful. It has, as they say, paid off.” Yet can the Macs keep it together? As they wrote sardonically in the one cut co-composed by all five in Rumours: “I can still hear you saying / You would never break the chain.”