Q Magazine

Fleetwood Mac and the Art of Implosion

fleetwood mac q story
Source: Mega
Link to FacebookShare to XShare to Email

Fleetwood Mac was a messy musical marriage within doomed romantic marriages within a funhouse of sexual liaisons and extramarital affairs (even the lighting guy got in on it).

The band made monster hit songs, such as chart-topping “Dreams” and the infectious “Go Your Own Way,” but endured no shortage of collateral damage in the process: A hole burned into the nasal cartilage of Stevie Nicks’ nose due to unbridled cocaine consumption; during the recording of Rumors, John McVie was still married to Christine McVie yet he is said to have availed himself to groupies, deprivation tanks and “a very liberal sprinkling of assorted drugs” in the band-house that male members of the group shared (Stevie and Christine were driven to seek refuge in a nearby apartment building); guitarist Jimmy Spencer joined the Family International (a female-abusing religious cult, headed up by David Berg who roped the parents of Rose McGowan and Joaquin Phoenix into another of his groups) right before a Whiskey a Go Go gig on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

Article continues below advertisement
Source: MEGA

An earlier incarnation of Fleetwood Mac, circa 1969.

Then there was early axe-man Peter Green, who took massive amounts of LSD, quit the band abruptly, grew his fingernails too long to allow for the fingering of guitar frets and got so pissed off at management for sending him royalty checks that he showed up at the office with an air rifle.

But none of those outrages appear to have dimmed hopes of legendary Lindsey Buckingham. He joined Fleetwood Mac with then girlfriend Stevie Nicks, and the two helped revolutionize the sound of the band as they entered their period of greatest triumph. Until Christine McVie's death in 2022, he was hopeful for another reunion.

That despite the fact that he clearly does not need the money: In early January 2021, Buckingham sold his publishing rights, for an undisclosed sum, to Hipgnosis Songs. Nor would the genre-defying guitarist likely need the ego boost.

Article continues below advertisement

Buckingham was pushed from the lineup in 2018 and no fewer than two musicians – Neil Finn from Crowded House and Mike Campbell from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers -- were required to fill the gap left by his absence when a reformed Fleetwood Mac went on tour soon after.

Sounding live-and-let-live in the aftermath, he told Classic Rock magazine, “Who knows, maybe we’ll manage to see clear to have one more nice run out there. That would be the proper way to go out.”

True though that may be, nice and proper have never been the operative word when it comes to how members of Fleetwood Mac treated one another. And now they can more than afford to maintain distances.

Band namesakes Mick Fleetwood and Christine McVie sold their back catalogues in 2021. And it might be tough to get Stevie Nicks, centerpiece of the band, back on the road now that she has unloaded the bulk of her catalogue to Primary Wave for a reported $80- to $100-million.

Article continues below advertisement

That windfall surely places her a long way from the lifestyle she lived while embodying the cocaine anthem “Gold Dust Woman.” The song, she told Uncut magazine, detailed “how we all love the ritual of it, the little bottle, the diamond studded spoons, the fabulous velvet bags … I really imagined that it could overtake everything, never thinking in a million years that it would overtake me.”

But things did not start out that way. Back in the 1960s, Fleetwood Mac (with Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass) was a less than extraordinary – in terms of music and lifestyle – rock/blues band with a rotating line-up that seemed to have trouble sticking together.

Guitarists routinely slipped out of the mix and, despite a couple of UK hits over the years (including “Albatross” and “Man of the World”), things did not get truly interesting until Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks fell in.

They brought a sweet pop-sound that informed the self-titled Fleetwood Mac album, the band’s first mega hit, in 1975 – just as Fleetwood Mac was written off as washed up. Rumors came out two years later and went on to move 40 million units.

A star on Hollywood Boulevard, sold out stadium shows and a command performance at the inauguration of Bill Clinton all followed. But behind-the-scenes mayhem was more interesting that anything that made it onto wax or stage.

Article continues below advertisement

Things got wild prior to Buckingham and Nicks joining the band in 1974. Soon before, they arrived in LA at the behest of producer Keith Olson, who recorded them and hoped to break them as a duo called Buckingham Nicks. Somewhere around then, Stevie borrowed Olson’s brand new, gold colored Corvette Stingray.

It had just 350 miles on it. Olson left the vehicle in her care while he went to NYC to mix an album for the James Gang. By the time he checked into his hotel, the 'Vette had flipped off a cliff.

As Buckingham blithely told Olson, “The car is in [your] neighbor’s bedroom.” Olson apparently took it well, as he thought enough of Buckingham and Nicks to play their album for Fleetwood Mac and encourage the band to sign them on.

Buckingham and Nicks, for their part, clearly needed the break. Before they joined Fleetwood Mac, Nicks made ends meet by hostessing at Bob’s Big Boy and earning $50 per week to clean Olson’s house. Meanwhile, Buckingham and his pals sat around Olson’s crib, smoking opiated hash and all but passing out, leaving Nicks to clean around their prone bodies. Things trundled along that way – with a busted record contract and failed tour – until Mick Fleetwood, reeling from guitarist Bob Welch fleeing the group, recruited the couple.

Article continues below advertisement

Freshly energized, the band recorded Fleetwood Mac, released in 1975 and becoming the “monster” that Mick Fleetwood believed it could be. The coupled-up group toured hard, partied hard, and cocaine – which they liked to call “the devil’s dandruff” – regularly stormed down upon them. Each night, preshow, the musicians were handed what the book “Gold Dust Woman” refers to as “bottle caps” of blow.

Source: MEGA

Fleetwood Mac, 1970

Article continues below advertisement

By the time they launched into recording this incarnation’s second album, Rumors, released in 1977, the band was working in a San Francisco recording studio where the shag carpeted conversation-pit had a loaded tank of nitrous oxide as a permanent fixture. Brownies laced with chunks of hash provided stoner sustenance and a continual stream of drug-bearing messengers ferried cocaine to the musicians. Drug use did not do much for anyone’s psyche, as evidenced by Buckingham and Nicks literally breaking up while working on backing vocals for “You Make Loving Fun.”

Between takes, having no fun at all, she told him, “F**k you, a**hole. You can go to hell.”

With Fleetwood Mac having already turned platinum and another big release in the wings, relationships within the band frayed. Things got petty enough that Nicks told Buckingham’s new girlfriend that she had to stop dressing in black. Apparently, the dark shade was a Stevie thing and the new chick needed to choose another color. No worries, apparently, as she hung in for eight years as the significant other of Lindsey Buckingham.

By the fall of 1976, money was rolling in for Fleetwood Mac. Everyone moved into lavish digs and John McVie treated himself to a 41-foot sailboat. Band-members supported their own entourages and operated in the manner of spoiled, disenfranchised rock stars.

Article continues below advertisement

Never mind that a 1977 Rolling Stone magazine cover-shoot depicted Fleetwood Mac sharing a giant bed, making them look like a band in love. According to “Gold Dust Woman,” the shoot provided a handy opportunity for physical contact between Nicks and Fleetwood, which kindled their sexual relationship that kicked off in November of ‘77, while the band was touring in Australia.

But, of course, it did not last, and this is symbolic of how much the relationship soured: Years later when a heartbroken Mick Fleetwood jetted to Hawaii to see an indifferent Nicks, she sent her female posse to gather him at the airport. But, stoned on acid, they screwed up and went to the wrong place. Fleetwood was left to fend for himself.

Back when Fleetwood Mac was still soaring, in the late 1970s, Nicks spent a year as the paramour of the Eagles’ Don Henley. He didn’t mind rubbing it into Buckingham. Once, while the band was on tour, Henley surprised Nicks with a limo full of presents – and had them delivered to a hotel breakfast room where the entire Fleetwood Mac just happened to be gathered.

But there was an even bigger gift. Henley impregnated Nicks in 1979. Initially, he treated her right by shuttling her around via Learjet. Later on, though, when his initial enthusiasm for fatherhood flagged, she had an abortion and, it can be assumed, more or less resumed flying commercial.

Article continues below advertisement

She insisted to The Guardian that her abortion saved the band, saying. “If I had not had that abortion, I’m pretty sure there would have been no Fleetwood Mac... There’s just no way I could have had a child then, working as hard as we worked constantly. And there were a lot of drugs. I was doing a lot of drugs.”

Despite the turmoil, record sales soared, obsessed fans packed arenas and the most ardent of them took to dressing in the witchy, bracelet jangling style that Nicks perfected. The band’s reputation for drug-abuse became so acute that Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie got strip searched by customs authorities in Holland.

Miraculously, no drugs were found, but the experience led the spooked group to opt for private travel from there on out.

As the late 1970s sunk in, punk rock raged and Fleetwood Mac, for all of its popularity and the tricked out 737 jet on which they traveled, seemed bloated, passe, out of touch. By the time the band hit the studio to record Tusk, you needed a flow chart to figure out who was with whom and who was on the outs with whom. Adding to the complications, former Beach Boy Dennis Wilson had moved in with Christine McVie and dug blowing her millions on stuff for himself.

The women of Fleetwood Mac had taken to wearing coke spoons around their necks – as jewelry but also as practical implements – and guys in the band snorted heroically with or without spoons being available.

Article continues below advertisement
Source: MEGA

McVie, Nicks, Fleetwood and Buckingham during the group's triumphant return.

Not surprisingly, in line with expectations, Tusk, while still successful, was a come-down from Fleetwood Mac and Rumors. Album sales were not helped by a ridiculous cover – following a pricy session with Richard Avedon – that featured the producer’s dog. On the upside, for a series of shows in Australia, it’s been written, there was a clause for the band to be met at the airport with at least two ounces of mostly pure cocaine. That kept everyone happy – but just for a little while.

Peace within the group took a hit on the Tusk tour when Buckingham got drunk before a show, played at trying to trip Stevie Nicks mid-performance and made fun of her onstage. Post-performance, Christine McVie slapped the guitarist in the face and doused him with a cocktail.

Article continues below advertisement

But the band persevered. In 1980, while extending the Tusk tour, on board the band’s private jet, borrowed from a Vegas casino and dubbed Caesar’s Chariot, Buckingham suffered some kind of a physical collapse and had to sit out at least one stadium show. Nicks continually struggled to keep her voice in working order, nursing it with hot tea and maybe laying off of the white powders when she could. As Christine McVie cattily put it, “Onstage, she’s like the queen of whatever. But offstage, she’d more like a little old lady with a cold.”

Beyond the tour’s physical toll was a financial one. Amazingly, after spending months on the road, there were no profits to show. Money is said to have been blown on drugs – not helped by private jet runs to pick up cocaine in LA and transport it to stopover’s in the Midwest – and there were allegations that Mick Fleetwood had nipped tour proceeds to cover his wild expenditures, which included a home in Monte Carlo and a cattle ranch in Australia. As stated in “Gold Dust Woman,” the tour ran “on rock cocaine, high degree marijuana, French wine, Dutch beer and Russian vodka.”

It was hardly a recipe for success. In late 1980, Fleetwood confessed to Hit Parader magazine, “I suppose we’re broken up now. God only knows there have been plenty of reasons that the band should’ve broken up.”

Article continues below advertisement

In the decades since then, there have been half-hearted reunions, more platinum albums and stadium-show tours – with the band in a jigsaw of configurations, out to make money as a unit and to satisfy the yearnings of rabid fans – though it was Stevie Nicks who had the most success on her own.

The beguiling Bella Donna record (which almost came out bearing a different title because record execs were squeamish about the drug reference, especially in line with Nicks’ penchant for dabbling in white powders and potentially hallucinogenic herbs), which dropped in 1981 and topped the Billboard charts. Wild Heart, released in ’83, moved fewer copies and sales continually deteriorated with six additional efforts. By the time of In Your Dreams, in 2011, even gold record status eluded Nicks.

Arguably, Mick Fleetwood fared worst of all in the wake of the Tusk tour. He has admitted to doing so much cocaine that he “forgot” two years of his life. John McVie, meanwhile, made the most of his down time: He luxuriated on his boat and occasionally took in L.A.’s music scene.

Facing problems beyond waning sales, Stevie Nicks checked into the Betty Ford clinic, where she may have kicked cocaine but somehow wound up addicted to Klonopin. Lindsey Buckingham trundled along, trying to make a go of it with various solo projects.

Article continues below advertisement
Source: MEGA

Stevie Nicks, the life force of Fleetwood Mac's classic lineup, in 1996.

Christine McVie, for the reunited Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage, contributed to a hit single, “Hold Me,” inspired by her tumultuous relationship with Dennis Wilson. She continued to do solo work and played in various Fleetwood Mac incarnations – though her appetite for hitting the road was dampened by a fear of flying she developed and eventually managed to shake.

Even so, she’s expressed doubts about touring again, pointed out that Nicks has little interest in such an undertaking and told Classic Rock magazine that her ex-husband John “just hasn’t got the heart for it anymore.”

Meanwhile, she said that Fleetwood “would do it in a lighting strike.” After the ups and downs, the money made and blown, the brain cells destroyed and emotions frayed, not to mention talent arguably wasted, it’s easy to see why getting up on stage again is less than palatable.

As McVie told the magazine, “You reach a certain age where you go, ‘Hey, I’m not going to bust a gut doing this anymore.’”


Subscribe to our newsletter

your info will be used in accordance with our privacy policy

Read More