Sunday, August 23, 2009


Sunday Star Times

THE last time Fleetwood Mac played in New Zealand, Rob Muldoon was prime minister and we still had the "carless days" scheme. There was a major strike at Kinleith Paper Mill that year, and the police noted that a staggering amount of pot was smoked, right out in the open, at the first Sweetwaters music festival near Ngaruawahia.

It was 1980. Fleetwood Mac played two sold-out shows here that year, with most of the band nursing raging cocaine habits financed by the success of their biggest album Rumours, released three years earlier. Rumours was inescapable in New Zealand we heard it in shopping malls, takeaway bars, petrol station forecourts, drifting from the open windows of houses and passing cars. Radio stations thrashed it, and your mum quite possibly played it at fondue parties where the after dinner instant coffee arrived in earthy brown Temuka Pottery cups.

And I played it myself, incessantly. When Rumours came out, I was 16 and Stevie Nicks was a powerful object of desire, a Californian hippie witch with ragged hems and come-to-bed eyes. Now Nicks is 61, and Fleetwood Mac are returning to play their first New Zealand gig in 29 years in New Plymouth in December.

"Really, I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to it," says Nicks from her home in Santa Monica, her speaking voice as nasal and husky as her singing voice. "I came down there on a solo tour in 2006 and I loved it, and so when Fleetwood Mac were booked to come to Australia, I convinced the rest of the band we should play New Zealand as well."

It is, says Nicks, a tour that will delight their fans. They won't have to suffer any new songs; it'll be singalong nostalgia all the way.

"It's our first ever greatest hits tour. In the past, we've always had a new record to promote, and the fans are, like you're not doing `Say You Love Me' because you wanna play a song we don't know? C'mon! So this time we're gonna pick 23 of the biggest songs Fleetwood Mac ever did and play 'em all over two-and-a-half hours. It's like OK, here's our body of work. Here are the best songs we've made since this line-up came together in 1975. This is our tapestry."

And what a rich tapestry it has been. Even within the notoriously dramatic world of rock'n'roll, Fleetwood Mac's career has stood out for its lack of calm and restraint. The band's history resembles a particularly tumultuous soap opera, or perhaps a soft-rock Spinal Tap, replete with madness and cults, lawsuits and lust, bogus touring bands, clandestine shagging, industrial strength bitchiness, oceans of alcohol, blizzards of cocaine. Numerous members have burnt out, flipped out or been kicked out along the way, leaving drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie the only surviving members from early line-ups.

FLEETWOOD MAC was a tough British blues band when it formed in London in 1967, then the addition of McVie's wife, singer Christine Perfect, helped broaden their appeal. By the end of the 60s, they were one of Europe's most popular bands, but then things started to go seriously awry. Guitarist Peter Green developed schizophrenia after taking LSD in Munich. Second guitarist Jeremy Spencer went out to buy a paper one day and joined a religious cult instead.

Replacement Danny Kirwan was fired after destroying instruments in an alcohol-fuelled rage, and another replacement guitarist, Bob Weston, was given the boot after having an affair with Fleetwood's wife. Singer Dave Walker was dismissed due to "attitude issues". Eventually, touring became so difficult that the band's manager put together a fake Fleetwood Mac with no original members and toured that instead.

In search of a fresh start, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie relocated to Los Angeles in 1973. After drafting in new members Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham of California soft-rock duo, Buckingham Nicks, their sound became lighter, dreamier, more melodic. This line-up's second album Rumours won the 1977 Album of the Year Grammy and went on to sell over 40 million copies worldwide, and it's easy to see why. On the surface, Rumours sounds as middle of the road as a white line, but there's a compelling undercurrent of darkness that really evokes its era the drugs, the sexual shenanigans, the emotional carelessness, the hippie dream starting to turn sour.

"Those 12 songs came out of a very dark time, and told the story of their times," agrees Nicks. "That music captured what was going on in everybody's hearts, not just ours. We were telling stories everybody could relate to, so people carried those songs around like their own little mantras."

Immediately before Rumours was made, the Fleetwood Mac soap opera got particularly sudsy. John and Christine McVie split, and the latter started dating the band's lighting director. Adding insult to injury, she wrote "You Make Loving Fun" about her new man, and her ex had to play it, night after night, on the road. Then Nicks left Buckingham and started a secret affair with Fleetwood, who was married to George Harrison's sister-in-law Jenny Boyd at the time. Their affair began here in New Zealand, after a November 1977 concert during the Rumours tour. Soon afterwards, Fleetwood left his wife for Nicks' best friend, Sara Recor, and Nicks began a relationship with Don Henley of The Eagles.

A few years later, one of Nicks' friends died of leukaemia and she married the woman's grieving husband, only to divorce him eight months later.

These were particularly crazy times, agrees Nicks, and constant drug use had a lot to do with it.

"You know, it was a seriously drug-filled world in those days. At the time, everyone thought cocaine was just a recreational drug that could not hurt you. Being idiots, we all said, OK, great, get me some. Now, of course, I have a terrible hole in my nose that really affects my singing, so it did hurt me. It hurt all of us. There's always a price to pay for that kind of behaviour. Cocaine is really acidic; if you're a singer it eats your throat, and eventually it eats your brain, too. And of course, nobody was just doing cocaine back then. It was like, I'm too low, so I'll do some coke, then I'm too nervous, so I'll smoke some pot, and then I'm too stoned, so I'll have a big old shot of brandy, and then I'll smoke a cigarette to wake myself back up again. It was a big nasty circle, and my advice is not to try it, because rehab is no fun whatsoever."

Nicks knows this from bitter experience; she's been through rehab twice.

"I did six weeks at the Betty Ford Clinic to get me off cocaine in the mid-80s. I came out feeling great, looking great and singing great, but then a psychiatrist insisted I go on this tranquilliser called Klonopin to make sure I never went back to coke, so I got addicted to that instead. The next eight years of my life went down the drain! The second time in rehab, I spent 47 days in detox. It was worse than the cocaine detox. I thought I was gonna die! A little later I developed chronic fatigue syndrome, which I imagine is from all those years of misuse of my body."

And Nicks wasn't the only band member paying a price for the millionaire rock star lifestyle. Heavily addicted to cocaine and alcohol, Mick Fleetwood found himself living in a friend's damp basement in the mid-80s, watching soap operas all day. Having quite literally squandered millions on cocaine, he filed for bankruptcy in 1987 and entered rehab soon after. That same year, John McVie was treated for an alchohol-induced seizure, and has been sober ever since. Buckingham left the band in 1987, ending the classic Rumours line-up until a reunion in 1997.

The New Zealand show sees this line-up back together minus Christine McVie, who left in 1998.

"All the flying was giving her panic attacks," says Nicks. "Now she's living in a little castle outside London, with a whole lot of dogs and animals, and she spends her time cooking and having a happy life."

NICKS IS honest enough to admit that Fleetwood Mac is primarily a business these days, an enterprise sustained by stubbornness as much as anything.

"As mad as everyone has gotten at each other for a myriad different things, it always came down to one thing: I'm not leaving! It's like I'm not quitting! You quit! Even during times when we hated each other, nothing was worth ending Fleetwood Mac over. You know, when I joined this band, I was so poor, I was working as a waitress and a cleaning lady. Eight months later, I was a millionaire! We made a lot of money together, so whenever things went bad, we'd say is this really worth ending the band over?"

Nicks sounds tough, confident, not at all the floaty hippie chick she often appears to be. She's a survivor, a woman who has come through hard times with little left to prove. Besides Fleetwood Mac, she has had an extremely successful solo career. Her songs have been covered by the Dixie Chicks and Smashing Pumpkins, sampled by Destiny's Child, cited as an inspiration by Courtney Love, MaryJ Blige and the Pet Shop Boys.

And of course, it would be remiss to overlook Nicks' impact, for better or worse, on the world of fashion. She is perhaps the ultimate bogan fashion icon. Westie women, young and old, still sport Nicks' trademark faux-gypsy 70s look to this day, with the jagged hemlines, the silk scarves, the platform boots, the multi-layered satin, leather and lace.

"The older I get, the more I realise that my little idea of what to wear on stage reached out and grabbed a lot of people. Why? Because my style was easy to wear. When I first joined this band, I used to just go on stage in my street clothes, which weren't great, because I was extremely poor at that point. Eventually I went to [LA designer] Margie Kent and drew her little stick figures of what I wanted, and she made me a stage outfit with a little black top, a chiffon skirt that looked kinda raggy, a couple little jackets. Later I got her to make me a poncho out of chiffon with sequins and beads on it, and some long handkerchief skirts, then added the shawls and the top hat and so on.

"People still copy that whole look today, all over the world, and I think that's because what I wear is easy for all body types. Whether a woman is real skinny or 20lbs overweight, my look works. I've toned it down as I've gotten older, but I still wear much the same thing, as you'll see when I get down there."

Fleetwood Mac's "Unleashed" tour plays New Plymouth's TSB Bowl of Brooklands on Saturday, December 19. Tickets on sale from September 9 through Ticketmaster: or ph 0800111 999.

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