HE'S BUCKING THE FLEETWOOD MAC MACHINE
By Gary Graff
For Lindsey Buckingham, it's been a year of catharsis, and now he's trying to figure out where all the pieces belong.
It's hardly a perfect fit. On one hand he has the smooth edge of being a member of the immensely popular Fleetwood Mac, which, when it chooses to work, turns out hit singles and million-selling albums by rote.
Then there's the sharp edge of Buckingham's solo work, two albums of eccentric, moody material that pushed a pair of hit singles -- "Trouble" and "Go Insane" -- out of the experimentation.
And finally comes the jagged edge of his personal life, ripped apart by the disintegration of a six-year love affair that's chronicled on the "Go Insane" album.
"I don't know where all of this has left me, and that scares the shit out of me in a way," Buckingham, 37, admitted.
DON'T, FOR INSTANCE, be surprised if the serious, soft-spoken musician ends his affiliation with Fleetwood Mac, and the reasons date back to the band's 1977 monster, "Rumours," which, though it sold something like 17 million copies worldwide to become the biggest-selling group album of all time, forced Buckingham to question his creative motives and goals.
"The outer edge of what I'm doing came as a reaction to, or a rebellion against, certain aspects of the whole 'Rumours' thing," Buckingham explained. "It's important to feel good inside about what you're doing, but there came a point where the phenomenon of the sales transcended what the music was; it was like, it's sold the most albums ever, therefore it's the best album ever.
"That kind of attitude really got to me," he said. "I perceived 'Rumours' as obviously a good album, but not a ground-breaking album by any means. It was an imitative album. The discrepancy between what I felt we had achieved and what people outside felt we had achieved was so great, it bothered me after awhile.
"I just wanted to break that whole sort of machinery, show people there was more going on than met the eye. We didn't have to be victims of that machinery, either. I was taking it as a challenge -- it helped me find the courage, if you will, to be a risk-taker, approach things from a different angle."
INITIALLY, Buckingham thought he could do that within Fleetwood Mac, even though founder Mick Fleetwood repeatedly refused the guitarist's exhortations to listen to albums by the Clash and other punk-new wave bands.
So Buckingham retreated into his home studio, recorded songs kneeling on the floor of his bathroom and incorporating other unconventional techniques. And when it came time to follow "Rumours," he donated a cache of off-beat, experimental and surprisingly uncommercial music that became the cornerstone of the two-record "Tusk" album.
"We had a lot of fans generally fuck off it wasn't 'Rumours II,' " Buckingham said. "I thought it was a good move, but a lot of people didn't, even in the band. They were caught up in it when we were doing it, but six months later, when it became apparent it wasn't going to sell 20 million copies or whatever, Mick and several other people in the group turned around and said, 'You blew it.'"
So for Fleetwood Mac, it was back to the sure-fire commercial style with 1982's "Mirage," and for Buckingham, it was back to "the thing that comes most naturally in the group, which is taking the songs Stevie (Nicks) and Christine (McVie) have written and making them sound like hits." But he called the album reactionary and "slightly old hat," noting, with palpable satisfaction, that it also failed to match the "Rumours" sales grail.
BUCKINGHAM, MEANWHILE, retreated to his studio for "Law and Order," his first solo album that expanded on all the experimental moves of "Tusk" and gave him the first indications that working outside Fleetwood Mac offered more satisfaction.
"Go Insane" has solidified the feeling. In putting the painful breakup of his six-year relationship with Carol Ann Harris on vinyl ("I could be flip about it and say it was cheaper and more fun than going to a shrink," he said, "and probably had better results."), Buckingham broke completely free of the Fleetwood Mac camp for the first time in nine years.
For starters, he played all the instruments himself, and produced "Go Insane" without longtime Mac producer and close friend Richard Dashut, who was "completely burnt out" from working on Fleetwood's last project.
"The whole thing of punching out of the Fleetwood Mac microcosm was very cathartic," Buckingham explained. "I came away feeling very good, not only for having addressed the things that were going on in my life, but having gotten into a different working situation that I found quite healthy."
OF COURSE, that leads into the question of whether Buckingham -- having found happiness outside of Fleetwood Mac -- can bring himself back into the band again.
"That's a very good question," he said. "The whole idea of that is very odd to me right now; I feel so far away from it. I always feel I have approached the whole thing altruistically, putting the needs of the whole above the needs of the individual. But I'm approaching things slightly less altruistically at the moment.
"Like a lot of people, I suspect, I'm real interested to see how it works out," he added. "Because to tell the truth, I've got a whole other album worked out in my head. The best thing I could do, really, is to go back in the studio and do another album on the heels of this."