It's going to get ugly today," says Lindsey Buckingham with a smile.
It's a spring afternoon in Los Angeles, where Buckingham is on his way to a recording studio to meet with Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, his partners in the most successful of Fleetwood Mac's various lineups. The band has reunited for a 40-city late-summer tour, and today's agenda involves listening to songs that had just been taped for an upcoming live album and an MTV special-songs drawn from two performances that, Nicks will say later, "showed us that the last 20 years really did mean something."
So why is Buckingham anticipating ugliness? Because this is Fleetwood Mac, and Fleetwood Mac has never done it the easy way. Over the years, the band has had a dozen members, with drummer Fleetwood and bassist John McVie the only constants. And while the current lineup recorded six hit albums between 1975 and 1988-including Rumours, one of the best-selling albums ever-it set new standards for pop-music turbulence.
Famous for its inter group romances, marriages and breakups, the band was also a hotbed of creative tension. Buckingham, Nicks and Christine McVie, all singer-songwriters, struggled to coexist; Buckingham, meanwhile, chafed under what he felt were artistic constraints after the delightful but forbidding two-album set he'd masterminded, 1979s Tusk, was a commercial disappointment. "I started treading creative water after Tusk," he says. When he bailed out in 1987, after making the album Tango in the Night but before the subsequent tour, he left bitter feelings in his wake.
But now here they are, together again in time for the 20th anniversary of Rumours. The band members all say they're saner, more sober and nicer to each other than they used to be-and they also admit they're surprised that this reunion is happening at all.
"Up until about a year ago, I thought this might happen one day," says Nicks, who'd pursued a solo career both before and after leaving the band herself. "But then, for some reason, I changed my mind. I didn't think it would be any fun to be in Fleetwood Mac again, and I didn't want all that conflict back in my life." Even Mick Fleetwood, who for more than two decades had kept the band running despite personnel changes, called it quits after a 1995 album and a tour with a little-noticed lineup that included veteran rocker Dave and the members of Fleetwood Mac. Mason. "I pretty much let it go, which is very unlike me," he says. "And strangely enough, in the letting go, it came back on its own."
The road back began in Buckingham's home studio when he asked Fleetwood to play drums on a couple of tracks for his fourth solo album the two found themselves getting along well musically and personally; when they needed a bass player, Fleetwood suggested John McVie. "I'm sure he thought 'Maybe there's a bigger picture here'" says Buckingham. " and rightly so. It wasn't sinister at all, or manipulative, it was just visible". He laughs "And then it got a lot more visible when Warner Bros. heard that we were all in the studio, getting along!" Buckingham admits that he began to feel pressured to join in a Mac reunion rather than complete his own album-and this spring, he finally agreed "It's all music, and I just want to be able to keep doing it." he says, still wondering if he has compromised himself artistically "If you can figure out a way to keep moving and have the freedom to do what is truly interesting to you AND keep your record deal, then you're doing pretty good. And sometimes it takes a little strategy, I guess".
Strategic or not, everyone insists the reunion has been free of the troubles that once beset this this band. "There's been conflict," says Nicks, "but we're not angry anymore. Before, we were all angry about so much stuff that we couldn't even remember what we were angry about."
"There is something here that is very deep and un-businesslike", says Fleetwood. "There is real empathy and serious emotional interplay. That brings good and bad things-but the point is, it is there." Some of that as evident at the second of two MTV shows. Over the course of about two hours (short by Mac standards), the band reasserted it's status as a commanding live act with a few new songs and a cross section of hits; tunes ranged from Nicks foreboding "Rhiannon" to Buckingham's charged "Go Your Own Way" to Christine McVie's midtempo anthem "Don't Stop".
When this tour is over, Fleetwood Mac may well stop. But then again, they may not. "This is a wonderful way to close the book" , says Fleetwood "and if it remains open, it'll be because we all want to do it."
The man who has carried the torch for this band since 1967 stops and shrugs. "Six months ago, no one in the band realized that we were going to be sitting here." he says "And very literally don't know where we'll be six months from now."
For what it's worth, it didn't get ugly that day. But this is Fleetwood Mac, and there's still time.