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August 12, 1997

FLEETWOOD MAC FINDS IT CAN'T BREAK THE CHAIN

ROCK: After 10 years apart and 20 since its greatest achievement, members of the group's best-known lineup finds they don't always go their own ways.

By BEN WENER
The Orange County Register

Listen to the wind blow
Watch the sun rise ...

The lights come up. The pieces begin to fall back into place. And a 20-year-old notion finds new life.

It's hard to pinpoint the moment when it was understood. The song that metaphorically speaks of it is one of the few equally attributed to all five links of Fleetwood Mac, yet even when it was recorded its magnitude couldn't have been foreseen. That it shows up midway through The Album — ''Rumours,'' the mordantly beautiful mega-seller (17 million copies) born out of inner turmoil and broken romances within the band — further hints at a gradual realization.

Maybe it is only fully grasped at this moment in May, as Mick Fleetwood and John McVie steamroll a swampy beat while Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks (hitting full Gypsy Woman stride) scream ''Chain — keep us together'' inside a Warner Bros. Studios soundstage to several hundred ardent fans.

It's not clear. All that is certain is that this indescribable force — ''The Chain'' — first aligned itself in 1977, when ''Rumours'' began to fly, spending 31 weeks at the top of the chart, and bittersweet, contradictory songs such as ''Dreams'' and ''Go Your Own Way'' dominated the radio.

But understand that since then no member of Fleetwood Mac's strongest and most memorable lineup has been able to completely break the chain formed during that banner, hit-filled year — not even when they've tried.

And man, have they tried.

''This bond between us is too strong now to ever fully walk away from,'' Nicks says by telephone weeks after the soundstage performance that partly led to tonight's MTV special, ''The Dance,'' as well as a coming CD release and 40-date reunion tour.

''Nothing in Fleetwood Mac was ever bad enough to make anyone really quit. Even when Lindsey left (in 1987), it wasn't because he didn't like the Mac anymore. He just wanted to do a different sound.

''Fleetwood Mac is just what it is. It doesn't change.''

Break the silence
Damn your love
Damn your lies ...

That's a strange thought coming from someone who came to the group in its 10th lineup since its advent as a blues outfit in 1967. Since Nicks and Buckingham joined in 1975, however, no other version of the supergroup compares, its reputation built mostly on three enduring, extremely well-crafted records — ''Fleetwood Mac'' (1975), ''Rumours'' and ''Tusk'' (1979) — that, along with the Eagles, Steely Dan and Jackson Browne, defined West Coast rock.

The '80s, however, brought despondency, restlessness and the extinguishing of the band's creative spark. Solo albums — both Nicks' and Christine McVie's commercially successful ventures and Buckingham's critically lauded efforts — became more important. And 1987's ''Tango in the Night,'' the last studio effort to feature all five, seemed perfunctory, as if they each had their sights on different horizons. Even the band's 1993 one-off appearance at President Clinton's pre-inaugural ball found them going through the motions.

So maybe the Chain was just a mystical marker for a specific point in time. Why, then, break the silence, reuniting to celebrate it?

It depends on whom you ask.

''I never didn't want to do this again,'' says Nicks, 49. ''The idea's been broached every year since Lindsey left, but I was sort of waiting for him to decide it was time to do it again. Lindsey sort of holds the cards when it comes to this kind of thing. It's frustrating, but he likes to keep focused on one thing at a time.''

So why did Buckingham finally relent?

''Why indeed?'' he says with a laugh in a separate telephone interview from his Los Angeles hotel room. ''There's a point of view that is probably debatable that basically says the visibility from doing this ... of having taken off 10 years and now being reinserted back into the group, that that visibility would be helpful in terms of rolling over into a solo album coming out.''

Please, say it's not that crass.

''Actually, it's not,'' Nicks counters. ''I think the band is very aware of Lindsey's intentions and why he's doing this. He would like us to all think that it's just for the benefit of a solo album, but that's not really the case. I've seen him with that sparkle in his eyes, where he's exploding with delight. It happened when someone yelled 'welcome back' during the taping. It goes beyond just promotion with him, whether he admits it or not.''

Indeed, the reunion is more happenstance than planned campaign. During the first part of this year, Buckingham was working on his fourth solo disc (which he says is 90 percent completed) when one by one the remaining members were brought in to assist.

That's when the Chain came back together.

''Forgetting about career strategies and anyone's personal agenda,'' says Buckingham, 49, ''the simple fact is that when we got back together with all five of us in the room, there was really a profound sense of completion, of the cycle coming around again. And that our involvement was helping to improve our lives again, which was something we hadn't felt in a great while.''

That eye-opening moment was especially telling for Buckingham.

''There was a long period of time where I was out there trying to prove something to myself and to other people with my work, and to do that I had to basically reject my past. I began obsessing over everything, which was good in that it forced a very disciplined set of working patterns, but it gave me no life for 15 years. At some point you realize you've worked through that. You've proved something, but it's not about rejecting your past anymore. And you can celebrate again.''

And if you don't love me now
You will never love me again

Of course, talk of a celebration sent the folks at Reprise, the band's label, reeling. ''When word got back to them, some light bulb must have gone on,'' Buckingham says. ''You know, like, 'Ding-ding-ding ... formula! Ding-ding-ding ... Eagles!' ''

Joking aside, it is hard not to cast a leery eye at the Fleetwood Mac reunion, especially now that sky-high ticket prices are expected for coming shows. (Best seats? Probably about $125 apiece — before service charges.)
That's even more maddening given Nicks' and Buckingham's awareness of a new generation just discovering the power of the Mac's best moments. (That, in part, is why the special is on MTV rather than the more boomer-oriented VH1.)
Even Gen-X icons such as Courtney Love and Billy Corgan sing the band's praises. ''They've discovered that we're not the enemy anymore,'' Buckingham says.

''I guess they know that we've kind of been through it all,'' Nicks says to explain the newfound fan base. ''I don't know at this point what there is to say about our history other than that we had a lot of problems, we did a lot of drugs and that was part of what kept us going, and that it's all down there on record.

''People today know that. I know Courtney knows it. She can look in my face and see what I've been through and know it. Maybe she went through worse with Kurt, but we've been down those same roads.''

Today, however, those roads are smoothly paved, even if conflicting personalities may never change. This is, after all, a band that created its most stirring work out of yelling at one another in song: Nicks' philosophical ''Dreams,'' Buckingham's heartsick command to ''Go Your Own Way,'' the vulnerability lurking in Christine McVie's otherwise buoyant ''Don't Stop'' and ''You Make Loving Fun.''

''There'll be some arguments, there always are,'' Nicks says of the pending tour, ''but no one would be so stupid as to jeopardize this now that it's finally happening.''

Most importantly, the reunion allows the members of Fleetwood Mac to reassess their work without the baggage that cluttered the view the first time around.

''Every one of those songs on 'Rumours,' they're all wound up in every one of us. When I sing 'Gold Dust Woman' now I'm still transported back to that time, but now I can step back and examine it better.''

For Buckingham, it means a chance to return people to the meaning behind the songs. ''I got a little uncomfortable with how big 'Rumours' became because it got away from what the music was really about — the musical soap opera, the underpinnings of drama and pain.''

And Nicks and Buckingham agree that the others — save for Christine, who Nicks says is doing this ''as a favor'' to the others — have been living for this moment.

''This is Mick's and John's life,'' Nicks says. ''They'll never be in another band.''

And now, Nicks says, life seems eerily back to normal.

''Look at the new songs. Lindsey: 'My Little Demon.' Stevie: 'Sweet Girl.' That same odd dichotomy between optimism and pessimism. We don't work at that. It just happens, you know? Some things never change.''

I can still hear you saying
You would never break the
chain