“Bands/Those funny little plans/ that never work quite right …” – “Holes” by Mercury Rev
In Marky Ramone’s memoir “Punk Rock Blitzkrieg,” among the many revelations offered by the riveting read is a particularly disturbing one: According to Marky, leaders Johnny and Joey Ramone didn’t speak to each other for 25 years. They shared a cramped van, thousands of concert stages, a thriving business, dozens of recording studios and countless band meetings during this time. The Ramones stayed together through all of it. But even when Joey was on his deathbed, Johnny refused to break the icy silence.
We’ve all heard the stories behind the splintering of bands – musical differences, arguments over money, betrayals of the perceived and actual variety, spontaneously combusting drummers, and the like. But what makes a band stay together, decade after decade, even if, as was the case with the Ramones, across-the-aisle relationships are about as chummy as chats between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner?
On Saturday, one of the longest-running ensembles in rock music history will perform in First Niagara Center, before an incredibly loyal throng. Fleetwood Mac has been together in various forms since 1967. The version of the band that will perform here – Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie – is the one responsible for 1977’s evergreen release “Rumours,” an album that defined the baroque soft rock stylings of the 1970s, and has sold in the area of 50 million copies worldwide. It’s the sixth best-selling album in the U.S. Billboard chart history, the 14th best in the U.K. charts, and has racked up similar status the world over.
Interestingly, “Rumours” almost didn’t get made, so fraught with tension were relations within Fleetwood Mac by the mid-’70s.
Nicks and Buckingham, who had been together for the better part of a decade, had broken up, and the marriage between John and Christine McVie was headed for divorce. Fleetwood and Nicks were engaged in an on again/off again affair. There were serious substance abuse issues fogging up the mirrors as well. All of this mess was poured into the birth of “Rumours,” and quite likely aided considerably in the creation of the emotional intensity that sits at the music’s core, as well as at the core of its massive fan appeal.
Fleetwood Mac had many successes of the commercial and artistic level after “Rumours,” and even before Buckingham and Nicks joined the band in 1975, had already released several bona fide classics and introduced a few guitar heroes to the world, among them Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer. But it’s “Rumours,” and the soap opera-like environment amid which it was created, that keeps fans coming back for more Fleetwood Mac, and helps the band sell out ever more sporadic tours.
Doubt that this is actually the case? Look no further than the current issues of Rolling Stone, which features the still beautiful face of the 66-year-old Nicks on its cover, and boasts a lengthy interview inside, most of which is devoted to Nicks discussing her relationship with Buckingham, 40 years after the couple broke up. By this point, that relationship might reasonably be described as having entered the realm of living myth.
Every member of this particular version of Fleetwood Mac is at least 10 times richer than any of us will ever be, even in our dreams. None of the musicians need the money. Touring when you’re in your 60s takes a considerable toll on the body. Performing songs that detail painful breakups surely reopens old wounds, every time. Why would the band bother?
Surely, it comes down to the music. Christine McVie left Fleetwood Mac after various reunion tours, way back in 1998, but she’s back on board for this go-round. Why? Even in her abundantly luxurious retirement, McVie missed performing with her bandmates. Nicks has a still-thriving solo career that she could easily ride into the sunset. So does Buckingham. Fleetwood has his own blues band that tours on occasion, and John McVie was diagnosed with cancer in late 2013. And yet, none of them could say no to another Fleetwood Mac world tour.
The magnet that keeps pulling the band’s members back to Fleetwood Mac is Buckingham. Or more specifically, it’s Buckingham’s genius that keeps them all coming back for more. Though “Rumours” features songs written by all five Macs – Nicks and Christine McVie in particular are responsible for the album’s biggest hits – it was Buckingham who crafted the sound of the album, aided immeasurably in the arrangements of Nicks’ and McVie’s songs, and provided the majority of the musical direction.
Buckingham is to Fleetwood Mac post-1975 what Brian Wilson is to the Beach Boys – the principal creative force.
“Lindsey had an amazing way of taking my songs and making them wonderful,” Nicks said in Mike Evans’ “Fleetwood Mac: The Definitive History.”
And that, it seems, is worth much more than mere money.