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This is an odd bit of paradise for Lindsey Buckingham. He's ensconced in a plush East Hollywood recording studio, eyes closed, his bare feet tapping at the hardwood floor as he listens to a playback of "Bleed to Love Her," another forceful blend of acoustic guitar and tortured romance from the singer/guitarist. His hands beat silently against imaginary drums. Maestro Buckingham looks like a happy man.
More remarkable is the reason for this musical bliss. It's right there on the video monitor in front of him, confirming that Buckingham isn't here working on some long-awaited solo project, but that he's somehow reunited with Fleetwood Mac for the first time since abruptly quitting that fraying superstar act in 1987. Buckingham is a little surprised himself.
"If you had asked me six or eight months ago if I would be doing this, I would have said no," Buckingham says gravely. The singer/ guitarist had his reasons for leaving Fleetwood Mac a decade ago, even as it was enjoying a new surge in popularity. Various forms of excess had taken their toll. There had also been lingering resentments between him and singer Stevie Nicks in the years after the breakup of their romance in 1977. But most profound for Buckingham, the band had taken a disturbingly commercial direction in the 1980s, and thus could no longer fulfill his dreams of off-center studio wizardry.
"The priorities had gotten a little screwed up," he says. "A lot of people were having personal problems, and it was not a nurturing atmosphere creatively. It was very unfocused. Now that a lot of [that] doesn't exist, I don't know. I have to say I'm enjoying just sharing the situation with these people."
There's a beat of hesitation in his voice, as though he were still trying to convince himself that he should even be here. But the good vibes seem real enough among Nicks, singer/pianist Christine McVie, bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood, all of whom inadvertently reunited this year during the making of a still-unfinished Buckingham solo effort, his first since 1992's Out of the Cradle. "Nobody's pissed off anymore," says Nicks. Maybe so. But the ultimate test is coming now, with Fleetwood Mac's current 40-date national tour, which will deliver the band to the Summit on Sunday.
For the moment, Buckingham's taking a break from mixing The Dance, a new live release culled from the MTV special of the same name. He soon takes a call from Reprise Records president Howie Klein, and you can almost feel the steam rising at the other end of the line as Buckingham describes which major hit songs won't be on the disc. Afterward, he laughs. "Everything," he says, "is about that far from the fan."
Buckingham is dressed in casual black, the hair at his temples and chest a subtle gray -- all the band members are now, after all, in their late 40s or early 50s -- and he slouches comfortably on a porch just outside the control room. The studio overlooks a badminton net and a jungle paradise of green, right in the midst of urban Los Angeles; it's where the band (except for the laissez-faire John McVie) made almost daily visits before going on tour. At a nearby table, Fleetwood speaks quietly into a telephone as Christine McVie prepares to leave.
Before stepping into her car, the singer stops to kiss Buckingham on the cheek. "Good-bye, Lindsey," says Christine, looking reed thin in a T-shirt and tinted glasses. "Don't stress yourself out too much."
That's a tall order in a band that has thrived most when suffering the greatest turmoil. In 1977, Fleetwood Mac discovered profound inspiration in their own shattered relationships for the 20-million-selling Rumours release. That year saw the breakups of Buckingham and Nicks, Fleetwood's marriage and that of the McVies. The result was music energized by bitterness (Buckingham and Nicks) and romantic faith (Christine McVie). Songs were at times accusatory, loving and mystical, with a dark undercurrent that owed much to the ominous brooding of the Mick Fleetwood/ John McVie rhythm section.
For all the tales of bad love on Rumours, it was pure musical escapism, and it connected deeply with the masses. It remains one of the best-selling albums of all time. "We kind of captured the imagination of people back then -- the idea in those days of a sort of heavy-duty alcohol/drug band with broken relationships all kind of singing to one other," Christine says. "We seemed accessible to them, and people related greatly to the content of the songs. And the chemistry between us was awe-inspiring. People used to meet us and feel intimidated when there was more than three of us in a room. It was a pretty heavy-duty thing."
If Rumours was the band's perfect pop document, it took 1979's Tusk to suggest real ambition. It was an unexpected reaction to mass appeal, particularly when compared to the Eagles' utterly disposable atrocity The Long Run, a different kind of reaction to success that was released the same year. Tusk was an outing that eased into focus via gentle strumming and the warm longing of Christine McVie's voice. What immediately followed was a rich fabric of sounds and ideas: Buckingham's subtly twisted rhythms and twangy guitar, the off-kilter piano that opens Nicks's "Sara," the perverse recruiting of the USC Marching Band for a horns-and-drum section on the title track. And throughout, listeners could hear the blissful sense of freedom in Buckingham's voice.
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