Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why I Didn't Like Fleetwood Mac In The Summer Of '77

   In the summer of 1977, I went on a teen tour across Europe, a follow-up to my successful 1976 teen tour of the U.S.  For those not familiar with teen tours in the '70's, it was a group of several dozen teenagers guided across Europe (or some other continent) by a woefully inadequate number of adult chaperones (three, in our case), while the tour operators huddled in their New York offices and prayed that no one died.  My memory of all the specific cities we visited is a bit hazy, although I recall being in London, Paris, Rome, Munich, Vienna, Bern, Amsterdam and Madrid.  (I would consult my photos for verification except that I don't have any.  During a reunion with some of my tour-mates the following year, I asked a friend of mine to hold my photos in her bag during dinner and I forgot to get them back before we said goodbye.  I haven't seen her since.)
   While we did a good part of our traveling by plane that summer, we also spent a lot of time on a chartered bus driven by a German guy named Hans (although most of the girls on the tour called him "Hands" because he was always trying to grope their titten und arschen).  Our bus was equipped with a cassette deck and a decent sound system, but because we weren't told about this amenity in advance, we only had 4 tapes among the 3 dozen-or-so teens on the tour.  These were the pre-Walkman days when people didn't routinely travel with cassettes because a high-tech portable cassette player looked like this:

   Our music choices that summer were limited to the Beatles' 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 (affectionately known as the "Red" and "Blue" albums) and Fleetwood Mac's 1975 eponymous album and its follow-up, Rumours.  (I can't recall whose tapes they were, but I'm guessing that one person brought the Beatles tapes and another person brought the Fleetwood Mac tapes, because if four people had randomly brought those four tapes it would have been a really weird coincidence.  Or maybe one person brought all four tapes.  It was 39 years ago.  I really don't remember.)  On the bus there were two distinct camps: Those (including myself) who always wanted to hear the Beatles, and those who always wanted to hear Fleetwood Mac.  (There was a smaller contingent of 4 or 5 girls from Florida who were obsessed with Bad Company, but unfortunately for them we didn't have any Bad Company tapes.)  As soon as we took our seats for the start of a bus trip, the shouts would begin: "Beatles Red!" "Beatles Blue!" "Fleetwood Mac Rumours!" "Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac!"  (No one ever shouted out "Fleetwood Mac eponymous!")  Over the course of the summer, I would guess that we probably heard each album about the same number of times, but at the time, it seemed like Fleetwood Mac was always playing and that the Beatles were hardly ever playing.
   Prior to the summer of '77, I sort of liked Fleetwood Mac.  I wasn't a huge fan, but I certainly didn't dislike them, like some of my friends who dismissed them as "that California easy-listening faux-rock shit."  It would, of course, have been impossible to listen to pop/rock radio in the mid-to-late '70's without hearing a healthy dose of their songs (at the time, my radio station of choice was New York's WPLJ-FM) and I was certainly not immune to the catchy charms of "Monday Morning," "Second Hand News," "Over My Head," "Don't Stop" or any of Stevie Nicks's shawl-encrusted songs about lost love, witches or past lives.  I have a vague recollection of seeing them do a filmed concert performance (later called a "music video") of "Rhiannon" on "The Midnight Special" in 1976.  That may have been the first time I saw Fleetwood Mac perform, as opposed to just hearing the radio versions of their songs.  I don't exactly remember what I thought of that 1976 performance at the time, but now it's nothing short of amazing.  I only wish that the editor had included more shots of Stevie dancing during the instrumental break, because the close-up of Christine's hands playing piano isn't particularly stimulating.  (I'd also like to go back in time 40+ years and tell Stevie that "Love can be unkind" would be a good rhyme for "Dreams unwind," but I think the song turned out pretty good without my help.)

   During that teen tour summer, however, I grew to resent the Fleetwood Mac supporters and, by extension, the band itself.  I saw my pro-Mac tour-mates as obstacles whose main goal was to rock-block me from hearing those 54 exquisite Beatles songs over and over and over.  And then over again.  (Ironically, though, one of the rituals among my friends and I that summer was to form a circle with our arms around each other and sway back and forth while shout-singing "The Chain."  At the time, I thought that we could have just as easily picked "A Day in the Life" or "Let It Be" as our group song, but in retrospect there was something about the droning melody and lyrical simplicity of "The Chain" that readily lent itself to teen rituals like dancing around in a circle or slaughtering farm animals.)
   While I didn't exactly hate the band or their songs, I opposed them in the way one might root against a college sports rival.  You always want your team to win, and that summer, my team only had a .500 record.  I carried my Fleetwood Macrimony through my college years and into the mid-'80's, but sometime around 1987–the year Lindsey left the band–my distaste for them faded and I once again found myself able to appreciate and enjoy their songs (the two events were completely unrelated–I'm certain that Lindsey didn't leave Fleetwood Mac because the band was back in my good graces).
   In fact, when Fleetwood Mac reunited for the The Dance in 1997, I became mildly obsessed with them.  I used to study that concert video like the Zapruder film, looking to discern subtle meaning from the body language and looks exchanged between Lindsey and Stevie, especially on "Landslide."  (I also found Mick fascinating, with his glaring eyes and intense facial expressions, but Christine and John not so much.  They seemed remote and disinterested–not only in each other, but in the songs, as well.)  A woman who lived in my building at the time was similarly obsessed with The Dance, and we used to watch the video together in her living room while mimicking Lindsey and Stevie's mannerisms and stage moves  (I usually got to be Lindsey).  At the end of "Landslide," we would even exchange the "Thank you Lindsey"/"Thank you Stevie" closing salutations–just like the real Lindsey and Stevie!  (Watching that video today makes me nostalgic not just for that time in my life, but for that time–and earlier times–in Lindsey and Stevie's lives.)  My friend and I thought our Lindsey/Stevie moves were pretty slick, but in hindsight, we were probably like a couple of out-of-shape exercisers who thought they were doing a good job keeping up with "The 20 Minute Workout." 
(Although I must admit that I still think I did a pretty good job of swinging my imaginary guitar neck from one side of the mic stand to the other, like Lindsey did [at 5:04] during "Silver Springs."  I owned that move.)
   Decades removed from my anti-Mac bias of the late '70's and '80's, I have now come to realize that Lindsey (with his strummy-picky-plucky playing style) is one of the great guitarists of his era and "Go Your Own Way" is one of the great songs of the 1970's, although for 25 years I was mis-hearing the song's lyrics.  Whereas Lindsey was singing "Loving you/Isn't the right thing to do" and "You can go your own way/Go your own way," I had thought he was singing "Loving you/Is the right thing to do" and "You can go your own way/Don't go away" which would have made it one of those passive-aggressive "go/don't go" songs, instead of the straightforward end-of-a-relationship song that it is.  I'm grateful for the lyrics sites on the internet that finally allowed me to learn the actual words to that song and others.  (For example, it was nice to find out what Mick was singing on "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Gimme Shelter."  And for years I thought that the "Honky Tonk Women" line "I laid a divorcee in New York City" was "I later did four straight in New York City.")  But keep in mind that not all lyrics sites get the lyrics–or titles–right:

The version of "Go Your Own Way" from The Dance is my favorite live version of the song, not only because of Lindsey's exuberant guitar playing and enthusiastic stage-roaming, but also because of Mick's incredible drumming (with a percussive assist from Lindsey at the end).

   I don't own any Fleetwood Mac studio albums, I've never seen them in concert, and the radio station I currently listen to rarely plays them, but  it seems that they're destined to enter my life–for better or worse–every 20 years.  So now I'm curious what they have planned for 2017.  Maybe a Rumours fortieth anniversary tour.  If that happens, perhaps I'll get in touch with some of my old tour-mates and arrange a reunion with them at one of those concerts.  And maybe then I'll finally get my photos back.

1 comment:

  1. The incredible drumming is what initially attracted me to this great song. I read that Lyndsey Buckingham had to coach Mick Fleetwood through it at first.