43 years later, the significance of Buckingham Nicks belies its obscurity

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I was 21 years old when I heard Buckingham Nicks for the first time. I was home from school for a weekend, looking through my father’s vast record collection, when he pulled out an old, faded LP from 1973. The corners were tattered, the inner sleeve torn, but the record itself was in perfect form. “I think you’ll like this one,” he said. “It’s Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham before they were in Fleetwood Mac.”

Of course, I had known of the album, but it seemed almost like a myth, with its cult-like vinyl-only status. For my father to just hand it over nonchalantly seemed almost too easy, almost unreal. Just holding it in my hands, looking at the cover — a young, beautiful couple not much older than me, with their long, flowing hair and naked bodies the epitome of the free-spirited Laurel Canyon era California I had become obsessed with as a child — I immediately fell in love.

I think my dad maybe had an ulterior motive. I think he knew that I would go down the rabbit hole, as I am prone to do, and devour everything I could about the album and all of the people behind it. I think he knew how badly I needed to hear its story, maybe more than I needed to hear the music.

I was about to graduate college with a journalism degree. I had made four years of sacrifices so I could write as much as possible, and suddenly it all seemed like it was for nothing. I realized I couldn’t afford to take the entry level, $25K salary gigs my peers were scooping up if I wanted to stay in New York. I hated anyone who told me that I was a good writer, that I was a talented, desirable graduate, because in my mind, I had failed.

The more I listened to Buckingham Nicks, and the more I learned about it, the more I felt like I had crawled inside its world. I felt a kindred spirit with them. I felt hope. They were good. And they failed. They made sacrifices and worked and struggled and poured their lives into creating 37 beautiful minutes of music, and in the end, they were dropped like it was nothing. It would be a couple of years until they found success. I needed that album, and I needed its story.

In the preface to his book “Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis,” Warren Zanes writes:

“Records that last, those special few that refuse dust and return to the player again and again even as the world around them changes, finally become, in some odd way, collaborations between the listener and the listened to. […] The recordings that go beyond that level of correspondence become emblems of more than just one passage in our lives, they become — and I hate to make it all too lofty, but here it can’t be helped — emblems of us, artifacts of self-definition. Such special albums rattle our cages again and again (and sometimes we use them, with limited success, to rattle the cages of others). It’s hard to say why. But that’s what they do.”

That’s what Buckingham Nicks does to me. I still get lost in the building, frenzied guitar solo in “Frozen Love.” I still get sucked into the hypnotic ‘60s slow burn that is “Races Are Run,” and I still find myself falling in love again and again with the simplicity of “Stephanie.” But for me, this album has become about so much more than just the music. It’s stuck with me. It’s rattled my cage.

I turned 25 a few months ago and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I’m now the same age Stevie was when Buckingham Nicks was released. I realized how many times I’ve inadvertently used her timeline as a barometer of my own success. It’s okay that I’m not exactly where I want to be just yet — Stevie didn’t join Fleetwood Mac until she was 27. I have a friend who says 2016 is her 1973. I’m sure we’re not alone in thinking that way. That’s because Buckingham Nicks is an album that has that rare ability to both reflect the time period in which it was made and transcend it.

Because it’s about life — life at a very specific, tumultuous time — and all of the passion and fear and frustration that comes with it. It’s about that feeling that every 22 or 23 or 24-year-old gets and they think that they’re the first to have ever felt it: Like you’re very old and very young at the same time. Like life is both euphoric and terrifying. Like your brain is moving a million miles a minute and everything is happening and there’s so much to do, but you don’t have the time to do it all. Like you just can’t stop thinking about time. Time is of the essence. I’ve got nothing but time, no time for living. There’s too much time. There’s not enough.

It’s about being that age where you realize that everything you’ve been told as a kid — that you are good, that you are talented, that you can do anything you want if you just work hard — might not be true. You get out in the real world and realize you’ve got competition. All of the sudden, life is this giant race and you’re looking around at everyone else trying to do what you’re doing — so many different kinds of people trying to be the same — and you question if you’re good enough, question if you can keep up. Races are run; some people win, some people always have to lose — and you’re praying you’re not the latter.

It’s about making decisions that will affect the rest of your life. Do you always trust your first initial feeling? Special knowledge holds true, bears believing. It’s about the uncertainty of it all, about wanting independence, but wishing for a little bit of guidance once you suddenly get it. It’s about the overwhelming love you have for those rare people you find who stick by your side in the trenches — I turned around, and the water was closing all around me like a glove, like the love that finally found me.

I know this because I am in this period of life right now. It’s a funny feeling — feeling like two icons are your peers. But when I listen to this album, that’s how I feel. We’re just some kids masquerading as grown-ups while we try to figure out how to exactly be grown-ups, as we try to figure out how to be heard in this world, looking at others doing what we want to be doing with a mixture of admiration, envy, determination, and fear.

I wonder if I will forever love this album partly because of that, because it came into my world at such a distinct time in my life that lines up with theirs. I have a feeling that years from now, when I listen to it, I’ll hear memories. I’ll be able to immediately remember this very specific feeling tied to this very specific age that we are right now. I’ll probably find it romantic in hindsight. I’ll probably find it a little bit funny. I’ll probably think “God, was anyone ever so young?” This is where part of me wonders what it’s like to be them right now, what it will be like to look back on the things I’m writing at this age with more than 40 years of perspective.

I’ve said before that a great thing about some music’s ability to transcend time is that part of an artist will forever be preserved as the same age they were in the original recording. But there’s something to be said about the benefit of live performances or re-recordings or re-releases. They allow songs to change and evolve as time goes on (like how the “Landslide” of today has a different meaning and poignancy than the “Landslide” of 1975). They give new life to music, introduce it to new audiences.

That’s not the case with Buckingham Nicks. That may never be the case. Buckingham Nicks likes to talk about Buckingham Nicks, but they never really seem to do anything about Buckingham Nicks. Of the 10 songs, only three* have seen life after 1976, and those performances have been rare. Its elusive vinyl-only status, romantic as it is, is incredibly limiting; it makes it so much harder for people to discover organically. I’ve lost count of the number of times they’ve talked about a re-release only to see nothing materialize.

I wonder if time will forever be frozen on this album, only allowing the songs to live in their original form, forever performed by two 20-somethings. Part of that seems poetic to me, but a lot of it makes me sad. I wonder what will happen once the finite (and relatively small) number of physical copies are gone, what will happen when the few digital bootlegs get slapped with copyright claims and disappear. My father gave me his copy of the record. What will I give my daughter?

I find myself thinking about legacy a lot lately; I’ve been listening to the finale of Hamilton on repeat for a week. Legacy is a key theme of the show, something Alexander Hamilton was obsessed with, something that Lin-Manuel Miranda has made a lot of people reconsider. What is the narrative, and what is our role in it? Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how millions of people know who Fleetwood Mac is, how Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks are household names, yet only a small fraction of those people know about this album. They were a rags-to-riches success story that is so rare these days, one of the last few to really fulfill the American Dream. This album was the beginning. It was the catalyst for everything that was to come. It’s important. It’s more than just a footnote; it’s a story in and of itself that’s so often ignored. Years from now, what will it become of it? I don’t really know. All I know is that it’s a story I care too much about to let die.

*“Stephanie” was included in Lindsey’s last solo tour in 2012. “Don’t Let Me Down Again” was played sans Lindsey on Fleetwood Mac’s 1987 Tango In The Night tour; it popped up once on the 2004 Say You Will tour only to disappear again. “Crystal” was re-recorded by Stevie in 1998.

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