Hi, this is me on BBC Radio 5 live talking about Fleetwood Mac and Lindsey Buckingham’s departure. They ran out of time, so I spoke for probably less than a minute — and one of the things I said was “whacked out on drugs” like the baby boomer mom that I truly am — and they pronounced my name as “Gorgon” at the end. But it’s all totally fine because they introduced me as a ~music journalist and podcaster~ on ~BBC~ which was kinda cool, I guess.
I wrote about Buckingham Nicks and Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac and nerdy songwriting analytical stuff and all that “you two hos feed your own melodramatic narrative” bullshit for NPR Music’s Turning the Tables series. Read it here.
Catch the newest podcast episodes here:
Episode 3: Moondance – Van Morrison | November 6, 2017
Episode 4: Tango in the Night – Fleetwood Mac | November 24, 2017
Episode 5: Parallel Lines – Blondie | December 8, 2017
Episode 6: “River” – Joni Mitchell – special stocking stuffer episode | December 22, 2017
This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs. About six months ago, I submitted a proposal for a book on Buckingham Nicks for the 33 1/3 series. It’s in a weird limbo state now, but I’m really proud of the work I did, and I love these words about this album that I love so much that I couldn’t just put them in a drawer and just walk away and wait. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.
“Let me ask you a question first,” producer Keith Olsen says not even three minutes into our first phone call. It’s a warm, beautiful spring day in Lake Tahoe; he’s spent most of it trying to place tom-tom drums on a mix he’s been sent. It’s been tedious work — like Photoshop with a bad picture, he explains — but he’s worked with worse. In the meantime, my call is a welcome distraction.
“Sure,” I respond, caught a little off-guard at how quickly he jumps into things. I thought I was the one who was supposed to be asking the questions.
“Why?” he asks.
“Why?” I repeat his question back.
“Yeah. Why? Why are you writing about Buckingham Nicks? Why do you love this album?”
It’s a simple question, one I don’t have a simple answer to.
I first heard Buckingham Nicks when I was 21 years old, nearly four decades after it was released. I was home from college for a weekend, and though I didn’t even have a turntable of my own yet, I was still trying to build my personal library to have something to play when I did. My father’s seemingly endless record collection that sat untouched in our basement was — and continues to be — a reliable and plentiful resource, one I can sift through countless times and still find something I hadn’t noticed before.
“You’ll really like that one,” my father said when I showed him my selections. He wasn’t singling out his copy of Berlin or Excitable Boy, not Some Girls or Combat Rock or More Songs About Buildings and Food. He pointed to the old, faded LP from 1973 with a wind-blown, half-naked, young unknown couple on the cover, the album that you’d likely never see on a Pitchfork list of must-have albums. The corners were tattered, the inner sleeve torn, but when I pulled it out, the record itself was in perfect form. “It’s Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham before they were in Fleetwood Mac.”
I had known about Buckingham Nicks for a few years, but it seemed like a myth. Later, I would find bootleg digital rips on the internet, but at the time, I only knew it as a cult favorite long out of print on vinyl, never made available officially on cassette, CD, or any streaming service, and rarely talked about. It seemed like the holy grail of records, one that you were either lucky enough to find and hear or not.
Maybe that’s part of its enduring magic. It’s elusive. There’s no instant gratification, no shrink-wrapped copy at Urban Outfitters or quick download on iTunes or stream on Spotify. It isn’t music that presents itself to you. It has to be found, the same way I found it digging through crates of old records in a damp basement one day.
Buckingham Nicks isn’t technically remarkable. Its music and lyrics, at times, sound juvenile, show how young Buckingham and Nicks are, both in life and in art. There’s no clear focus; some tracks could belong on an entirely different project. But, still, I fell in love with it. I fell in love with it because it’s pure. It’s raw. I fell in love with it because, when I hear it, I don’t hear Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, rock icons. I hear Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, two kids my age, completely in love with each other, completely determined to become successful, however success may present itself, and not quite sure of much else.
I fell in love with it because it was unexpected, because it changed the way I looked at the Buckingham Nicks we know now, the ones I was first introduced to as a teenager, who had, until then, lived in my mind simply as two parental figures of rock and roll:
Lindsey plays the role of the aging father: there to tell tales of hedonistic glory days — the stories you can listen to and think of the way you think of your own parents in their youth, both impressed and embarrassed that they were once that cool — with a newly-mellowed and romantic outlook. There’s less of a sting to his art now. He’s less bitter, more sure of himself, but always eager to keep a hand in the game, still wanting to understand what it is the kids are doing these days.
Stevie Nicks is the great maternal comfort, the self-proclaimed fairy godmother to thousands of women and girls who find safety and comfort in her music, whose voice consistently serves as a lighthouse when feel like you have lost your way. Her words offer their guidance and encouragement, whisper confidence in your ears, sing you a soft lullaby when you can’t sleep at night.
By and large, Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks seem like two people who have, for the most part, figured their shit out.
But for 37 minutes, I can slip this record on and those figures disappear. For 37 minutes, they are two young 20-somethings, forever suspended in time and acetate as my peers. For 37 minutes, we are the same: kids masquerading as grown-ups while trying 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. For 37 minutes, they’re just two kids trying to make something happen, knowing where they wanted to be and still trying to figure out how to stumble towards a finish line that seems to keep move further and further away.
It’s odd to think of two icons as my peers, but when I’m lying on the floor of my small New York apartment, exhausted and exasperated and wondering “what am I doing with my life?” yet again, it’s comforting — and almost too easy — to fish this record, this record that my father bought as a 17-year-old kid and unexpectedly passed down to his 20-something daughter, out of its safe spot, put it on the turntable, and think of them as anything but.
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 23 or 24 or 25-year-old gets and they think that they’re the first to have ever felt it: 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. Suddenly, life is a 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.
In a few years, this feeling may no longer be true. It is not lost on me that I am now the same age Stevie was when Buckingham Nicks was released; it’s not lost on me how many times I’ve found myself inadvertently using her timeline as a barometer of my own success. It’s okay that I’m not exactly where I want to be just yet: Look where Stevie was at 23, 24, 25; don’t worry about it too much — Stevie didn’t even join Fleetwood Mac until she was 27.
In a few years, I will likely become like every other adult I’ve spoken about this album with: forever unable to separate it from this specific time in my life, forever unable to listen to it and hear anything other than my youth. I’ll probably hear memories. I’ll probably think “God, was anyone so young?”
Sometimes you love things so intensely for no reason other than because they have become a part of you, and maybe that’s why I’ve come to call Buckingham Nicks my favorite album. It’s not that it’s ahead of its time or profound or perfect. It’s just that, as much as I have wanted to crawl inside its world and stay there, it’s actually managed to do the opposite: it’s latched its claws in my skin, dug in, and embedded itself in my DNA.
“So, we are going to play for you the oldest song we’ve ever played on stage. It’s from the Buckingham Nicks album and—”
Stevie Nicks is on her 19th solo date of 2016. The majority of the audience at Madison Square Garden have no idea that this isn’t her usual greatest hits tour. Most of them came for “Edge of Seventeen” and “Stand Back.” They are blissfully unaware that this tour is different; they haven’t trolled Twitter or message boards or set list sites. They don’t know that, for the two months she’s been on the road, Nicks has been filling the night with deep cuts — one, in particular, deeper than others. And yet, for such a little known album, the mere mention of it draws such screams from the crowd that she has to pause before she can continue.
Nicks continues that this song was intended to be the single, but the record didn’t sell well, so it, and the potential single, was dropped.* “We never played it. We went and joined Fleetwood Mac and we never played this song again, ever.”
In 1973, Nicks was a maid and a waitress, driving a car that was constantly breaking down and perpetually without reverse, trying to support herself and Lindsey Buckingham. Forty-three years later, as a 68-year-old woman — not a Beyoncé or a Rihanna or an Ariana Grande — she sells out Madison Square Garden as a headliner, one of few women in her demographic to do so as a solo headliner in this decade,** and she performs “Crying in the Night” live for the first time since it was recorded 43 years before.
“There were a lot of firsts with them,” Keith Olsen says.
Olsen had not heard from Buckingham and Nicks since Fritz’s demo session at Sound City in 1970 until he got a call from Stevie nearly a year later. Lindsey came down with mononucleosis and quit the band; Stevie had been nursing him back to health, she explained. They had begun writing songs together, cut their own demos on a four track machine, and wanted to visit Olsen in LA to play them for him.
“They came to my house with their four track machine and their little mixer and they set it up and pressed play and I was astounded. I said, ‘Yeah. Yeah, I think we can get a deal.’ So, I took those demos and I started shopping around. I got them, Waddy Wachtel, and Jorge Calderon all signed to one thing,” Olsen says.
In the span of six weeks, Olsen secured a $35,000 budget and a backing band that would find itself switched up more than once throughout the recording process. Wachtel was a staple, lending additional guitar parts and harmonies. Ronnie Tutt and Jerry Scheff, known at the time as Elvis’s rhythm section, snuck into sessions when they had spare time, but eventually had to leave to tour, only to be replaced with musicians like Warren Zevon collaborator Jorge Calderón and Jim Keltner, who had been building a reputation as a go-to session player for everyone from George Harrison to Carly Simon. With a brand new Neve console arriving at Sound City around the same time, Nicks, Buckingham, and Olsen were ready to start recording.
The sounds that have come out of Sound City studios defy the looks of it — even before it became better known for being a grimey, run-down hole-in-the-wall with stained brown shag carpets and chipping paint. For starters, it simply wasn’t built to be a studio. The layout has been compared to a barn — empty and cavernous, too open to contain sound. Somehow, the studio has produced an impressive list of albums, from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Damn the Torpedos to Nirvana’s Nevermind, all recorded on the same magical analog Neve console that captured drum tracks like no other could and gave warmth and depth to an otherwise empty space.
“Buckingham Nicks was the first album ever recorded on that Sound City console. The very first one,” Olsen explains. “I mean, it came out of the box, we plugged everything in that afternoon and into the early evening and it looked like everything was okay. I called in the guys and we cut ‘Crying in the Night.’ When we came in and listened back at the first playback, I remember Lindsey looking at me with a smile on his face saying, ‘Oh my God!’ Because that’s the Neve console. That was that English sound that we wanted to get really bad and there it was.”
Given the album’s stature as not only the first music recorded on the now iconic Neve board, but as the springboard for Buckingham and Nicks’s future careers with Fleetwood Mac, the question of how it has possibly remained “lost” work for 44 years astounds even their closest friends and colleagues.
“I don’t know that anybody really has an answer,” says Lori Nicks, Nicks’s friend, sister-in-law, and backup singer who first met Buckingham and Nicks in 1973 when visiting the studio with then-boyfriend and promoter Gordon Perry, and has worked with Nicks since 1978. “It’s the $64,000 question. I think that Keith would probably have a version of what happened or why it hasn’t happened yet. I think Lindsey would. I think Stevie would. And then their managers, probably, would have something to say about it, as well.”
It turns out, that’s exactly how it is: everyone involved with Buckingham Nicks meets the question of its still unreleased status with a different take, the only similarity between stories being a fuzziness recalling details of deals worked out decades ago and uncertainty of what has happened to the rights or the master tracks or the personal and professional relationships since then.
There are a slew of unanswered questions, but, at the end of the day, what matters most is this: This is a love story. This is a love story in its earliest form, before it burnt to the ground and was rebuilt and branded as a Love Story™. A love story about two kids from San Francisco, new to LA, bouncing checks at IHOP and falling behind on their rent, trying to make it as a duo, both in love and in music. A love story about Buckingham Nicks before they were Buckingham Nicks, America’s favorite musical soap opera.
This is a love story about love in its rawest, most genuine form, the kind that still lives on today when Buckingham Nicks, no longer a couple in real life, join hands and play one on stage, built from 50 years of shared history, a lowercase love story, there to give a sliver of veracity to their stage performances.
This is a love story about youth, about what it’s like to feel very young and very old at the same time, about the love you have for that time period both when you’re in it and when you’re looking back.
This is a love story about the kind of music that rattles your cage, that may not be the best album made, but crawls under your skin and lives there somewhere next to your heart. This is a love story about music that requires playing at every important moment in your life, music that makes you feel like someone else knows exactly how you feel.
Mostly, though, it’s a love story about a lost story. The Fleetwood Mac we know today, the band that has given pop culture not only a wealth of music, but a wealth of soap opera-worthy drama, would not exist without Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. Buckingham Nicks was just the beginning, the catalyst for everything to come. Yet little known is about it, both its creation and its legacy. For years, and for what seems like years to come, its significance has been reduced to footnotes or mere paragraphs in articles and biographies that focus more on gossip, sensationalism, and rumors than music.
Time moves forward relentlessly and though the music itself is not finite, the vinyl that exclusively houses it is. One day the few mentions the album manages to get now will become shorter and shorter. The opportunities for future generations to discover the album, to fall in love with or identify with some bit of it and be curious about its story, will become increasingly rare. It falls to us to tell this story now, before time extinguishes too much of its light.
*Rare copies of a single version of “Crying in the Night” with “Stephanie” as the B-side have made occasional appearances online, and once, a few feet away from me at Bleecker Street Records, selling for the reasonable price of $120, which a not-so-reasonable 22-year-old me nearly bought before a more responsible 22-year-old reminded me that things like rent and student loan bills exist.
**Being a woman over the age of 60 to play as a solo artist Madison Square Garden is a rarity in and of itself. Since 2010, only Nicks, Bette Midler, Blondie (co-headlining with Morrissey), and Patti Smith (supporting Neil Young and Crazy Horse) have done so.
This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs (prompted by two anonymous asks and a couple of tweet requests)
Anonymous said: Buckingham McVie has been out for a full day and you’ve been MIA with a think piece! Could you please share your thoughts on In My World? I’m very interested to know what you think about it.
Here you go:
This is what it sounds like when things fall apart. This is the moment of realization, the wistful, liminal moment between doubt and acceptance. This is the sound of nostalgia, the sound of growing older and growing apart. This is the sound of understanding that not everything can always stay how it used to be.
“In My World” marks a strong return of the older and more contemplative Lindsey Buckingham that has emerged in recent years. He’s less bitter, more introspective. There’s a sense that Buckingham has begun to play archaeologist of his own life, digging into his past, trying to understand what it says about his present, and it’s clearly at play here.
Though it’s an odd choice to introduce a “duets” album with such a solo-leaning first single, three out of four other Fleetwood Mac members leave distinguishable marks on the track. The McVies are used delicately: a tickle on the keys from Christine here and there, noticeable only if you listen closely, John’s bassline pointed and spare. There’s no embellishment for the sake of embellishment; they play only what’s needed, but continuously push the song forward with a feeling of underlying anxiety. Mick Fleetwood’s chugging drums take what could be a soft and tender acoustic tune and give it a bite — with all anguish there is an underlying feeling of resentment.
Maybe we’re lost without the cost of who we used to be.
Joan Didion once wrote that we are all best advised to keep on nodding terms with who we used to be. Some, it seems, are more adept at that than others. Some become lost in the spectacle of the now when they lose touch of the unassuming then. At some point, the road splits, and the further two people drift down their respective paths, the more difficult it will be to coexist in the same sphere. Maybe, then, it’s best for both people to finally admit the need to retreat into their own individual worlds, though that’s not without reluctance.
It may seem obvious to interpret some of the song as a pointed message at Stevie Nicks, but it wouldn’t be obvious if the two didn’t make it so, well, obvious. After more than 40 years of creating public dialogues, of communicating with each other through song, this is to be expected. The elephant in the room is being addressed right away: Buckingham McVie is essentially Fleetwood Mac, just without Nicks, and what do they have to say for that?
It’s been 14 years — to the day — since Fleetwood Mac’s last full length album. These past 14 years have been a game of will-they-or-won’t-they record a follow-up, with the verdict riding on Nicks’s agreement. For 14 years, save for a four song EP in 2013, Nicks has gone back and forth in the press, one day confirming her involvement, the next denying it, until a March 2017 interview with Rolling Stone seemed to make the most definitive statement:
I don’t think we’ll do another record. If the music business were different, I might feel different. I don’t think there’s any reason to spend a year and an amazing amount of money on a record that, even if it has great things, isn’t going to sell. What we do is go on the road, do a ton of shows and make lots of money. We have a lot of fun. Making a record isn’t all that much fun.
In my world, everybody stays, nobody wishes for words they couldn’t say.
You can’t have one foot in the door and one foot out. You’re in the band or you’re not. Buckingham gave the ultimatum to Christine McVie when she left the band in 1998. It wouldn’t be out of the question to assume he gave a similar one to Nicks, though that’s not to say that finding the words to do so was easy.
Even the grandest of disagreements can’t erase their 50 years of shared history. Buckingham’s animosity is laced with sadness. There’s a sense of longing, almost, that he could still fix things, that things could be the same as they were all those years ago, that it didn’t have to come to this. But people grow up and grow apart and things change and no matter how much we try or wish or dream about our own fantasy worlds, we have to move on, have to admit that we will never be the same as we were.
Sonically, “In My World” recalls the sound of Tango in the Night, from the usage of the “oohs” and “ahhs” prevalent on “Big Love,” to the glossy production, almost as if to give the darkness a sheen. Out of pain comes something of beauty. It’s sparse, though, full of space between the drums and simple guitar melody. That almost empty feeling would make sense in a solo composition — I can only envision it getting a quietly powerful acoustic performance similar to “Shut Us Down” — but as Fleetwood Mac-lite, it feels unfinished. Its incompleteness is most tellingly and painfully noticeable in the absence of the lush three part harmonies that have become synonymous with the classic Mac lineup. Perhaps this is deliberate: as much as it’s a song about letting go, there is still space; it’s still open to the possibility of another voice filling that empty spot.
At the end of the day, though, that feels like nothing more than wishful thinking, the lingering reluctance to let go and move on in a song about letting go and moving on. This is what it sounds like when things fall apart and you realize that, for your own sake, you cannot keep trying to put them back together.
Last Halloween, my best friend, Carly Jordan, had an idea: what if we turned all the time we spent analyzing every little thing about albums for fun and turn it into a podcast? Every other week, we’d discuss a different album and share our unconventional love of older music; we’d try to bridge a generation gap; we’d try to carry the torch.
After a few months of questioning if it was an appropriate time to release a music podcast, it’s here. In the coming months you’ll hear us talk about a variety of albums, from Betty Davis to Talking Heads to Big Star. But to start, we kicked off with our favorite (obviously) — this little known nugget from Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham from their days before Fleetwood Mac — because how could we not? Sneak a peak of each post below and be sure to follow (details below) for more.
Two years before joining Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham had no idea what lay ahead of them. They were just two kids who wanted to make great music — and they just happened to be in love.
A cult favorite of Fleetwood Mac fans, this album is curiously still only available on vinyl. While bootlegs of the album can be streamed on YouTube, it has never been (officially) released on cassette, CD, or to streaming services like Spotify. This is perhaps part of the attraction to the album — this is music that doesn’t outright present itself; it must be found.
In this episode, we discuss why we both call this album our favorite of all time, what makes it unique, and why it still takes our breath away hundreds of listens later.
The first thing I thought when I heard Bon Iver’s new album, 22, A Million, was: “This is their Tusk.”
Twelve hours of listening to it on repeat later, that first impression still sticks. It’s a broad comparison, but, it’s also a very specific one. Both are the third albums from bands that built reputations on very specific genres, then turned everything upside down. (Ed note: of course, Fleetwood Mac had several albums before Tusk, but for the sake of this argument, I’m looking at the discography from the now-iconic Buckingham Nicks era of the band.)
Fleetwood Mac had built a reputation as California soft rock stalwarts; Bon Iver were beacons of the millennial acoustic folk revival. Instead of continuing to comfortably work with the same formula, they both decided to push the boundaries. This isn’t new; this isn’t unique. As Pitchfork noted, plenty of iconic artists, from Bob Dylan to Neil Young, have abandoned their roots to explore new territory. And it’s not the first time Justin Vernon has played with sound, but it’s the first time Bon Iver has gone all-in, 150 percent.
So many artists in the past were reviled for their experimentation; it’s taken us decades to truly appreciate how ahead of their time they were. What’s different now, what excites me, is that we’ve reached a point in pop culture where we don’t reject change. We expect it.
We want our artists to become innovators. We want to see them grow and explore and break new ground, push the status quo. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But when they succeed at trying something new, unconventional, and unexpected, it’s a jolt to your senses. It’s exciting. It reminds you why you love music in the first place.
22, A Million is radically different than Bon Iver’s previous two albums — it’s synth heavy, built upon layers of electronic vocals and distorted samples. But it’s also the same. Dig a little deeper: there’s still a haunting wistfulness, a desire to make sense of this world and what everything means, what life means, in every lyric. “It might be over soon,” Vernon repeats in 22 (OVER S∞∞N).
It might be. Maybe that’s morbid thinking, but the thing is, we just never know. Life is very long and very short at the same time. Life could be over tomorrow or in a month or in several years. But we just don’t know, so why not do all the things we were too scared to try? Why be complacent?
Change is good. Embrace it. Treading water will never get you anywhere.