Saturday, June 24, 2006

Walk a thin line

Rumours - Fleetwood Mac

T. S. Eliot had something about arriving where you started and knowing the place for the first time. The actual lines come in the final stanza of "The Four Quartets," a poem I used to know but have, in practical terms, forgotten. As well as I used to know a lot of poetry I dropped and people who slipped sideways and city blocks whose storefronts molted so many times that eventually I passed not knowing them. That's time for ya. You lose things (as
Elizabeth Bishop said more eloquently), but with luck, you find new ones too. And if you're really fortunate, you make big loping, irregular circles and stumble back to original loves--even loves you didn't know you had--and meet them fresh.

I've known Fleetwood Mac forever. A succession of top 40 hits permanently grafted the band's work onto classic rock and adult contemporary radio playlists. So I know them from carpool stereos, backyard parties, pizza places after school and other scenes of comfortable suburban American youth. I know them as "California" and "summer" because they played the real or imagined soundtrack the summer my older California cousin stayed with us when her mom "shacked up" with some man. My dad threatened my aunt that he wouldn't be sending my cousin back. He did. That same summer a California boy named Dan with sun-bleached hair, wire-rimmed glasses and a drum kit in his bedroom, moved up the street. My cousin said he would be my boyfriend by the time junior high started in the fall. He wasn't.

A friend lent me a bunch of Fleetwood Mac reissues about a year ago, so I've had time to try to scrape off the memory residue and learn them on their own terms.

As a composition, Lindsay Buckingham's "Go Your Own Way" is to the pop song what Robert Towne's script of Chinatown is to film: lovely bones, assembled with almost mathematical precision that, nevertheless, fall short of explaining the emotional devastation of the final execution. From its plaintive opening bars, to those itchy shakers, to the guitar solo that takes off so smoothly at 2:38. How can something so fully formed, with such a communally delivered chorus, be about things falling apart? The center holds.

Andrew Earles, who writes a blog (and lots of other stuff) that makes me laugh so hard sometimes I rest my forehead on my desk next to my computer and take deep gulping breaths, said something
about Fleetwood Mac's "Walk A Thin Line" being better than anything released on any independent label since 1990. Earles' is a well-intentioned rhetorical gesture, even if it's ludicrous: Obviously, Pavement wrote several better songs on Slanted and Enchanted alone (though I'd entertain the argument that Matador isn't really indie). But his impulse and implications are dead-on. Fleetwood Mac were professionals making slick records within the dominant mode of music production and distribution, unapologetic rock stars living rock n' roll lifestyles, and they were really, really good.

"The Chain" is cool and measured, tight and tense, malevolent and controlled. Stop start, stop start. Damn your love, damn your lies.

Rumours sold more than 18 million copies. It is one of the best-selling albums in the history of recorded music. But all of the band's work from the mid through the late 70s is excellent. "Rhiannon" is from the self-titled album, self-titled despite the fact that Fleetwood Mac had been an entity since the late 60s and had released ten previous records. But acknowledgment that the band was quite something different in 1975. It had lost multiple members, relocated to Los Angeles and added a couple new ones, including Stevie Nicks, who wrote "Rhiannon." Fleetwood Mac was a new beginning after an end.

Go Your Own Way - Fleetwood Mac

Walk A Thin Line - Fleetwood Mac

The Chain - Fleetwood Mac

Rhiannon - Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac (US, UK)
Rumours (US, UK)
Tusk (US, UK)


Blogger music is art said...

nice post :) fleetwoodmac is amazing thanks for sharing, and for yr words.. i can somehow picture you laughing so hard resting yr head to the keyboard. i like that. haha

7:51 AM  
Blogger jabartlett said...

Nice post. It's sometimes hard to "hear" songs as familiar as these after 30 years. This post helps.

6:31 PM  
Blogger girish said...

A truly remarkable post. Thank you.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Jason Silver said...

Thanks for the post!! Very well written. You've got a great "voice" that comes through clearly in your text.

I am going to have to track down some Fleetwood Mac music! It's been a long time since I've really heard it.

Hopefully the library will have something-- I wonder if it's even in record stores any more... maybe at Cheapies tho.


If I can be so bold, perhaps you would allow me to draw attention to my own music, at

Free Music by Jason Silver


10:14 AM  

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