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Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac: The Autobiography
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Mick Fleetwood has been a member of the ever-evolving Fleetwood Mac, one of the world’s most successful and adored bands, for over four decades. Here he tells the full and candid story of his life as one of music’s greatest drummers and bandleaders, the cofounder of the deeply loved supergroup that bears his name and that of his bandmate and lifelong friend John McVie. In this intimate portrait of a life lived in music, Fleetwood vividly recalls his upbringing tapping along to every song playing on the radio, his experiences as a musician in ’60s London, and the earliest permutation of the band featuring Peter Green.
Play On sheds new light on Fleetwood Mac’s raucous history, describing the highs and lows of being in the band that Fleetwood was determined to keep together. Here he reflects on the creation of landmark albums such as Rumours and Tusk, the great loves of his life, and the many incredible and outrageous moments of recording, touring, and living with Fleetwood Mac. Fleetwood describes these moments with honesty and immediacy, taking us to the very heart of this multilayered journey that has always been anchored in music.
Through it all, from intense love to plaintive heartaches, from collaborations to confrontations, it’s been the drive to play on that has prevailed. Now, then, and always, it’s Fleetwood Mac.
IF MUSIC BE THE FOOD OF LOVE …
Play on. Two words, no more, but they’ve said it all to me.
They’ve been, at different times, a simple direct order, a call to action, a mantra and a comforting concept that promised rebirth. I first read them in the most beautiful and romantic couplet in Twelfth Night, my favourite of Shakespeare’s works. I’ve never forgotten it; in fact I took it to heart immediately because it spoke to me. When things have moved me so profoundly in this life, be they people, places or things, no matter how they’ve come to me, I’ve made them forever a part of me. I’ve signed countless autographs with the phrase ‘Play on’. I’ve said it to many people in many contexts. As I’ve made my way through life, as intricate and difficult as it has often been, as ecstatic and debauched as it has too often been, those words have always been with me. What they’ve come to mean to me has been a rock when the rest of my world was set adrift.
The entire couplet is the inspiration behind the title of Fleetwood Mac’s fourth studio album, Then Play On, released in 1969, which I still count as my favourite record. My second favourite is easy to choose: it’s Tusk, released ten years later by a very different incarnation of the band – the only one that many of our fans are familiar with. To those fans reading these words, please do stick around, you’ll be amazed to learn how many roads we travelled before we met you.
On the surface, Then Play On and Tusk have little in common sonically, but listen deeper and you’ll hear a band with its back against the creative wall, recording music at the brink of its existence. Both of those albums were made when we would either play on or cease to be, and when the idea of overcoming the insurmountable through creating anew was the only way out for us. I can’t say that I saw it as a solution, but I felt it as my faith, and I preached to my compatriots to play on – and that’s what we did.
I’m still here, lucky enough to be partnered with the greatest musical comrades I could ever hope to have. We have been through so many ups and downs, and though I denied it for years, particularly to my loved ones, I know now that since this band began, I have devoted my entire life to it. In every incarnation Fleetwood Mac has brought me so much joy that I hope whatever our fans have taken from the music is a fraction of what I’ve got from it. I’ve also realised, through trial, lots of error, growing older and hopefully wiser, how much that choice has weighed on my family. It’s hard to devote yourself to a musical family of our magnitude while trying to nurture one of your own; it’s an unfair tug-of-war I am still working out.
Music is a beautiful language, one that anyone with a beating heart can understand, no matter where they’re from. We need to share that, we need to honour that; it’s one of the only things that defies the boundaries humans love to erect. Music has seen me through everything – because when all else failed me, it remained the one thing I could rely on. It was, literally, the only thing I knew I could do with some degree of skill. More than that, it has always brought me joy and allowed me to find my centre. When I’ve felt lost in life, if I’ve lost myself in music, I’ve always found my way again.
I am sixty-five years old at the time of this writing, looking back at forty years in rock and roll. My first gig as a drummer took place in London in the 1960s when I was still a teenager too young to be legally drinking, even in England. I had no proper training, just a desire to be a part of the culture I saw evolving, combined with an innate attraction to rhythm. I went after a dream and found it backing some of the best English blues players of my generation during a time that changed history. I didn’t plan any of it, but I did believe that if I stayed true to my muse, I would find my way. And I have – though it’s never been easy.
On my farm in Maui, Hawaii, an island that I’ve been visiting regularly since the 1970s, and of which I’ve been a full-time resident for over a decade, I have a weather-sealed barn full of memorabilia: photographs, journals, clothes, cars, endless video tapes, concert recordings, all of it bits of Fleetwood Mac and my life. As much as I’ve always been driven creatively to move forward toward something bigger, brighter and unknown, I’m also a deeply-rooted nostalgic. I adore photos, mementoes, all bits of ephemera that represent each and every time and space I traverse. I’m a hoarder when it comes to these things. I love to document the moment, as much as I realise how much that moment is transient, nothing but a stop on the road.
I am thankful for that preservationist instinct because, having moved houses so many times, across continents, from the UK to Australia to Europe and the States, it’s a minor miracle that so much of this stuff is still in my possession. I’m not sure how to accurately convey what it’s like to open a photo album and find a Polaroid of a friend who has passed away, or pages of handwritten lyrics of songs, all of them with edits by my bandmates, from decades previous. A flood of memories wash over me when I find these treasures, all of them new again, focused by the perspective I’ve gained in the years since. It’s a beautiful kind of limbo, seeing yourself, your past alongside your present, through a new set of eyes.
I share this by way of an explanation of how this book began. My co-writer and collaborator, Anthony Bozza, interviewed me on my farm in Maui for Playboy magazine in March 2012, at a time when I’d just unearthed over fifty hours of footage of Fleetwood Mac touring Japan in 1977; the culmination of the Rumours tour. We were in our prime and it was the finale of the band’s highest high to date, so I hired a film crew to travel with us, giving them free rein to capture us both on stage and off. My intention was to edit the film and release it as a feature to run in cinemas the year after we wrapped the tour. That never happened; so many things got in the way, and I forgot about that little film for thirty years. I wasn’t even looking for it when I found it: I was trying to locate home movies my parents had shot of my siblings and me when we were kids. Instead I found a pile of tins in a box that had somehow made its way intact through the various storage units I’ve had over the years.
I had all of it converted to digital, preserving the saturated colours of the original work as much as possible, then I hired an editor and set about doing an organisational rough cut of what I decided would be a film, a DVD, who knew – I just knew it had to be shared. I was reviewing the first edit of those forty hours of history when Anthony arrived. It was wonderful to relive those all-but-forgotten moments with Anthony, a life long Fleetwood Mac fan. It refreshed my zeal and excitement and so began our journey. Over the course of the next two years, during trips to Maui, and time on the road during our 2013 tour, he and I relived the past. The result is what you now hold in your hand.
This book will not be a definitive history of Fleetwood Mac; you can find the facts and figures and plenty of rumours elsewhere. This is much more personal. It is the story of all that has ever mattered to me, the moments, the people, the time. It’s the story of my life in rock and roll and the blues and how the band that has meant everything to me came to define me. I used to say that wasn’t the case, but I know now that it’s true.
I see things with wonder each and every day. Sometimes I wonder how the hell I got here. I love drumming and I know I’ve never been suited to do much else, but truth be told, I regard myself as a guy who happens to drum, not as a guy who is a drummer. It’s a strange and subtle contradiction, but it’s part and parcel of how I see things and how I’m just now learning who I am. I’ve always valued progress over reflection, and romanticised drama and chaos more than I should have. I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m taking the time to look inside now. I’m still a student. I’m still ‘in process’.
It reminds me of another philosophy of mine that I rely on when the going gets tough. When it all becomes too much, pick yourself up and go somewhere. Go somewhere you’ve never been, somewhere you’ve dreamed of going, somewhere romantic and mysterious. Go anywhere you can, because a journey is an adventure and adventures are how we learn who we really are. Writing this memoir has been a journey for me and I invite you to join in my adventure. It’s time now and I’m ready, so if you’re coming with me, off we go.
THE OLD MILL
Windmill, Norfolk, 1939 (an excerpt):
We stayed a week and awoke each dawning to the mournful cry of the curlew.
The old mill echoed to our youthful laughter
And we lived, oh how we lived.
Every minute was savoured as something special, something rare,
As if we knew the sand was running out
And each second should be cherished with infinite care.
My sweetheart looked at me with fear in her eyes,
‘That telegram that arrived today,
‘Tell me my darling, what did it say?’
It said, ‘Rejoin squadron without delay’.
Wing Commander Fleetwood
I come from a very warm family. My father, John Joseph Kells Fleetwood, my mother Bridget Maureen, and my sisters Susan and Sally, and me, we were always close. We were the type of family that did everything together and always had dinner together, usually my mum’s homemade healthy food: lots of soup and roasted chickens, green beans and potatoes. There was always an abundance of huge belly laughs round the Fleetwood dinner table all our lives.
My parents moved house nearly every three years because of my father’s career as a wing commander in the Royal Air Force, so for most of my early childhood we were freshly arrived in a new country. Our family unit was the only thing that was familiar and constant, and I believe the ever-changing backdrop and the feeling that we were strangers bound us even closer. I can recall the wonder of it all quite easily, because as a young boy I was fascinated, as were my sisters, by the exotic places where we lived. Norway and Egypt were wonderlands quite different from the UK, which we considered our true home. They instilled within me the idea that the world was a vast place full of amazing and very different people. It was also a great rock-and-roll training camp for me because I became used to travel and being a stranger just passing through. Both sets of my children travelled a lot as kids and inherited the same comfort with moving around.
My earliest memories are of learning to fit in wherever I was, which served me in ways I had yet to understand in my future life as a musician. I have a few vivid memories of those days before my teens. I remember nearly drowning in Egypt; I’m not sure how or why I got into water too deep for my abilities, but I was pulled out by a man in a flowing blue cloak and when I looked up at him I thought he was a magician. He was very much another type of being, which is how my time in Egypt and in Norway left me feeling overall. This was a good thing: I realised, even at my age, that there was something special about their culture and that I should learn from the people who lived there. It was the proper way to do things, which was how my parents taught us.
My parents had a warm and wonderful relationship with each other and seeing that throughout my formative years affected my concept of love and what a romantic relationship should be. They cherished each other; they were best friends, always laughing together and completely in love and, aside from us children, they valued their time alone together above all. My mother was an anchor for my dad and supported all of his pipe dreams. He pursued his writing for three years after he left the Royal Air Force and before he rejoined civilian working life. Mum supported him by moving the family onto a sailing barge to cut costs and to allow him a sanctuary in which to create. She didn’t for one minute question him nor complain about living on this odd little boat. Dad did his thing and though it didn’t work out, there was no resentment or love lost between them.
My mum had a knack for both keeping my dad’s feet on the ground and finding a way to make his dreams a reality. They’d planned, well ahead, how they would spend their later years, blissfully on their own in the South of France after we kids had flown the coop and Dad had retired from the RAF. The problem was that Dad didn’t have the money to buy a house in the south of France, so the two of them came up with a plan they could afford. They leased a small parcel of land in Le Muy in the Provence region, near some farmland just a short ride from the Mediterranean coast. They put a caravan on it, the non-motorised camper type that gypsies would live in, and installed plumbing, and every summer they would go down there and have their time to themselves. Later on, when I had the means, I bought a parcel of land next to theirs and a second caravan to go with it so that my sisters and I might visit them. It was a gorgeous piece of land with a view of the ocean and I hoped to build them a house on it eventually. It was such fun to live there like gypsies. My parents loved it and planned to live out their years there.
Dad was always well turned out. It was a holdover from his military days, because that expression meant your appearance was impeccable: a perfect spit and polish on your shoes, down to the soles, and with your hair and collar perfect. He had been in the Household Cavalry in addition to the RAF so he knew how to present himself properly. He had style and I really liked that. My mother did too, she loved to dress up and they always checked themselves in the mirror before they went out to a cocktail party. We weren’t brought up surrounded by wealth and luxury, but my parents did a lot with a little and they always looked great. They also had fun up until the very end. I’d bought Dad his dream car, a red convertible Mercedes, and the two of them talked about driving it to their place in the South of France with the wind in their hair.
Unfortunately my father was taken from us too early, well before he and Mum had time to properly enjoy their golden years. When he became ill, at the age of sixty-two, I endeavoured to get them down there for at least one more week, but sadly that wasn’t to be.
My father was an Irish storyteller and a wonderful, generous soul; the type that still believed he hadn’t done enough at the end of his life, even though his list of achievements outshines most. He was a gentleman and a dreamer and I’ve done my best to live my life as I imagine he would have, because he was a true role model. I know that I’m very lucky in this regard, because so many people go through life without a guide, and without parents who led by example. My father flew planes, he led men in wartime, and along with Mum he taught my sisters and me how to live and how to love, and I’m proud that I truly knew him. So many men never know their fathers as men, but not me. As adults, before he passed away, we really got to know each other.
I attended quite a few schools in my youth, not only because we moved frequently but also because I was a terrible student. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn, I did and still do. I have a curious mind and I enjoy all manner of history, science and philosophy. I’m also fascinated by what would be considered ‘fringe’ subjects – the occult, conspiracy theories, and so on – as much as I am by traditional fields of study. The desire was there, but it was disproportionate to my abilities. I have what would be diagnosed easily today as severe dyslexia, so reading, reading comprehension, and most of the basic skills required to stay afloat in school without major assistance are absent in me. Back then, particularly in the UK, learning disabilities weren’t understood or even accepted, so students like me were simply left behind. My parents only knew I had problems at school.
Not once did they make me feel that I was disappointing them or that I’d failed them. Nor did they ever beat me up and tell me I needed to go to college. I just have a sense that they understood, as I did, that school wasn’t for me. They didn’t know the shame I felt at being so unable to succeed. It wasn’t easy to show them tests where I’d scored zero per cent, nor did I want to tell them that the times when I had got some paltry per cent right, I’d had to cheat. I found cheating to be worse than failing because it’s so exhausting, constantly trying to cover your bases. Dyslexia is very hard; you spend hours going in circles because you don’t know how to go in a straight line.
My days at school were nothing short of torture. I developed what I’ve come to call, since it has followed me through my life, the ‘Blackboard Syndrome’. It is a form of paralysis that I can trace back to the very first time I was asked to go to the chalkboard to answer a question. I can’t remember the subject – perhaps it was maths – but it wouldn’t have mattered; I was done for the moment my name was called. The anxiety of performing something I didn’t understand before my class was more than I could bear. If the teacher had handed me a piece of paper with the answer just before calling me, it would have made no difference. The act of walking to the front of the room and attempting to reason through anything at all in front of my peers was just too much for me.
I’ve suffered from the Blackboard Syndrome for years, so now I understand that it is a lethal combination of performance anxiety and my dyslexia, a duo of traits that renders me useless under pressure given certain conditions. If I feel the pressure to produce or to get something ‘right’, added to the fact that I know myself well enough to distrust my interpretation of ‘the facts’ and ‘the answer’, and I have no one close by who can help me reason my way through it, I find myself in a bind. You’ll see how it has played out in my life and how I’ve learned to live with it, but as a young man in school there could have been nothing worse. Absorbing knowledge in the traditional schoolbook and classroom setting is the antithesis of how I’m able to learn things. I was a fish out of water in an organised educational institution, no matter how liberal or progressive it may have been – and believe me, my parents tried everything under the sun.
School was a matter of survival for me each and every day. I did what I could; whenever I felt that a teacher might call on me, I’d raise my hand first and ask to go to the bathroom. Some of them figured this out and waited for my return to call me up front. This made things even worse, knowing that a trial awaited me upon my return to the classroom. When they got me up there, I would stand, taller than anyone else in my grade class (I’d shot up past them all by the time I was ten, suffering the bone-wrenching aches of growing pains in my legs every summer) and I’d go mute. I’d just stand there and say nothing. I’d do my best to waste time while appearing to work out the answer, which essentially consisted of doodling on the board. I wished that I could draw better, because I was crap at that too, thinking that maybe if I drew something clever at least I’d get a laugh and perhaps a benevolent pass from the teacher.
It never worked out that way. Instead I was too shy and too paralysed, which made those moments at the board last forever, until the teacher realised just how little I knew and just how poor a student I was and finally had mercy on me. What I needed was a sense of humour and a form of expression. Alas that came much, much later, after I’d abandoned school altogether.
I’m quite convinced that the brain I have comes from my mum’s side, because my mother and her kin have a very different, very wonderful way of thinking – one that’s not suited to stereotypical ‘straight’ thought. My sister Susan had the same issue that I do, and like me, she found a way to turn it into something positive and creative. She became an actress and made it a part of her art.
What I didn’t know was that my dyslexia would later serve me well once I turned to playing drums. It wasn’t clear to me until years later, when I really began to think about drumming, which was something I found myself doing quite naturally. After I’d become known for drumming, and had a ‘style’ that people talked about, I began to ponder, wonder what exactly that style was. By nature what we drummers do is manage a series of spinning plates, but I realised quite quickly when I found myself talking shop with other plate-spinners that my methods of keeping my plates spinning are entirely my own. When I tried to explain it, they thought I was having a laugh at their expense or entirely mad.
That made it all crystal clear to me – my drumming was an extension of the Blackboard Syndrome. I really had no idea, nor the ability to explain in musical terms, what I was ever doing in a particular song. Upon further reflection, I’ve realised that all of this stems from my learning disability, and now that I’ve made something out of my irregular way of processing information, I’m damn glad. Dyslexia has absolutely tempered the way I think about rhythm and the way I’ve played my instrument, or any other for that matter, and that’s the long and short of it.
In the late 1970s Boz Scaggs opened up for us on tour and he had the incredibly gifted Jeff Porcaro on drums. Jeff was still a teenager, and a couple of years away from getting together with his brother to form Toto, who went on to great success in the 1980s. Jeff, may he rest in peace, died at just thirty-eight, but in a short period of time, as a session drummer, had a career that defined the sound of that decade. He was, literally, a part of every big pop and rock record that charted in the 1980s. Along with many of his bandmates, Jeff played on mega-huge records like Michael Jackson’s Thriller and so many other albums and singles of that era.
That was years ahead, but I’d been aware of Jeff even before he showed up in Boz’s band. People talk about talent like his the moment it emerges on the touring circuit, and after watching him play just once I was quite intimidated that he was in our supporting band. His style was so technically perfect and consistent that it gave me a huge dose of the Blackboard Syndrome.
It didn’t help that once the tour got under way I noticed Jeff sitting at the side of the stage watching me each and every night. He and I had met but we hadn’t spent much time together, and that didn’t change as the tour drew into its second, then its third week. Still, there he was, every night, watching me play, for the entire set. It rattled me, but I played through it, with the aid of a few additional servings of brandy and red wine. Eventually I’d forget he was there and go about my business. Then sometime during the third week of the tour he came to my dressing room.
‘I give up,’ he said. ‘I can’t figure it out so you’ve gotta tell me. Tell me how you do it.’
‘How I do what?’ I asked, completely befuddled. I really had no idea what he was talking about.
‘I’ve watched you, I’ve tried to understand it. Nothing you do up there makes sense, but it sounds beautiful. What’s your method? What are you doing during that last fill in “Go Your Own Way”? I can’t figure it out! I’ve been watching every night. What do you do in the last measure on that last beat? Is the snare ahead or behind? Is the hi-hat off beat by two quarters or is it a little more than that?’
‘Oh,’ I said, taking a huge breath. At least I had an answer, just not the one he wanted. ‘Oh, fuck. Really … I have no idea. I’m telling you, truly, Jeff, I have no idea at all.’
Jeff Porcaro didn’t believe me at first; in fact it was clear that he thought I was being coy and pretentious. I don’t blame him because the idea that a drummer with my experience had no idea of musical nomenclature was ridiculous. It was only after we continued to talk that Jeff realised I wasn’t kidding around. We eventually had a tremendous laugh about it, and when I later told him that I was dyslexic, it finally made sense. He analysed my playing from the perspective of a trained drummer and explained to me that my fills weren’t precisely the opposite of what a traditionally trained drummer would choose to play, but they were something close to it. Yet all of it worked, which is what Jeff couldn’t get his head around. I had nothing to offer, because I don’t ever make a conscious decision to place a hi-hat accent a half beat behind the beat while my snare is just ahead, what I do just comes. I do what feels right and I always have. It’s something that Lindsey Buckingham has come to rely on me for and I’m very proud of that. I have what he calls the feel.
I might as well say it now: I have no idea what I’m playing, each and every time I play our songs. I’ve never played the same thing the same way twice – which has driven many a producer and recording engineer to near madness. I really don’t know what the hell I’m doing up there. Lindsey Buckingham can vouch for me when I say that there have been more times than either of us would care to count that he’s had to tell me what to play by sounding it out. He and I share a language all of our own comprised of noises that fall within the ‘boom-crash-buh-bump’ category. At this point we are fluent in it.
In 1985, during the writing and recording of Tango in the Night
PRAISE FOR PLAY ON:
"In his new memoir, Fleetwood documents his wild life, including how the creation of 1977's Rumours, one of the best-selling albums of all time, almost drove the band insane."—Larry Getlen, New York Post
- "PLAY ON speaks openly about Fleetwood's various marriages, personal failure and reconciliation."—Paul Mejia, Newsweek
- "In PLAY ON, Mick Fleetwood recalls the heady successes and the challenges of leading Fleetwood Mac as it evolved from its blues roots into a supergroup in the 1980s."—Publishers Weekly
- On Sale
- Oct 27, 2015
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Back Bay Books