It’s only 25 miles between the turnoff at Leggett and Westport-Union Landing State Beach, but that stretch of Highway 1 — twisting and turning up, down and around — takes about 40 minutes in our old VW camper. We know of accidents, and fantasize about head-on collisions every time we drive it, usually twice a year; we love the paddling and hiking opportunities on the Mendocino coast, and have good friends down there whom we regularly visit. To help me focus on driving that tricky stretch of road, we’ve made it a tradition over the years to play Rumours, Fleetwood Mac’s megahit album from 1977.
So we leave 101 with “Second Hand News,” Lindsey Buckingham’s paean to his breakup with Stevie Nicks (“One thing I thing you should know/I ain’t gonna miss you when you go”); 40 minutes later, now on the coast after leaving the trees, “Gold Dust Woman” from Stevie completes our drive, the dust being cocaine, of course. It was the seventies, and it was Sausalito, where the group was recording.
To say that Fleetwood Mac had a revolving door set of musicians is like saying that the Pope’s Catholic. Even the name is complicated — drummer Mick Fleetwood wanted to entice bass guitarist John McVie into a new band with the compliment of the “Mac” in the name, but McVie at first shied away from the venture (he had a steady blues gig with John Mayall at the time, 1967). Ten years of different line ups, romances coming and going, tours going well and going badly, one hit album in 1975, and finally — February 1977 — with the fivesome of Mick Fleetwood, John and Christine McVie, Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks — the world heard Rumours for the first time. It’s been hearing that 1970s pop-rock sound ever since.
Disfunctional wouldn’t even start to describe the situation with Fleetwood Mac back then when they recorded Rumours: Mick Fleetwood was still dealing with the breakup of his marriage to Jenny Boyd (sister of Pattie, wife of George Harrison and later Eric Clapton, inspiration for Clapton’s Layla)—Jenny had been having an affair with another bandmate. (He later had an affair with Stevie Nicks — I told you it was complicated.) Buckingham and Nicks? All you have to do is watch her singing next to him, giving him the evil eye, in any one of Fleetwood Mac’s many YouTube videos and it tells you all you need to know about their fraught relationship. Meanwhile, Christine and John McVie were heading to a divorce, living apart. Despite, or because of, all the crazy relationships, they created one of the greatest albums of that era, if not of all time. Every one of the tracks is, essentially, about breakups, unfaithfulness, betrayal and, of course, cocaine.
Christine (Perfect) McVie, whose death at 79 years old last week brought all these memories to the fore, was the only classically-trained musician of the group, playing various keyboard instruments. (Her father was a concert violinist.) She hailed from England’s lovely Lake District, but spent most of her musical life based in the U.S. before retiring to the county of Kent (my home county). She wrote several of the tracks on Rumours, including “You Make Loving Fun” (about the affair she was having with the group’s lighting director); and “Oh Daddy,” supposedly a wry tribute to Fleetwood (again, it’s complicated).
So, end of an era, for me, with McVie — the group’s oldest member — leaving the planet. Stevie Nicks paid her a tribute after her death, saying she was the “best friend in the world world since the first day of 1975.” Which is quite something, after all those tumultuous years.