Waxing Nostalgic Connecting The Dots: Fleetwood Mac, Rumours

Published on October 23rd, 2013 in: Music, Waxing Nostalgic |

By Jeffery X Martin

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1977 changed everything. Whether you think of it as The Year Punk Broke or The Year Star Wars Came Out, 1977 flipped the game, changed the rules, and destroyed the playing field.

It was released on February 4, 1977. I don’t know precisely when Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumours entered the household, but once it was there, it seemed like it always had been. It settled in, immediately becoming part of the fabric of the house. It was the aquarium. It was the faux brick finish in the kitchen. It was “Second Hand News.” It was the green shag carpet. We put the album on, made it a pot of coffee, and sat down around the kitchen table for donuts, gossip, and “Gold Dust Woman.”

You didn’t listen to Rumours. You wore it. It enveloped you like a bathrobe two sizes too big. All the songs were warm and smelled like someone else. There may have been an initial feeling of unease, especially at the thought of wearing another person’s clothes, but it soon faded. It became the go-to, the first and only choice, the atmosphere.

There’s a sweet smoothness to the music on Rumours. Lindsey Buckingham’s finger-picking is flawless, exquisite. Stevie Nicks’s voice is husky and rough, not yet the ragged weapon it would become. The juxtaposition of Nicks and Christine McVie, the Maggie Smith of rock and roll, is charming and disarming. The solidarity of John McVie’s board-spanning bass work and Mick Fleetwood’s bug-eyed drums firmly anchor the album.

If you want to find out about how every member of the band was swapping out with every other member of the band, or the massive cocaine use, or the alleged black magic and fits of violent rage that punctuated this era of the band’s existence, go elsewhere. Other folks have documented these facts well enough.

The things that stays with me, from hearing the album as an eight-year-old kid to critically listening to it as a jaded writer, is how things of such beauty come out of times of great trial and pain. I didn’t understand Buckingham’s desire to lie “down in the tall grass/and let me do my stuff.” What stuff? Is he doing magic? I’d like to see that. Now, of course, I know how it feels to be second-hand news. It’s not enjoyable, and it certainly isn’t as jovial and bouncy as the song would imply.

Nicks’ s songs (and I’ll confess to feeling a kinship with her; around the house, we refer to her as “Aunt Stevie”) tend to have a mystical edge to them. The lyric, “Have you any dreams you’d like to sell?” from “Dreams,” has always chilled me, both in delivery and in concept. That song, combined with the pale ghostly imagery of “Gold Dust Woman,” makes Stevie’s contributions to the album my favorites, if not necessarily the strongest.

Buckingham’s tune, “Never Going Back Again,” proves that a modern heart can still be broken with nothing but a voice and a guitar, with its plaintive lyrics and harsh promises. Christine McVie’s ode to familial estrangement, “Oh, Daddy,” also relies on her vocal performance to get the song over.

That simplicity, along with simple rawness of the lyrics, makes Rumours great. The production is clean, but not slick. It’s full, but not bloated like many other albums of the Seventies. There’s joy and heartbreak here, presented in their simplest forms for you to experience. Rumours encourages you to feel something, not become comfortably numb.

It stands, for me, as part of the running soundtrack of my life. No matter what’s going on, there’s a song on Rumours that fits, scores the situation perfectly. The album taught me, in no uncertain terms, that the voice of experience often comes in the form of a melody. I also learned that, for someone like me, there was to be no such thing as just listening to music.

Rumours stands as a starkly beautiful reminder that there are real people behind all the sex, drugs, and rock and roll we love to read about, and prices to be paid.

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