Not So Funny
There is something profoundly and essentially human about the music of Fleetwood Mac, and it is that essence that I must attempt to crystallize in these pages.
—Carol Ann Harris, Introduction, Storms, 2007
Let the past be the past.
—Lindsey Buckingham, “Show You How”, 2006
For a band that released the 10th-best-selling album in American history (Rumours, 1977), Fleetwood Mac has garnered relatively little mystique. Outside the deliberately bewitching, unquestionably beautiful Stevie Nicks, none of the past or present band members would likely get bothered walking down the street in Anytown, USA. Maybe that’s because part of the timeless appeal of their ‘70s music is its clean, immaculate production, which emanates a sense of such precision and control that you figure there couldn’t really be much else to it. More likely, though, Fleetwood Mac’s entire image has been channeled into the by now well-known intra-band relationships and breakups which occurred during the Rumours period and inspired the album’s songs. Throw in some well-publicized cocaine use, and when your dirty laundry is laid out for 30 million people to hear, why would anyone feel they need to dig deeper? Mick Fleetwood’s 1990 autobiography is out of print and can be had at half.com for 75 cents—why troll through it when you can just listen to Rumours and get some great tunes as well?
Such is the “closed book” perception of the Mac that when a new piece of inside info such as Storms hits the shelves, it stirs up more than a little dust among music critics and hardcore fans. And, based on a perusal of web sites and forums, those fans have a pretty hard line on Carol Ann Harris, the beautiful blonde who had the dubious distinction of being the first woman to date Mac guitarist/maestro Lindsey Buckingham after his infamous split with Nicks: Harris met Buckingham while she was an assistant at the LA studio where the band mixed Rumours. The pair almost immediately became immersed in an intense, all-consuming love affair. However, as the Mac reached new peaks of success and its attendant excess, the relationship slowly deteriorated. Harris slept with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson, who was a friend of the band and also involved with keyboardist Christine McVie. Her cocaine use became addictive and destructive, to the point in 1984 where Buckingham booted her from the Bel Air house they shared. Buckingham was left emotionally frazzled, as chronicled on his Go Insane album, which he dedicated to Harris.
It’s not a surprise that in Storms Harris has a different story to tell. So different, in fact, that the book is rumored to have been finished for years and blocked from publication by legal means, presumably Buckingham’s and possibly Nicks’, too. Aside from a brief talk show appearance in the ‘90s, Harris has until now kept quiet about her time with Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac. In her introduction, she claims that part of her purpose in publishing Storms now is “to share ... the highs, the lows, the truth behind the lies, the loving, and the hating that all went to make up an extraordinary band ... I want to go on the record.” And share she does, but at its heart Storms is about her relationship with Buckingham. She doesn’t deny using cocaine. She does deny sleeping with Wilson. And throughout the book and the relationship it chronicles, the elephant in the room is the emotional and, more shockingly, physical abuse she claims to have suffered at the hands of Buckingham. Abuse, she says, that forced her to leave him. This is sure to be the selling point, the focus of interviews and book signings. If there’s any bombshell to Storms, this is it. It’s no secret that Buckingham did his share of boozing and snorting in the ‘70s and ‘80s. And it’s no secret to anyone who’s ever heard “Go Your Own Way”, “The Ledge”, or “Come” that he can be vindictive, some may say misogynist, toward women. But is Harris describing isolated, drug-fuelled incidents that seem endemic of the time and culture she was living in—or serial, criminal abuse? Can she be trusted—even sympathized with—or is she out to make a buck? These questions are ultimately the crux of Storms.
You definitely can’t accuse Harris of over-intellectualizing her story. She paints herself as a naïve, wide-eyed girl from Oklahoma—trying to carve out a dream for herself in the Big City at age 23 when she met Buckingham. And her friendly, conversational writing voice is still largely that of a spunky young adult, especially in her ongoing interior monologue. Her reaction to hearing Dennis Wilson claim that he’d slept with her: “What a friggin’ putz Dennis is. I can’t believe he’d tell such a lie!. Upon being summoned by the Mac’s road manager to leave LA and join Buckingham on tour in Japan: “Oh, ick. If everyone [in the band is] at each other’s throat, that’s the last place I want to be. I hate Japan anyway.” Furthermore, Harris’ prose is riddled with clichés; “I felt as though my entire world had just been shattered”, she says after one of Buckingham’s alleged outbursts. Elsewhere, the princess/Cinderella allusions are laid on thick.
Harris’ descriptions of the other members of Fleetwood Mac offer little beyond conventional wisdom. Understandably, there’s tension between her and Nicks, who comes across as a bit of a flake who would never let her good intentions get in the way of her diva persona and coke-enhanced eccentricities. Christine McVie is Nicks’ tough, vodka-swilling foil, chummy yet sardonic. Fleetwood himself emerges as the lovably bumbling band matriarch whose penchant for poor financial and personal decisions and hopeless inability to deal with them except by snorting mounds of coke and laughing them off would be tragic were it not so often funny. The only one who really seems dignified and the least bit well-adjusted is John McVie, who makes but a few appearances. Harris’ most succinct insight into the band’s insular, incestuous world comes when she says, “Nothing was allowed to hurt the band, except the band itself”. That phrase describes Fleetwood Mac, and probably many other superstar rock acts, as well as any one phrase could.
As for Buckingham, he is portrayed more or less as the classic “tortured artist”—mercurial, unpredictable, sensitive yet driven, a romantic, and a narcissist. Harris describes him alternately as someone who “always preferred to be among objects rather than people ... especially if they were objects over which he could have total mastery and control” and “a small, helpless child needing tenderness”. For someone who lived and toured with the man, Harris doesn’t have a lot of insight into Buckingham’s music or its creation, save for the songs he wrote about her. She still seems to feel great pride and passion about Buckingham’s decision to take creative control of the band and lead them down new, less commercially-friendly paths for Tusk, the 1979 follow-up to Rumours. Her encouragement and support during that period are probably her greatest contributions to Buckingham’s music.
Despite the relative lack of new insights and “dirt”, Harris’s enthusiastic tone and unpretentious nature are endearing, and ultimately make Storms an enjoyable read. She chronicles a jet-set, rock’n'roll fantasy through which the likes of Eric Clapton, Brian Wilson, Rod Stewart, and Nicks’ coke-snorting poodle all pass. There are enough amusing anecdotes to keep momentum going—some of the book’s best moments involve Buckingham taking the piss out of Mick Jagger and, of all people, Kenny Rodgers. You could almost describe the better part of Storms as a bittersweet, Almost Famous type of nostalgia trip.
But you can’t, for a couple reasons. For one, the story of Fleetwood Mac at its commercial peak is a sad one. If even 51% of what Harris recounts is true, the melodrama surrounding Rumours seems like the best of times compared to the drug abuse, twisted and broken relationships, and emotionally vacuous, morally bankrupt mind state suffered by the band and its circle of associates in the wake of the album’s success. By the end, Harris’ life has literally become a car crash as she struggles to find her way home to Oklahoma.
The other reason why Storms ultimately leaves a lump in the stomach is the reason why books like this are dicey propositions in the first place: those questions—about Buckingham’s alleged behavior, and Harris’ recounting of it. They’re not answered; and, more importantly, it doesn’t matter. The events Harris refers to happened more than 20 years ago. Buckingham is now happily married with children and seems to have faced and dealt with the pain of those years, partially through his more recent music. Assuming he treats his wife well, what happened between him and Harris is of no consequence to anyone but the two of them—so who stands to gain from exposing those old scars in public, now? For her part, Harris never confronts Buckingham about his alleged abuse—never even uses the word. She seems to pass it off as part of his being a “musical genius”, a term with which she describes Buckingham so often it sounds like something he’s been diagnosed with.
After reading Storms, you’ll never hear Fleetwood Mac’s or Buckingham’s music in the same light. In that sense, Harris has succeeded.