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Recently, beloved friend-of-SOTC Rob Trucks (last seen chatting with the Big Star tribute crew and exploring Bob Dylan-centric Greenwich Village landmarks) published a book on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, adding to the venerable 33 1/3 series the tale of the fraught, outrageously expensive, doggedly uncommercial follow-up to Rumours, one of the best-selling albums of all time. Trucks spoke extensively with FM boss Lindsey Buckingham, and also grilled Tusk fans who now make up such bands as Animal Collective, Camper Van Beethoven, the New Pornographers, Wolf Parade, and the USC Trojan marching band. Below, please find an excerpt that at least begins to explore how much Tusk cost to make, and who was sleeping with who while they were making it.
The double-edged sword of that kind of success is that it gives you freedom, but you’ve also got to have the perspective to use the freedom.
–Lindsey Buckingham, September 5, 2008
After the group’s Grammy win in February of 1978, but before the final leg of the Rumours tour that begins again in July, Lindsey builds a home studio. He listens to, among others, new albums by the Talking Heads (Talking Heads: ’77) and the Clash (The Clash). He writes and records “That’s All For Everyone,” “Not That Funny,” and “What Makes You Think You’re the One,” all at home.
And cuts off all his hair.
Reason #497 not to trust Wikipedia:
Buckingham was able to convince Fleetwood to allow his work on their next album to be more experimental and to work on tracks at home, then bring them to the band in the studio. His expanded creative role for the next album was influenced by an appreciation for New Wave music, specifically Gary Numan.
Gary Anthony James Webb, a/k/a Gary Numan, records his first album, Tubeway Army, in August of 1978, a month after Lindsey Buckingham presents his post-Rumours ultimatum to Mick Fleetwood in an upstate New York hotel room. At the time, Numan is 20 years old. The best-selling album of Numan’s career, The Pleasure Principle, fueled by his decidedly most well-known single, “Cars,” is released in September of 1979, the same month as the “Tusk” single. During the recording of Tusk, Gary Numan is way, way absent from Lindsey Buckingham’s radar.
I’d been working at home on songs just by myself, which was sort of more like the painting process, you know, one on one with the canvas, and the idea was to bring some of that stuff back in and let the band work on it, and just to kind of shake it up, and the result was, you know, a much more surprising, to-the-left group of tunes, generally speaking.
–Lindsey Buckingham, October 11, 2006
Tusk is in no way perfect.
Far from it.
In fact, that may be the point (if not the concept).
Rugged, ragged, fragmenting and fracturing an already fragmented and fractured band.
Say the secret word and win a hundred dollars.
At the end of the never-ending Rumours tour (think of the album as an oil well that won’t quite go dry, no matter how many times it’s been pumped), Lindsey meets Mick in the drummer’s hotel room. It is July of 1978 and the band is in upstate New York, most likely the Hilton in Saratoga.
Mick, despite a long-standing inability to manage money, serves as the band’s manager. He is also the band member most likely to accept Lindsey’s new direction.
What Lindsey delivers is just short of an ultimatum. “I have these songs . . .”
What Mick returns is just short of an ultimatum. “You’re either in the band or you’re not.”
Sure, Mick didn’t want to lose Lindsey, but the fact that Mick and Stevie are now sleeping with each other but unsure whether Buckingham knows and what his reaction will be may have played a part in Mick’s willingness to allow Lindsey to do whatever the hell Lindsey wanted to do.
So off Lindsey went, back to his home studio, to kick out some more jams.
Adjectives found in reviews contemporary to the release of Tusk: brave, restless, opulent, nonliterary, audacious, gleeful, allusive, spare, incantatory, luxuriant, spacious, ethereal, histrionic, offbeat, terse, excitable, giddy, spectacular, intense, cutting, nonsensical, mysterious, unintelligible, fragile, obsessive, anticipated.
The final product, a 20-song double album called Tusk, features nine songs of Lindsey’s, six of Christine’s, five of Stevie’s. Lindsey, for the first time, receives individual production credit.
A “Special Thanks to Lindsey Buckingham” graces the liner notes and in one particularly telling photo the other four band members turn, as a group, to gaze upon his visage. Stevie and Christine lay hands like a couple of Mary Magdalenes, while John and Mick, the temple elders, look on with some hesitancy and skepticism.
Lindsey, for his part, beams at his bandmates’ presumed adoration. (Around the time of his teenage-basement fumblings with Buckingham Nicks as background, Rob learned, in high school English, that every book contained Christian symbolism. And none more so than Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage (“wafer in the sky” and so forth), though Billy Budd came close. This is the Christian symbolism in this book.)
Tusk is Lindsey Buckingham’s album with the band’s other four members pretty much along for the ride.
This is how the story goes:
The recording of Tusk begins in Studio D at the Village Recorder in May of 1977, three months before Rumours tour dates finally grind to a halt.
The first night, Stevie Nicks arrives two hours late. Mick Fleetwood has just purchased a $70,000 sports car and, as if in need of a reason to celebrate, the band begins snorting cocaine.
Despite Lindsey’s new initiative, some things do not change.
Early evening Mick gets a phone call saying that his sports car, while being towed to his home, was broadsided by a semi and split in half, a total loss. The car is not insured.
The session, for which no recording takes place, ends at six the next morning, and Tusk has officially begun.
The affair between Mick and Stevie, begun while on tour in Australia in November of 1977 and still a theoretical secret, is not quite ongoing, not quite over. Which does nothing to diminish the ever-present in-studio stress.
Christine breaks up with the band’s lighting director and begins an affair with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson, who later moves into her house, while Lindsey lives with girlfriend Carol Ann Harris. The entire band continues to ingest prodigious amounts of cocaine, though Mick is recently diagnosed with diabetes and Lindsey with a mild form of epilepsy following a collapse in a hotel shower.
John McVie marries Julie Reubens, and Mick, who is still involved with his wife Jenny, still not finished though not quite involved with Stevie, begins dating Stevie’s friend Sara Recor, the wife of Kenny Loggins’ manager Jim Recor, who may or may not have had an affair with Stevie when Fleetwood Mac and Loggins & Messina shared a tour bill, and Sara leaves her husband to move in with Mick.
Which at least brings some closure to the Stevie-Mick intrigue.
The breaking apart of intraband relationships serves as an advantageous theme in both the music and the marketing of Rumours.
And given that it comes post-breakup, Tusk is one of the few Fleetwood Mac albums that does not try to sell the Stevie-Lindsey love story.
Which may be yet another reason for its disappointing sales.
This is how the story goes:
Before Tusk recording begins, Mick, as manager, approaches the record company, the record company that has just been delivered the best-selling album in its history, and suggests that the band purchase its own studio.
With a record company advance, of course.
The record company says, No. A mistake, considering they will ultimately shell out a record-setting $1.4 million to custom-fit Studio D and receive nothing but the Tusk master tapes in return.
This is the last time the record company will have the opportunity to say, No, for more than a year as, during the recording of Tusk, no executive, no record company representative at all, actually, is allowed past the recording studio lobby.
Music is personal.
Tusk is a symbol.
We did go over to Village Recorders and had something to do, were somehow financially involved in the building of Studio D over there, or the remodeling of it. Whether or not that, at the end of the day, was a good thing for us, I would have to think not. Mick was actually managing the band and, in a way, they had a reason not to want another manager. Clifford Davis, I guess, had screwed them out of some money. But you know when you have the kind of almost immediate success that ignites with that first album and then Rumours, anybody could’ve been managing and been perceived as doing a good job.
–Lindsey Buckingham, October 11, 2006
The first Fleetwood Mac album of the Buckingham-Nicks era takes longer to record than any album in group history yet also garners the band’s best sales. Rumours takes even longer, more than a year (they leave their primary studio in Sausalito after nine months with nothing but drum tracks) and sells even better. Thus Fleetwood Mac learns to make themselves happy with the recording process, regardless of the time or financial cost. Tusk is the effect.