April 16 -- NBC's Keith Morrison reports on Fleetwood Mac's revival.
NBC News
updated 11/21/2003 12:32:16 AM ET 2003-11-21T05:32:16

The year was 1977. Jimmy Carter was president, “Star Wars” was in movie theaters and “Charlie’s Angels” was on TV. On the radio, Fleetwood Mac was the band of the moment that came to define a decade, with their landmark record “Rumours.” Now, the rumors are true. The group has reunited, out with its first CD of new songs in 16 years. As Keith Morrison of “Dateline NBC” reports, their easy-rolling rock has a brand-new edge.

They're in a rented studio, on a practice stage, washed in the thumping decibels of a 25-year-old hit. There it is, framed in gray, wreathed in wrinkles — pure joy. Fleetwood Mac is back — again.

If anybody can make a case for hanging in there when you just want to go your own way, when you’re left, let-down, fed up, then here they are. It’s rock’s latest middle-aged resurrection. They are older, wiser and relatively happy. Or so they say.

Keith Morrison: “Is rock ’n’ roll still rock ’n’ roll without the sex and drugs?”

Stevie Nicks: “Pretty much.”

John McVie: “No. I’m not touching that.”

If anyone knows about sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, it is Fleetwood Mac. The story, in case you missed it, started when a British band — Mick Fleetwood and John and Christine McVie — was looking for a guitar player and heard about the talented, but so far unsuccessful Lindsey Buckingham, whose girlfriend, Stevie Nicks, was keeping food on the table.

Nicks: “Waitress. Cleaning lady. I did lunches like at Chuck’s Steakhouse.”

That was after their first attempt at recording had flopped.

Nicks: “I was never going to make Lindsey go get a job because he’s too much of an artist. I could do a stupid job, and it didn’t bother me. It would have bothered him.”

But then came that offer, and Fleetwood Mac was a whole new creation. Right away, says Lindsey Buckingham, everybody could see.

Buckingham: “Fleetwood Mac is nothing else if not a band of chemistry.”

They caught the moment, back there in the ’70s. They were almost instantly huge. By 1975, they were swimming in money, constant attention, booze and just about everything else.

Nicks: “When you see people walking around with bottles of designer water now, it was like, you know, in those days people just walked around with bottles of designer coke.”

Morrison: “What did it do to you ultimately?”

Nicks: “I think it took away sensitivity. I think it took away the ability to love. I think it took away the ability to feel comfortable in a room. It just changed everybody completely.”

And that’s when things started to go very bad.

Buckingham: “It is a very unstable and tricky way to live your life. We were living out our lives for everybody to see.”

And so everybody knew when Christine left John McVie.

McVie: “She’d had enough of me abusing our relationship by doing bad stuff to myself.”

Morrison: “The booze?”

McVie: “Yeah, yeah. I’m not a very happy drunk.”

But that was just the start of it. It was soap opera. Stevie dumped Lindsey, Mick’s wife walked out, just as they were recording the album “Rumours,” which became the third-biggest-selling album in the history of music. It’s amazing they survived long enough to make it, says Mick.

Fleetwood: “It was unbelievable but it also became a sort of mutant form of bonding because we were going through the same things at the same time.”

And then, to make things about as complicated as they could be, Mick had a fling with Stevie.

But there they were on stage, every day together, their feelings as raw as the songs they wrote.

They won the Grammy for “Rumours,” an album full of songs about the pain they were going through. When Stevie Nicks heard Lindsey’s hit “Go Your Own Way,” it was, and for that matter still is, personal.

Nicks: “That was Lindsey’s angry song to me. And you see, whereas I would write dreams, which would say, ‘When the rain washes you clean, you’ll know.’ That’s my romantic way of leaving the relationship, and Lindsey’s, you know, was a very unromantic way of leaving the relationship — to write a song where he was not very nice to me in the song.”

Buckingham: “It was a little sarcastic.”

Morrison: “A little?”

Buckingham: “Just a little — packing up, shacking up, is all you want to do. I was calling a spade a spade, you might say. There was no pulling of punches lyrically in that song.”

The band broke up soon after that chaotic decade was over. But they couldn’t seem to leave each other for good, though the reconciliations were usually bumpy and sometimes angry.

By 1987, when Lindsey walked out on the eve of a world tour, it seemed as final as anything could be. A way for him to get away from her.

Buckingham: “None of us really had closure in a proper way. That was another reason I left, to finally get closure on Stevie. I had been technically apart from her for 10 years but I was seeing her every day.”

Nicks: “We were furious, you know, we were furious.”

They didn’t speak. For years. Stevie and Lindsey each went on to solo careers. Stevie became very famous in her own right. That is not to say that growing older erases all the rough spots. Like all the attention Stevie Nicks still gets, for example, just because she’s Stevie Nicks.

Nicks: “I think that’s been the hardest part of this whole thing because the second that people started to single me out, it caused trouble in the group.”

It was a phone call from a new president that changed everything.

Nicks: “Come on, Lindsey. We have to do this. We really do. This is important. This is history.”

It was 1993, Bill Clinton’s inauguration. “Don’t Stop” had been his campaign song.

And that, as much as anything, is what started to turn things around. That, and, says Mick Fleetwood, a little maturity.

Fleetwood: “We’re just working away at being guys and girls, really, a bunch of grown-up children.”

Morrison: “Who have survived.”

Fleetwood: “Who have survived, yeah.”

Five years ago, Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Nearly two years ago, they began work on a new CD, “Say You Will,” released just Tuesday, with 18 brand-new songs.

And next month, like an old married couple that’s been tossed about and bruised by the worst of human foibles and somehow still survived, next month they start a brand new tour.

Their first stop is Columbus, Ohio, on May 7.

Fleetwood: “It’s like when we say, ‘We love you, Columbus,’ they really don’t know how much we really mean it. Thank God we are here.”

They are grateful, they say, to have survived at all, given what they’ve been through. And now, without the fog of the drugs and the alcohol, they feel more creative than ever and they say they play better, too. The amazing thing, or so they claim, is that it is actually more fun.

Morrison: “Do you really enjoy it that much?”

Fleetwood: “Yeah, love it, absolutely love it. It’s the 9-year-old child that made up his mind that he wanted to be a drummer. And that’s still there.”

McVie: “To be 57 and still doing this, it’s miraculous.”

Nicks: “Once I’m up there on stage, I really don’t feel like I’m in my 50s. When I’m up there dancing and singing and I’m all dressed up and I’m wearing my beautiful clothes and I’m spinning around, you know. If you want to recapture your youth, that’s a good way to do it.”

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