It’s been two days since Fleetwood Mac played in front of a sold-out crowd at Citi Field in New York City and drummer Mick Fleetwood is leaning back in a chair high up in an Upper East Side suite hotel room marveling at the fact that the group pulled the gig off. With the exception of a show at L.A.’s Dodger Stadium two weeks earlier, they hadn’t played since the final show of their 2015 tour. “With all due respect to John [McVie], I doubt he picked up the bass more than five times in the past two years,” he says with a chuckle. “But that son of a gun was like a Rolls Royce, that smooth. The rest of us had been working like slaves.”
One project that has taken up his time since the last tour is the new photo history book Love That Burns: A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac Volume One, 1967–1974. It tells the epic saga of Fleetwood Mac from their earliest days as a blues rock band all the way to their first meeting with Stevie Nicks in 1974. “For the most part, this is not a horrible well-known story, at least in America,” he says. “It’s time for the story to be told.”
As part of Rolling Stone’s Words of Wisdom interview series, Fleetwood shared wisdom about ageing, fatherhood, drugs and money. He also spoke about Fleetwood Mac’s future plans.
What’s the best advice you ever got?
It came from my father. He was a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force. When I started to be what could be construed as famous-ish, he said, “Never forget you get up and go to the toilet in the morning, Michael.” Which means, just keep it in perspective and have a good sense of humour and remember that you are a human being, and keep it in line. If he had added, “And don’t take too many drugs”, that might have been helpful too.
What’s the most indulgent purchase you ever made?
I bought a thousand-acre farm in Australia in the early 1980s. It was this whimsical decision to start a whole new life. The property had about eight houses on it and a fishing lake. I cashed out about 3 million bucks and bought it. I actually immigrated to Australia and gave up my green card. I thought it was a great place for all my friends and family, but it was also a pipe dream that literally took me to the poorhouse. I went broke. It was beautiful, and I don’t bemoan the fact that I did it. I also don’t bemoan that I’m not sitting there right now getting eaten by toxic spiders.
What have 50 years in Fleetwood Mac taught you about compromise?
I don’t think it would have been possible without the wit of healthy compromise. My father was a fine officer and in charge of organising large groups of people. He said, “No matter what, as long as you get it done, you don’t need to take the credit.” Some people say, “You’ve had to suck eggs to keep some elements of your story going.” John [McVie] and I can say in good humour we’ve caused some pain, but it turned out pretty good.
Your philosophy seems to be “No matter what, the band carries on.” That was true even when Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham left for a time.
That’s the nature of being in a rhythm section. You need someone to play with. John and I can’t do this in our living room. Also, John and I sticking it out comes from abject fear. What the hell would we do if there was no band? For the most part, amazingly, it worked out, which is a form of alchemy and magic that I will never really truly understand.
You raised teenage girls in the 1980s, and you’re raising teenage girls now. How is it different?
They are frighteningly well-informed now, first of all. If I say something as a parent or a friend – I like to think of myself as both – it puts you on your mark because they can, in 40 seconds, see whether or not you’re full of shit. But I’m way better at being a dad now than I was with my first lovely two daughters. That’s because I’m not as crazy as I used to be, and hopefully not as selfish.
What do you understand about drugs now that you didn’t understand when you started out?
They end up being a nightmare. Maybe we would never have cut certain songs if we hadn’t been up for five days. But you think now, “Does that make it OK?” And it wasn’t OK. You shouldn’t romanticise those things. I’m lucky to be sitting here talking to you now.
What do you wish someone had told you about the music business before you started?
Look out for charlatans who will send you down the road. Yet actually, the real nuts and bolts is I am quite happy that I didn’t have that advice. I’d like to think I could have handled the warning, but if I had been warned, I might not have even signed anything.
Stevie Nicks told me she has no interest in making another Fleetwood Mac album, since it takes too long and nobody would buy it. How do you feel about that?
I’m not superkeen on getting into all of that. But what I do know is that the music of Fleetwood Mac, and the music from everyone that coexists in and outside of that band, is everyone’s prerogative. She is gonna be there next year when we begin a tour and spend the better part of 18 months wandering the planet. And this band has to be able to [allow] that and have no blame game at all. If you want me to say, “Hey, the utopian dream would be that before we hang it up, we all play [new] stuff [in the studio]…” but we play onstage! God knows we’ve sacrificed huge chunks of time for this strange animal known as Fleetwood Mac, so I’m OK with it.
Christine McVie has hinted that the tour in 2018 might be a farewell. Is that true?
No, everyone in the band has decided it’s not. Phil Collins called his tour I’m Not Dead Yet. Well, we’re not dead yet, but God forbid, we might be, so you could say, “I better go see them!” But you won’t see a poster calling this a farewell tour.
You turned 70 this year. Does it feel different than you imagined it would?
Yeah, it does. Physically, I think I’m healthier than I was at 50. [Grabs chest, fakes a heart attack before laughing hysterically]
You play nearly every Rumours song in the set. Ever think about just playing the album straight through?
It would be fantastic. But we’d have to be like Bruce Springsteen, out there for seven hours. Then it could be the last tour. You’ll see wooden boxes onstage. Five of them.
Illustration by Mark Summers.
This article features in issue #792 (November, 2017), available now.