#182: Fleetwood Mac, "Fleetwood Mac" (1975)

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For years, I believed that Fleetwood Mac (1975) was Fleetwood Mac’s first album; in a sense, it was. It was the first to feature the band’s most successful lineup, as rounded out by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, the first to break the band into American rock consciousness, and the first built upon the swaying, lilting California ambiance that would become the band’s musical trademark and bedrock throughout the height of their popularity. It was the album that first led to public speculation that Stevie Nicks was a literal witch, the first that saw Christine McVie and Stevie alternating vocals to best salute their talents and songwriting ranges. It was the first on which the percussion section got due creative license. In many ways, while listening without any knowledge of the band or their history, the album feels like a birth, forward momentum accelerating beyond itself, a door opening, a fresh breeze coming off the mountain. Rumours is the album that cemented Fleetwood Mac in rock history, but the self-titled is the truck that poured the concrete.

If Fleetwood Mac is to be called a birth, let us specify that it is a reincarnation. It is not, in fact, the band’s first albumit’s not even the band’s first eponymous album. A previous iteration of the band, one that was bluesy and frenetic and entirely male-anchored, released another album, Fleetwood Mac, as their full length debut in 1968. That album, heavily influenced by the British blues scene as it was, feels miles and light years away from its 1975 counterpartthe vibe is less “fog rolling off the sea in gauzy sunlight” and more “smoke filtering through the window of a creaky door in a basement pub.”

Though nine albums and almost as many member lineups separate the two, the 1975 album feels like a direct, if unintentional, repudiation of Peter Green’s original efforts, a near total musical rebuilding of the band despite the presence of two founding members. Recorded mere weeks after Buckingham and Nicks joined the group, Fleetwood Mac is an album built primarily on material that is old in one way or another. Most obvious is the band’s live setlist mainstay “World Turning,” a rearrangement of the earlier album’s track “The World Keeps on Turning,” but nearly every other track had been written for some project, including nearly all of its hits, including, perhaps most serendipitously, Stevie Nicks’s pre-Fleetwood emotional masterpiece “Landslide.”

A live version of the song, recorded decades after the self-titled album, would go on to be one of the band’s bestselling tracks of all time, spawning several successful covers by the likes of the Smashing Pumpkins and the Dixie Chicks and being featured in innumerable books and movies and television shows. To some, it is the definitive slow Fleetwood Mac song. Ironic, then, that the song is the direct result of Stevie Nicks grappling with whether or not to continue pursuing a career in music at all. As she would go on to say in interviews, Stevie wrote the song while supporting Lindsey’s spotty bookings after their first duo release flopped and she was considering returning to school in lieu of chasing her recording dream. She looked at the Rockies surrounding her, the only time she lived near snow, and penned the groundbreaking song (which she often refers to as a poem) in a matter of days.

I cannot discuss Fleetwood Mac without talking about “Landslide,” and I can’t talk about “Landslide” without discussing how it first came into my life.

One of my top five least favorite books is Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’ve ranted through my litany of grievances innumerable times in the decade since I read it, but I’ll give the summary: the book reads like a post-season-three episode of Glee mixed, tonally, with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fanfiction. The plot is overwhelmed with varying types of trauma handled with varying (and often inappropriate) degrees of care or attention, and filled with characters who could be interesting, whole people if Chbosky had allowed them to bloom beyond the stereotypes and after-school special issues they were written to illustrate. In place of meaningful looks at the lives of the teens populating its universe, Perks offers pithy, “relatable” lines of dialogue, platitudes on angst, quick resolutions to complicated and socially ingrained problems. Ultimately, though the book wants to be an emotional guidebook, a bible of feeling, it seems more concerned with performing the character’s pain as opposed to letting the reader truly experience it.

One of the few standout scenes in Perks features, of all songs, “Landslide.” In it, the three main characters are driving through a tunnel after a dramatic homecoming dance, awash with possibility and anguish and feeling of all stripes. The track begins to play off a mixtape and Sam, the requisite manic pixie dream girl, stands up in the bed of the truck, stretching her arms and declaring that she feels infinite. The line has since become a meme, and the scene can seem a bit overwrought with cliche youthful hopefulness, but there’s something about the earnest mix of desperation and almost impossible belief in possibility in “Landslide” which finally humanizes a story so previously detached from nuance.

I was a know-it-all, angsty teen when I read the book, bored by its performative anguish as I was dealing with my own personal emotional tumult and was fresh off of my first time reading The Bell Jar. I knew Fleetwood Mac, but only a few megahits in passing, like “Don’t Stop” and “The Chain.” I’m very attuned to music as a complement to writing, so despite my general annoyance with the book, I felt obligated to experience the written moments as closely as possible to how the characters would, songs played and all. When I first listened to the song as a necessary accompaniment to reading that passage, I felt the story transform. I didn’t see a cardboard prop of a character grappling with issues ultimately meant to be a plot device for the protagonist; instead, I saw a young girl on the precipice of herself and her life, the possibility and terror and splendor of it all, trying to contain and be contained by it all at once. In the song’s raw emotion, I saw and felt infinity.

Stevie Nicks was twenty five when she wrote “Landslide,” and twenty seven when the eponymous album was released. Retrospectively, her existential anxiety seems laughable for someone so young (and her talent for expressing it mammoth), and yet that disconnect is precisely what gives the song and its containing album its weight as well as its beauty. To feel that deeply, to express it that eloquently and achingly, is nothing short of purely distilled human experience.

“Landslide” seems to follow me wherever I and my emotional uncertainty go. It was there on the countless, endless night drives through my undergraduate ennui leading up to the void of graduation. It was there when I avoided seeing my high school mentor during a terminal illness, and there, too, when I had to face her funeral. It was there when I moved out on my own, it was there after every fight with my parents, it was there in a conversation with my boss about the fleeting nature of aging. It has, in fact, been the soundtrack to the seasons of my life. After every listen, I feel more whole, more in tune with anxiety and all its facets. It is both a balm and a sting, a feeling like I cannot breathe, am being crushed, can feel all of eternity closing in above and within me, a pressure and release all at once.

—Moira McAvoy