Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Fleetwood Mac You Don't Know

Fleetwood Mac has gone through guitarists the way Spinal Tap went through drummers. They don't spontaneously combust. But they self-destruct in the usual (and a few unusual) ways just the same, giving way to their addictions, to mental illness, and, at least in one case, to religious brainwashing and the influence of bizarre cults.

That young, handsome fellow on the left is Danny Kirwan, who played guitar for Fleetwood Mac from 1968 through 1972. Incredibly enough, that was already "mid-period" Fleetwood Mac, the original blues/boogie band led by Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer (two of the early guitarist casualties) giving way to a kinder, gentler jamband led by Kirwan and Bob Welch. The coke-addled, mate-swapping pop juggernaut led by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks was still a few years off.

Frankly, that mega-successful incarnation of the band never measured up to the band of the early '70s, in my opinion. That's because Danny Kirwan was a brilliant guitarist and a fine, sensitive songwriter. The three albums on which he has the spotlight -- Kiln House, Future Games, and Bare Trees -- are unheralded masterpieces. I've been listening to them again over the past few days, and they've held up as well as any music from the period. At least a few of Danny's songs, among them "Station Man," "Child of Mine," "Dust," and "Sands of Time," deserve to be staples on classic rock radio. But you'll never hear them.

By all accounts, Danny Kirwan was a difficult son of a bitch to work with. He was fired from the band in 1972, not because he wasn't talented, but because he was a drunken, drug-addled asshole whose perfectionist tendencies (he was known to spend an ungodly amount of time tuning his guitar in the middle of a concert) exasperated and alienated his fellow band members. He recorded a couple solo albums that died a quick commercial death. And since the late '70s he's been in and out of mental institutions and homeless shelters. He's now 61 years old, a seemingly hopeless alcoholic, mentally there some days, and others off on another planet.

For my hard-earned record money, he was the best part of the long history of one of the most successful bands in rock 'n roll. It's a sad history, in spite of the massive success. Danny Kirwan is a big part of the reason why.


nancy (aka moneycoach) said...

wish King David could meet up with him and have a word.
(ha. for all I know, he is and has)

Andy Whitman said...

Thanks for your kind words, Nancy. I appreciate them. I also hope you can find some real-life fellowship in the northern wilds.

Gypsy said...

The Fleetwood Mac You Don't Know
(And Miss Greatlty!)
Well said and well written.