Lindsey Buckingham helped transform Fleetwood Mac into one of rock’s most successful and enduring acts. But for years, he wasn’t able to savor the success.
Chalk it up to the band’s infamous infighting. The singer-guitarist and producer quit the group in 1987, rejoined 10 years later and got booted out in 2018 after his latest power struggle with Mac singer Stevie Nicks, his former romantic partner.
After suing Fleetwood Mac for breach of contract — the case was settled out of court — Buckingham’s life was turned upside down yet again in early 2019 when he underwent emergency triple bypass heart surgery. Then in June, his wife of 21 years, Kristen Messner, filed for divorce.
Today, things are finally starting to look up. He’s recovered from the surgery, released his seventh solo album, Lindsey Buckingham, and launched a tour that comes to the Majestic Theatre on Dec. 9.
Buckingham, 72, is also optimistic he’ll reconcile with Messner, with whom he has three children. “I’m quite confident we’re going to work through it,” he says.
Speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles, the man who once titled an album Go Insane sounds perfectly calm, balanced and happy to discuss all the ups and downs of his long career. The interview has been edited for length.
How is your new album different from your work in Fleetwood Mac and your other solo albums?
For many years, I was kind of walking this tightrope. On one side was the larger machine, Fleetwood Mac, and everything it entailed in terms of expectations and repetitiveness.
But I got to a point not long after the Tusk album (1979) where I realized the potential for me growing as an artist was going to come from the solo work, where I could explore the left side of my palette on a much smaller scale. When you make that tradeoff, you lose nine-tenths of your audience, and I’m sort of OK with that.
With this album, I circled back and revisited both sides. In other words, I didn’t want to avoid things that might be more referential to Fleetwood Mac. I just decided I wanted to make a slightly more pop album.
You’ve been starting your shows on the current tour with your 2006 solo song “Not Too Late,” which has the lyrics “Reading the paper, saw a review / Said I was a visionary, but nobody knew.” Do you worry that people don’t give you enough credit?
That song is actually a true story. I mean, I did read a review that was characterizing me like that. I don’t get an ego boost out of reading something like that. Normally, if you pay too much attention to everyone’s opinion, you’re going to just get confused.
But when I wrote that song, I was living under the illusion that there might still be time to get a broader number of people to understand what it is that I’m trying to do with my solo work.
If there is an analogy in film, look at somebody like Jim Jarmusch, who’s never going to do the kind of business that Steven Spielberg does. That’s the tradeoff you’ve got to be willing to make. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean you don’t wish more people would get it, you know?
Your new song “On the Wrong Side” could fit easily on Rumours. Were you thinking of Fleetwood Mac when you wrote the line “We were young and now we’re old / Who can tell me which is worse?”
I just think it takes perspective and time to know whether what we were doing in Fleetwood Mac would hold up … it was only when we started seeing three generations of people at shows that we realized our work has stood the test of time. In many ways, it’s the same thing with the solo work.
I also think there is a potential to be more fulfilled and wise and appreciative of the moment when you get to be older. If I look back at much of my youth, we lived in a subculture that was a bit crazy and self abusive and there were many pitfalls. As much as we functioned well, and enjoyed it, I’m not sure how much we savored the moment. I think that’s probably what that line’s about.
You had a lot of peaks and valleys in Fleetwood Mac and wound up leaving the band twice. Is there anything young musicians might learn from your experiences?
I don’t have any particular advice, other than to just take anything that happens — whether it’s going the way you want it to, or not — and try to make it into an opportunity.
The first time I left, in 1987, we had finished recording Tango In The Night, which turned out to be a triumph over circumstances. During the recording of that album, everyone was hitting the wall in terms of their use of substances and alcohol.
We pushed through that dysfunction in the studio. But as a survival move, I chose to take myself out of the mix for that tour, which gave me time to regroup and get away from all of that chaos and really concentrate on what I consider to be one of my best solo albums, Out Of The Cradle.
The more recent instance, in 2018, that was not of my doing. There were some not very good feelings going around, with one member giving the others an ultimatum that either I had to go or that member would go.
At that point, I didn’t feel particularly bad about being dis-included from the tour. What I feel bad about was that we had risen above our difficulties for 43 years, and the relatively trivial things that led to my departure did not dignify the legacy that we built.
You once said Fleetwood Mac were the five most unlikely people to come together in one band. What did you mean?
Before Stevie and I joined, we were brought together by our singing and our two-part harmonies. We were right in parallel. But I think at some point, Stevie’s idea of how she wanted to present herself just kept getting more and more theatrical.
Then you’ve got Christine and John [McVie], who are coming from really a blues background, although Christine is way more of a pop-ster. And then you’ve got Mick, who’s this brilliant drummer, but he’s also very eccentric.
You have the two cultures interacting, the English and the American. And you also had this idea that four out of the five people, three of which were writers, were also couples that were in the process of or had already broken up.
I mean, there are so many things involved that didn’t really necessarily fit on paper … and yet, that was what made us what we were. Those differences created the synergy. It created something greater than the sum of the parts.