Lindsey Buckingham: Extracting The Essential

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By: Dennis Cook

Lindsey Buckingham
If he'd done nothing else outside of Fleetwood Mac people would know the name Lindsey Buckingham. As guitarist, singer and songwriter with that band since the mid '70s, he's been responsible for a good deal of their worldwide success, including contributing heavily to the era defining, 30 million-plus selling Rumours, where he wrote three of the most recognizable pop hits of all-time – "Second Hand News," "Never Going Back Again" and "Go Your Own Way." But Buckingham is actually an artist, and like most of the best ones he's kept refining his skills, finding new facets to focus his intense mind upon and working constantly, especially in recent years, to carve out an identity for himself outside the relatively safe folds of his multi-platinum band.

Which brings us to Gift of Screws (released September 16 on Warner Bros.), his fourth studio album as a solo artist, which ranges from road dust coated rockers like "Wait For You" to the positively meditative "Great Day," which rings with steel strings and quiet heart. It's a snapshot of a talented industry lifer still discovering fresh avenues for exploration within himself, and a positive sign for Fleetwood Mac's recently announced reunion plans in 2009. But, to look at the ragged cover photo on Screws you'd never know that a pretty happy man awaits you inside.

"In the context of the road I've been down, and even in the context of Fleetwood Mac if you want to go back, the title takes on significantly more irony, and it's meant to. It was meant to be a bit confrontational. I don't know if the photo was meant to be that confrontational but it just worked out that way. Warner Brothers said it looked like a mug shot, but hey, what're you gonna do?" chuckles Buckingham. "The title and the whole lyric of the chorus is actually lifted from an Emily Dickinson poem. I'm not a scholar of hers by any means but we're always looking to see what we can rip, especially things that are public domain. Oh, I hope that's public domain [laughs]. It's actually a positive thing, even though it's got an assaultive tone. She's talking about making a fragrance or perfume and how you can't really expect to get that from just the sun coming down and growing the flower. You actually have to have a vision and a certain amount of love, and apply that to the gifts that are given you, to turn the screws and press the petals and get the oil out. So, anything worthwhile, to some degree, is going to be some sort of synthesis of the raw materials you're given and the vision and effort you apply."

The notion that one has to put their shoulder into it to see results speaks to Buckingham's legendary work ethic, which has often found him doing take after take, fine tuning elements that others simply gloss over. While possibly a touch obsessive, there is a degree of craftsmanship and master class musicianship at play in both his solo recordings and work with Fleetwood Mac. Albums like Gift of Screws or Rumours don't just happen. His studio efforts have the clean lines and etched features of a skilled sculptor, where the play of light and shadow, the implied and boldly stated, are all consciously put forth.

Vintage Mac
"Besides that [first] interpretation of 'screws,' you could add in the wisdom and strength you get from the things that have happened to you that haven't been so great, as in 'getting screwed.' It's not as if I wasn't aware of that as on overlay, or even the sexual innuendo, though I suppose that would be the least intentional. My sister-in-law got upset because she thought I was only speaking of sex," offers Buckingham, whose songwriting has often had a distinctly earthy backdrop, though more in a what-men-do-to-each-other way than anything carnal. "It's true. In some ways, to get back to the early days with Fleetwood Mac, there was a lot of stuff going on. That was part of the attraction – a people driving by to look at the accident mentality. It's been part of the story for sure."

Buckingham's personal history, especially the niggling details of his romantic entanglement with Stevie Nicks in the '70s, has been put under the celebrity spotlight for decades. It's a position most of us will be fortunate to never find ourselves in but one wonders if the gawking and prying get to him sometimes. He has kept a much more guarded existence since Fleetwood Mac became a once-in-a-while affair rather than a day-to-day circus, where he often threw himself into the Mac's music to the exclusion of everything else.

"It was almost a defense mechanism for the whole run of the band up till '87, when I took leave for a while, which was all based on the need to survive, the need to reclaim my individuality and sanity. But for a significant period of time before and after that the only way to deal with it was to put up some walls and kind of live a fairly narrow existence that was pretty much the life of a monk, in a way, but not in a healthy way necessarily – focusing very narrowly on the music. Maybe a lot of things that were left kinda unresolved from those days took a long time to tear all those walls down," says Buckingham, who has experienced a creative and personal flowering in recent years. "There's several reasons for that. One is after seeing many people around me – parents, husbands, wives or whatever – not be there for their families because we were all doing what we thought we had to do back then, well, that was something I didn't want to do. So, when I finally did meet my wife - which happened relatively late [in life] - it was a real gift. And then having children changes your life. It helps pick away at old patterns and it broadens your life out and sets a whole new standard for what your priorities are. You realize there's so much of a biological imperative going on. Obviously, with that as a foundation for the last 11 or 12 years, it's been profound in making a certain turn in my life."

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