Rock’ n’ roll, it’s a laugh and a joke until the point that it really isn’t. The many members in the rolling cast of Fleetwood Mac know this all too well. From cults to the curbside and cocaine addictions, the band is one that has seen its brethren blighted by all sorts of ills since its inception. The musical output may have been outstanding over the various eras, but it has come at a heavy cost.
Take, for instance, the first member we will focus on: Jeremy Spencer. In 1967, after Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood left their band The Bluesbreakers, they teamed up with slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer and bassist Bob Brunning to form Fleetwood Mac. An avid fan of the Chicago blues scene, Spencer helped to define the band’s early sound, but his status as an integral member didn’t last long.
In February of 1971, amid a largely successful tour, Spencer nipped off to pick up a magazine and never returned. The distressed band searched for their starring blues influence for days only to find that he wasn’t quite leafing through Country Homes in a bus shelter and was actually holed up as a happily ordained member of the Children of God cult.
This, however, was not some hippy jaunt that the musician had embarked upon. The Children of God cult remains one of the most despicable in American history. Its founder, David Berg, told members that God was love and that love was sex. Thus, it stood to reason to spread the sexual love of God to anyone and everyone regardless of age or relationship.
Although horrific stories have continued to come from the cult (which now goes by the name The Family International), Spencer remains inexplicably blasé about the whole thing. “I was sad, uninspired musically, I had questions about life, death, love, my future, God – everything,” claimed Spencer. “I couldn’t go on with it. Bottom line, I had to leave in order to step back from the picture and get my life sorted out. I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t, and they would not have gone on to be one of the biggest bands in history!”
Adding: “I don’t say that in a self-demeaning way, because I knew when I heard the first album with the Buckingham-Nicks line up, that they had hit on something good with an enormously catchy appeal. Besides that, after I left them, I prayed for God to reward them with success beyond their dreams. He answered that prayer.”
It is suspected by many that although Spencer’s initial impetus seemed offhand and undefined, drugs may well have played a part in the matter just as they did for Peter Green. Green was the iconic guitarist who trailblazer rock ‘n’ roll blues riffs into scintillating early Fleetwood Mac records and elucidated his songwriting skills to go along with it in lilting ditties like the beauteous ‘Man of the World’.
Sadly, however, he only lasted three albums with the band. Those first three albums had enamoured a European fanbase, and when they embarked on a huge tour, a tragedy befell them in Munich. Green was greeted at the airport by suspicious fans. “John McVie would certainly blame an evening in Germany where Peter took some more drugs and for sure never really came back from that to our recollection,” Mick Fleetwood once recalled. “John is, to this day, absolutely furious with these people. We call them the German jet set, and they captured Peter completely and pulled him away.”
Even the aforementioned Spencer himself has commented on this strange incident. He describes a woman who greeted Green as a “model/actress looking girl dressed in black velvet, Woah!” and she was with “this John Lennon looking guy in wire glasses.” They accompanied Green to the gig and watched the rest of the band with a certain disdain before inviting everyone back to “a party at this huge mansion place in the forest.”
Amid a manic psychedelic party in a commune-like mansion, Green descended into the basement and arrived out of the other side “in tears”. In the band’s eyes, he was distraught. However, Green asserted that he played the most spiritual music of his life in the bowels of that psychedelic basement.
Another member of the band present that day was Danny Kirwan; fate also besieged him that night. “Peter Green and Danny Kirwan both went together to that house in Munich,” their one-time manager Clifford Davis recalls, “both of them took acid, as I understand. Both of them, as of that day, became seriously mentally ill. It would be too much of a coincidence for it to be anything other than taking drugs, as of that day.”
While Green would recover and enjoy a creative life away from the spotlight despite persistent problems, things fared differently for Kirwan. “Danny had been a nervous and sensitive lad from the start. He was never really suited to the rigours of the business,” Mick Fleetwood once opined. “Touring is hard, and the routine wears us all down … Our manager kept us touring non-stop, and we were being stretched to our limits … and the pressure was obviously taking its toll. He simply withdrew into his own world.”
One night while backstage, this regression came to the fore. “Danny was being odd about tuning his guitar,” Mick Fleetwood continues. “He got up suddenly … and bashed his head into the wall, splattering blood everywhere. I’d never seen him do anything that violent in all the years I’d known him. The rest of us were paralysed, in complete shock. He grabbed his precious Les Paul guitar and smashed it to bits.”
He was promptly sacked from the band, and in the callous world of showbiz in those days, very little was done to provide a parachute for the former star, and his mental wellbeing was largely disregarded. As Mick Fleetwood bluntly told Men’s Journal, “he was wonderful, but couldn’t handle the life,” eventually ending up homeless on the streets of London.
When Bob Brunning tried to track Kirwan down for a memoir, he found him holed up St Mungo’s Community Hostel for the Homeless in Covent Garden in London. The derelict man that Brunning recalls merely looked at him and said in an incoherent mumble, “Can’t help you Bob. Too much stress.”
Four years later, he was traced once more. This time he was in a Los Angeles hostel for the homeless where he had been for four years, apparently living on social security and a small amount of royalties. As he told The Independent: “I’ve been through a bit of a rough patch, but I’m not too bad. I get by. I suppose I am homeless, but then I’ve never really had a home since our early days on tour.” After departures of the several bandmembers listed, Fleetwood Mac, as an entity, was just about cursed to failure itself.
While all this might seem like a sorry symptom of the era, when the band rose from the ash heap of history and welcomed Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, the good time of their 1975 self-titled LP soon fell to ruin as tour stresses and addictions soon took their toll once more. The soap opera that followed is well-renowned sitcom fodder… if only it wasn’t so truly tragic.
During the making of the masterpiece of Rumours, John and Christine McVie were in the midst of a mutually self-destructive divorce and took to the secluded Sausalito studio in a sort of comatose stupor, the symptoms of which pertained to denying each other’s existence unless it involved simple uncommunicative utterances, like ‘what key are you in John?’.
And Buckingham and Nicks had previously been so close that they seemed to exist as a single entity. So much so that their break-up was like splitting an atom along with the volatile reaction that ensues. Meanwhile, poor old sticksmith Mick Fleetwood was trying to hold this fragile band of despairing brethren together whilst also coming to terms with the fact that his wife had left him for his best friend.
To complete the Rumours recipe, add a glug of alcoholism, and a pinch of mass cocaine addiction, bake in a hot Californian, windowless oven for 15 hours a day for almost a year, garnish with a strange sort of symbiosis, and serve up the pop perfection—the sort of manic perfection that provides a paradigm for the happenings in the most cursed band on the planet.