There’s little question that the iconic band is losing a visionary musician (again) in Buckingham. But during a time when pop culture is reexamining its heroes, it’s important to remember that the guitarist and songwriter’s personal reputation is littered with allegations of controlling, belittling and even abusive behavior.
Rock-and-roll is often steeped in mythology, so, like any stories about the genre, it comes down to whom you choose to believe: the camp that believes he’s a misunderstood genius or the camp that believes he’s rock-and-roll’s premier jerk.
Many of the stories concerning Buckingham come from former romantic partners.
Buckingham and fellow bandmember Stevie Nicks might be the most famous star-crossed lovers since Romeo and Juliet, only their story ends with them playing in the same rock band and singing songs about each other. The dissolution of their years-long relationship added creative fuel to the writing and recording of 1977’s “Rumours,” Fleetwood Mac’s most successful album.
But tension existed between the two long before the breakup. The young lovers released a single, eponymous album as Buckingham Nicks two years before joining Fleetwood Mac. The couple appear nude on the album cover, something Nicks reportedly was highly uncomfortable with.
The studio said it wanted a sexy cover, so Nicks “with her last hundred dollars bought a loose, filmy white blouse that exposed a little skin, figuring that would do it,” according to her biography, “Gold Dust Woman” by Stephen Davis.
It wasn’t sexual enough for the photographer, who asked her to remove it and bare her breasts for the camera. Nicks protested, calling herself prude and saying her family wouldn’t approve of the image.
The photographer pushed, and Buckingham eventually snapped, according to the book.
“Don’t be paranoid,” Buckingham yelled. “Don’t be a [expletive] child. This is art!”
Eventually, feeling “trapped” and “under pressure,” Nicks removed her shirt and bra for the shoot. “She looked like someone else,” Davis wrote. “She also looked tense.”
Nicks felt “mortified” by the cover, particularly when it hit shelves in 1973 and earned the disapproval of her father. She almost quit music at the age of 25.
“From the beginning, Lindsey was very controlling and very possessive,” Nicks said, according to the biography.
Things didn’t improve after their breakup. Buckingham wrote “Go Your Own Way” in 1976 about Nicks, even though Nicks had to help perform the song. The lyrics are full of vitriol, from the bluntly cruel (“Loving you isn’t the right thing to do”) to the character-questioning (“Packing up, shacking up’s all you wanna do”). Nicks was, of course, insulted.
“I very, very much resented him telling the world that ‘packing up, shacking up’ with different men was all I wanted to do,” Nicks told Rolling Stone. “He knew it wasn’t true. It was just an angry thing that he said. Every time those words would come out onstage, I wanted to go over and kill him. He knew it, so he really pushed my buttons through that. It was like, ‘I’ll make you suffer for leaving me.’”
Things grew worse. During a 1980 tour for “Tusk,” Buckingham allegedly mocked Nicks onstage, tried to trip her and, at one point, attempted to kick her. Singer Christine McVie was furious. She found Buckingham after the show and hit him.
“I think he’s the only person I ever, ever slapped,” McVie told Rolling Stone. “I actually might have chucked a glass of wine, too. I just didn’t think it was the way to treat a paying audience. I mean, aside from making a mockery of Stevie like that. Really unprofessional, over the top. Yes, she cried. She cried a lot.”
He later also threw “a Les Paul [guitar] at Nicks’ head during the show,” McVie and Nicks told the magazine.
Buckingham has claimed that he doesn’t remember the incidents.
While that tension only continued growing, both Buckingham and Nicks have said that it fuels their creative output.
“Relations with Lindsey are exactly as they have been since we broke up,” Nicks told Rolling Stone in 1981. “He and I will always be antagonizing to each other, and we will always do things that will irritate each other, and we really know how to push each other’s buttons. We know exactly what to say when we really want to throw a dagger in.”
Much darker and more concerning are the stories Buckingham’s next serious girlfriend, Carol Ann Harris, shared in her tell-all memoir, “Storms: My Life with Lindsey Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac.”
In one, Buckingham, needing to urinate while being driven to a hotel, unzipped his pants and evacuated himself into his boot, “as our driver looked on in horror,” according to the book.
In another, Harris hung out with the band’s crew members only to discover that a jealous Buckingham had ordered them not to talk to her. “And in their eyes I saw a sense of fear that I recognized — fear of Lindsey’s anger. Nobody wanted to be the target of Lindsey’s fury — and this I understood.”
Throughout the book, Buckingham is shown doing mountains of cocaine and verbally and physically abusing Harris, which she described in great detail.
In one instance, she wrote, he “raised his arm and hit me hard enough to knock me off the staircase into the wall.” In another, she wrote, he grabbed a fistful of her hair, got in a car and drove down the driveway, dragging her across the pavement.
Eventually, Harris claimed, a doctor told her that she had to leave Buckingham for her own safety — so she did.
As with any memoir, it’s difficult to assess the validity of these stories. They certainly contrast wildly with a 1984 Rolling Stone profile titled — and this is not a joke — “Lindsey Buckingham, Lonely Guy,” in which Buckingham talked about how much he wanted a “wonderful, sensitive, soul-mate girl.” This was during the “fairly barren” period after his relationships with Nicks and Harris ended.
The profile painted Buckingham as a musical genius who spends most of his time in the studio, trying to “break down preconceptions about what pop music is” and “struggling to be original” — but also as someone who worried “visibly about being the good host.”
Some problematic details cracked through in the piece, though.
Take Buckingham’s comments on Harris: “At first, she was just another conquest.”
And, even though in that very profile, Harris said Buckingham’s solo record about their failed relationship (“Go Insane”) made her “angry” and “sad” and was “upsetting,” the rocker said he doesn’t regret making it.
”I didn’t have too many second thoughts, mainly because it was either that or go to a shrink,” Buckingham told the magazine. ”I know that sounds a little flippant. I think it was something that had to be addressed. People who write things that mean something, usually they’re a little too personal for somebody else. That’s a risk that has to be taken.”
The only thing that is certain is that Fleetwood Mac has always been a pressure cooker.
To wit: Criticism has been levied not just against Buckingham but all the members of the band. Grammy-winning producer Ken Caillat, who worked on “Rumours,” once said in an interview that after the record was released, he and the crew felt like “survivors of the Titanic or something.”
“You feel like you’re family, and you’re not a family. Fleetwood Mac was not generous ‘parents.’ They’re pretty selfish; so many people that were part of the family have since been discarded,” he said, adding, “They’re all so self-centered and egotistical that they don’t think about anyone.”
Buckingham’s recent departure from the band could be for a number of reasons — but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if that pressure cooker finally exploded.