Thursday, February 9, 2012

He's Got The Whole World... : Fleetwood Mac: "Man of the World"

And now the focus shifts from the loud, sometimes obnoxious world of pop - a world where Peter Noone unfortunately can't find a jukebox - to something deeper, more primal. I am strongly tempted to say this is music coming from the very roots of all this music to begin with, as if the listener just went down a rabbit hole and was cast into sudden darkness, or descended into a cave. Why?

The blues boom of the late 60s in the UK was a reaction against things, as well as a continuation of what made those things possible in the first place. The blues is primal - John Lennon compared it to a chair; I tend to think of it as more like bread - and there were those who started in blues bands before going on to other things, those who remained loyal and those who never really could leave the blues in the first place. For so many UK musicians the blues was their first love, and after the Summer of Love that weirded so many out, that first love asserted itself as both a reaction and a return. Every town worth its yeast had at least once decent blues band, some going on to worldwide fame once they got going (Black Sabbath were a blues band originally, Led Zeppelin obviously came out of the blues, as did Free, Ten Years After, Deep Purple, etc*.)

At this point however, there was one band that held sway, and it was Fleetwood Mac, a band from south and west of London that had a woozy instrumental, "Albatross" already go to #1 in the chart. The blues scene - or at least some of it - might of thought of this as 'selling out' (i.e. having hit singles) but at this time record companies still wanted them to help get the word out and of course to make money, even if the leader and main guitarist of Fleetwood Mac was becoming increasingly alienated from the whole process of recording, touring, recording, touring...

For this is Peter Green's song.

It is quiet; pretty, like the girls he has seen, but guarded, unnerving. And then that line: "I just wish I'd never been born." But there he is, in his cave full of melody and longing, the clamor of life around him as he nakedly sings about how he wishes he was in love. But there is no one there. There is no Other, not even in the past. The pretty girls are just part of the outer world, but not his inner world of experience. That inner world is scarily barren and full at the same time, like a glittering cave of riches that serves no purpose as there is no one to share its beauty with...clearly this is Pluto before Persephone, miserable, alone, wishing he did not exist, living only to tell others how down he is, the wry guitar lines mangled and yet still beautiful, but overwhelmingly different.

That such a cry of anguish got to #2 is remarkable, to say the least; I imagine some bought it as they were fans, some because they identified all too well with the lyrics (not everyone enjoyed the Summer of Love) and some because the song just stood out from the rest of the chart, bracingly intimate and close - no big production here, no cheery message, no real aspirations to pop stardom. One man and his tale of having the world and having nothing; a palpable emptiness that portends something bigger...

For those who wanted the real sourdough thing, Fleetwood Mac were it; but Peter Green's growing alienation (not unlike Syd Barrett's, in some ways) would push the band's fate in ways they would barely comprehend at this time, including a young Californian who was listening to them and copying Peter Green, as if writing his own fate. There are big things afoot here, things that even in the self-mythologizing world of blues/rock are strange, as the 60s relentlessly grinds everything down to its essence, and ordinary songs of love (for the purposes of this blog) are no longer enough.

Next up: we go to the other root of popular music, and the other side of the equation.

*One other band I should mention is Chicken Shack, whose lead singer was one Christine Perfect. She liked Fleetwood Mac and was attracted to Peter Green but sensed he would be a little difficult, so she got to be friendly with their bass player, John McVie.

1 comment:

Bob Stanley said...

So gentle and quiet, until 1.07 when there's a brief burst of Spectorian sound, like a thunder cloud breaking overhead. And then it's all gentility again.

It reminds me of the short but explosive brass section on Laura Nyro's Captain For Dark Mornings. Very, very sparing, and very effective.