By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Storms: My Life WIth Lindsey Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac
By Carol Ann Harris
Chicago Review Press,
400 pages, $24.95
So maybe you've heard that the members of Fleetwood Mac did a little cocaine in their heyday? Well, make no mistake, they did a lot of cocaine. Unbelievable amounts. All the time. Everywhere.
Carol Ann Harris — girlfriend of Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham from the 1977 release of the band's megahit album "Rumours" through Buckingham's second solo album in the early '80s — recalls how each band member took a powder before, during and after nearly every concert. In her new memoir, Storms: My Life With Lindsey Buckingham and Fleetwood Mac, she recalls the first night of the "Rumours" tour, when the road manager "J.C." ordered Buckingham, singer Stevie Nicks and the rest of the band to line up backstage a few minutes before show time.
"They seemed to know what came next," she writes. "Like obedient schoolchildren, the band formed their line, holding out their fists. J.C. poured a small pile of cocaine onto each wrist. 'Two minutes! Let's toot and get those roses in your cheeks, Stevie!' "
The artificial stimulants continued throughout the concerts, too, with roadies supplying bottlecaps full of blow to tables in the wings. "During the show, the band would fade back to the speakers at every opportunity and give themselves a bottlecap pick-me-up," Harris writes. "On Christine and John's [McVie] side of the stage, vodka tonics were replenished as needed, and on Lindsey's side ... his roadie always kept a joint going."
In this book, that's supposed to be the fun part. Then the domestic violence begins — sudden bursts of fury from Buckingham that would vanish as quickly as they appeared but leave behind physical and mental wounds — and what first seemed to Harris like a fairy-tale romance in swingin' '70s Los Angeles turned into a downward spiral of monstrous abuse and fear. Now, 30 years after it all began, Harris is finally publishing her candid account — and a rare glimpse — of life inside the band.
Q. So why write this book now?
A. I actually started writing in 1990. Everyone assumes I just sat down and wrote it this year. It originally started as some writing for myself. I decided to start writing about what I went through, going through all my journals and tapes. By 1991, I had about a thousand-page manuscript. A friend helped me organize it, and we started paring it down. The fact that I was a battered woman really kept driving me, but that's such a small part of the book. It's mainly just a story of what it's like to be with the band. I've been asked a million times, "What was it like?" So I tried my best to give an eyewitness account.
Q. How aware was the band that you were working on this, and what have the reactions been?
A. Sarah Fleetwood [wife of drummer Mick] and I remained best friends for years, so she knew from the very beginning, from the first page. I'm friends with John Courage, too ["J.C."], and made sure the band knew. They've known for years. I don't know how they feel about the finished book, but I hope they like a lot of it.
Q. You haven't heard anything from them?
A. No reactions. It's been very silent. I fully expected feedback — these are not people who stand by quietly for anything.
Q. OK, so the cocaine. Wow. That was a lot of blow.
A. People are shocked by this. I thought everyone already knew that. It was funny at the time, though it was a sheer miracle we weren't busted. It was everywhere. The band never tried to hide it.
Q. Why do you think the drugs were such an integral part of this particular group — or was it like this with every other band, too, and Mac just gets the press about it?
A. I didn't tour with other bands, but you know, members of the Eagles have spoken publicly about drug use. From my experience, it's so exhausting and just such pressure [to be a touring musician]. These people going out on the road singing the same song night after night, doing three cities in three days, and doing it all for a year at a time — it's exhausting. The cocaine kept them going. And four members were in relationships that crumbled, so having to perform night after night with someone you'd like to never see again, and singing songs about that very fact, well, it drives you to crazy things.
Q. Do you think the music would have been different without the drugs?
A. There's a new article in Classic Rock [magazine], an interview with [Fleetwood Mac producers] Ken Calliat and Richard Dashut talking about that. The band was so high on blow that they made music that was edgier and more powerful. But then, who knows how great it could've been without the cocaine?
Q. This is a cliched question of abused women, I fear, but I think the tension in this narrative begs it: Why did you suffer abuse for so long before leaving Lindsey Buckingham?
A. It was not like you've probably heard or seen domestic abuse portrayed. I never got the apology the next day, the bouquet of flowers and the "Sorry, I'll never do that again." I got up the next day and he refused to speak about it, like it never happened. It never seemed to happen for a concrete reason. It's not that I was out too late or had done something or was being punished. It would happen out of the blue. It didn't make sense, so I thought it was my fault. I'm not a good enough girlfriend, I'm not relieving his pressure. I blamed it on the pressure of the music, this album or that album, being on the road.
Q. What finally led you to leave him?
A. That episode at the end of the book, when he'd really hurt me and I went to Century City Hospital so badly injured. And I had to say it out loud: This was done, I was injured. That doctor — what I wrote was verbatim, I never forgot what he said — saying, "You have to leave him." It was a huge wakeup call.
Q. Lindsey and Stevie broke up before you two were together, but their romantic tension endures to this day, at least in the view of the public. Why is that?
A. Because their relationship is trapped in those great songs that are still played over and over, and which mean something to so many people still. It's interesting to me that when most people break up, people cease to see you as a couple. For Christine and John, and especially for Stevie and Lindsey, they'll always be a couple. The public will always see them as Romeo and Juliet because they still perform together and sing those songs.
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Ten years ago, the album wasn't even out yet but the single already had MMMbopped onto the Billboard charts in the Top 20, and Walker Hanson, father of the three boys who would take his surname into the pop cultural stratosphere, stood offstage in the family's hometown of Tulsa, Okla., plugged his ears against the squealing audience, shook his head and sighed, "I never dreamed it would lead to this."
Today, Taylor Hanson — the Hanson trio's still-hunky lead singer — is 24 and has three kids of his own. He can't believe it led to this, either, he says. In fact, a decade after Taylor and his brothers, older Isaac and younger Zac, inflated bubblegum pop to new heights with the megahit single "MMMBop," Taylor was sitting backstage before a show last week in Westbury, N.Y., talking about growth and change and life lessons learned and all the old days gone by.
Rewind: He's 24.
"A lot of fans have been there with us from the beginning, but they're not the same people," Taylor says. "Everybody's really changed. ... Time is weird that way. Some things seem like yesterday, some seem like a lifetime ago. Fans are saying to us now, 'Hey, 10 years.' And everybody's got a different story. 'I was doing this when I first heard you,' that kinda thing. But it's 10 years — and they're still fans."
Why is that, and how has this band of brothers survived? They still sell records — 2004's "Underneath" wasn't their best effort but it still sold more than 350,000 copies, and the new single, "The Great Divide," was the most-requested song at Chicago's Q101 early this month — and this weekend's two-night stand at the House of Blues, supporting July's new release, "The Walk," sold out right quick. They were lumped in with their late-'90s classmates, called a "boy band" just like 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. But those confectionary concoctions have melted away (in many cases, imploded), and the hook of "MMMBop" is still alarmingly easy to recall and hum. There have been no tortured Hanson solo albums, and no rehab.
Taylor says today's Hanson fans are mostly the same group that fell in love with him and his brothers in '97, young women (and, yes, some guys) now roughly his age. But he adds, "There's also, like, a younger generation, younger siblings. Maybe their twentysomething friend or sister turned them on to us. Or, for that matter, a parent." And he kind of snorts when he says the word "parent."
Rewind: He and wife Natalie, 23, have three kids.
Thing is, what the fans are paying for is largely what they've always gotten from Hanson: reliable, groove-driven, nearly soulful rock and pop. The band's riffs still can beat down Maroon 5, and Taylor's punched-in-the-gut vocals can still out-soul poseurs like the Fray.
"Not to pat ourselves on the back," Taylor says, "but we've never really done anything that reflects very directly what's going on. We've always been our own beast, drawing influences from places that are not the same as our peers. The thing that's in [the national debut disc, 'Middle of Nowhere'] is the core of our influences, that soul music, that freshness that came from young guys who loved that classic soul music and interpreted it with the energy of young teenagers."
And do they still have that energy, now that they're absolutely ancient in their 20s?
"It's a little different now, but we can still move it," Taylor says. Then he chuckles. "We're sustainable energy. We're moving beyond fossil fuels."
Free of its record company — the subject of much rejoicing in the Hanson camp, as well as analysis in the documentary film "Strong Enough to Break" — Hanson returned home to Tulsa to record "The Walk."
"The last album ['Underneath'] was very disjointed," Taylor says. "We wanted to do something that was the opposite of that, something rooted and familiar. Instead of battling record-company turmoil or going in the aimless direction of some A&R guy, we wanted to settle into a place where we felt comfortable and make a great record."
Then he starts talking like a lame-duck president, musing over his band's legacy. (Rewind: just 10 years in pop music.)
"It's really interesting the way history looks at Hanson now," Taylor says. "The evolving perception is that our first record was a garage band with a couple of really talented R&B beat-oriented producers that kind of shared our love of soul music. And we want that to endure."
8 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday
House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn
A decade of Hanson
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
It seems like only yesterday we were loving, then hating, that furiously catchy "MMMBop" single. But it was 10 whole years ago. A look back at the boys' boppin' ride:
Before the "Middle of Nowhere" album is released in May, Hanson's inaugural single, "MMMBop," debuts in Billboard's Top 20. By the end of the summer, the song — with a nonsensical chorus that requires no real translation — has hit No. 1 or at least the Top 10 in every country that keeps pop charts. At Christmas, there's even a fresh Hanson holiday album on shelves, "Snowed In."
The trio tours and tours and tours. To have something else to hawk at each stadium the world over, they reissue songs from their previous two regional releases as a collection called "Three Car Garage," then a live album called "Live From Albertane."
The Music Industry Massacre of 1999 finds Hanson's label, Mercury, folded into the Island Def Jam conglomerate. Relations deteriorate.
The sophomore effort shows up: "This Time Around," a remarkably muscled and rockin' collection featuring guest spots from fellow young phenom Jonny Lang and Blues Traveler's John Popper.
Hanson struggles to escape its contract with Island Def Jam. The brothers tour, but new music is not forthcoming. Meanwhile, Taylor gets married and has his first child.
The whirlwind touring continues, but at least this one's an acoustic affair. In fact, the Hansons record and film their Chicago stop to release later as the DVD "Underneath Acoustic Live."
On its own indie label, 3CG Records, the band releases "Underneath," another strong set featuring collaborations with Matthew Sweet. The album enters Billboard's Independent Chart at No. 1.
Hey, let's tour some more! This time, Hanson stopped at colleges along the way to screen its documentary, "Strong Enough to Break," about its break from Island Def Jam and the road to becoming indie rockers.
The trio travels to South Africa and Mozambique, recording a children's choir to be used on future songs. Both Isaac and Zac get married.
In the weeks leading up to the July release of "The Walk," Hanson's fourth full-length album, the band posts half a dozen video podcasts online about the making of the record.
Fans, band 'walk' together
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
Hanson isn't just talking the talk these days, they're walking "The Walk." Literally.
As part of the tour, the band is staging a one-mile walk in each city, inviting fans to join the Hanson brothers to just ... walk.
"It's amazing to see what happens when you grab a few hundred kids and walk down the middle of the road," Taylor Hanson says. "There's an impact on the people walking — talking, getting together — and the people observing."
These events are an outgrowth of Hanson's newly emerged social conscience, itself the result of the band's recent travels in Africa.
"The Walk" album opens with a children's choir in Soweto, South Africa, singing a message of hope. The Hansons found these kids when they joined some friends from a Tulsa, Okla.-based medical technology company, Docvia, on a trip last year delivering goods to a hospital in South Africa. There they encountered the continent's HIV/AIDS crisis firsthand.
"These kids, orphaned in the epidemic, started chanting, 'I have hope.' We just thought that was so powerful," Taylor says. "What we came back with was a sense that the issue of AIDS really relates to middle America and our generation, because we're the ones who can attack it and do something about it. And we thought, one way or another, we need to capture this in our music."
The choir appears in the Hanson song "Great Divide," which was released on iTunes as a charity single, with proceeds going to a Soweto hospital.
The exact location of each day's walk will be announced at hanson.net three hours in advance. They'll be encouraging you to buy some shoes there, too — TOMS shoes has offered to donate a pair of shoes to needy kids for every pair purchased. And even if you're not feeling charitable: Fans who participate in the walks will get into the concert each night ahead of the line.
By Thomas Conner
© Chicago Sun-Times
It's a big family. You've got Loudon Wainwright III, once declared a "new Bob Dylan," who's been singing and recording personal folk songs for coming on four decades now. His ex-wife is Kate McGarrigle, of Canada's beloved McGarrigle Sisters. Their children are singer-songwriter Martha and the grandiose pop star Rufus Wainwright. One of the Roches and her daughter lurk in this family tree, too. Everyone has their own career, and sometimes they even sing together.
But, as Yoda once said, there is another.
Sloan Wainwright — Loudon's sister, Rufus and Martha's aunt — is the undiscovered treasure of this musical dynasty. Writing and singing since her youth (she's not quite 50), she's been recording only for the last decade. But already her six CDs have set her apart from her brother's witty, documentarian and occasionally caustic songs.
"My songwriting is very different from Loudon's," says Sloan during a phone conversation from her home in Katonah, N.Y. "We're such different people, and we come from a very different place as far as expressing ourselves."
Loudon's songs frequently dwell on undisguised family issues. His divorces are well-chronicled in his catalog, as are various escapades and bouts with the kids ("Rufus Is a Tit Man," "Father/ Daughter Dialogue," "Five Years Old"). Rufus and Martha have returned the favor on their own albums, and even Sloan has mentioned the relatives in her own music.
But in "The Baby and the Bathwater," from her most recent album, "Life Grows Back," she sings the woe of all such biographical songwriters: "Why must we have an audience / To applaud our every confession?"
"That song itself is a family song," she says. "It's kind of an auntie giving some auntie-ish advice about being grateful for the good stuff that comes in life, and that line, that's really kind of asking the question about the predicament many of my friends and family are in, this situation where we do work ourselves out in front of an audience. And maybe it's not always such a great idea."
Sloan's recording career came late because she was sidetracked for 23 years as co-owner of the Bakers Cafe in Katonah. Throughout that experience, though, she continued singing and performing, developing her stage chops and her unique, contralto voice before learning to apply it in the studio.
"The way I see it, there's the art of writing songs, the art of working with your instrument, then there's the art of creating a record, which is entirely separate, and then there's the art of performance," Sloan says. "To me, they're all kind of separate. ... One thing with my songs and my voice that I've learned to do over the years is to kind of use my voice — not my writing voice but the sonic part of my instrument — to rearrange what people are thinking in a performance. ... It's not so much about what I'm saying as how I'm saying it, the way words go together and the way I make them sound."
Chicagoans can experience such rearrangement when Sloan Wainwright makes a rare appearance here — on radio, at least. She and her trusted guitarist, Stephen Murphy, will perform live on "Folkstage" at 6 p.m. Saturday on WFMT-FM (98.7). (Only members of the WFMT Fine Arts Circle can attend the broadcast as the studio audience.) She'll be playing songs from "Life Grows Back."
She also will appear with Dorothy Scott and Maura O'Connell at a benefit show, "A Women's Night Out: The Art of Music," at 8 p.m. Sept. 15, at the Door County Auditorium in Fish Creek, Wis.
Loudon also has a Chicago date ahead: Sept. 22 with Lucy Roche (his daughter by Suzzy Roche) at the Old Town School of Folk Music.
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.