Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Definition of Sellout - Fleetwood Mac?

I was on iTunes last night, screwing around, looking for some music to accompany my lonely dissertation-writing Friday night. For some reason I had a hankering to hear some old Fleetwood Mac songs...'old' as in from 1975. Before I knew what had hit me I had stumbled upon some REALLY old stuff, and holy cow! I couldn't believe my ears! I always knew that before becoming the supergroup that rocked my teenage world they had been a very talented blues band. But I didn't know until last night just how great a distance they had traveled from 1967 to 1977. The shift from their early, serious music roots and Stevie Nicks' flowing butterfly-dance stadium rock ending is shocking. Shocking and somewhat sickening, actually, that it's the same (well, I'll get to that later) band.

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This is Peter Green, one of the original guitarists. The 'Danny' he refers to is the extremely talented Danny Kirwan, later kicked out of the band for being an alcoholic and general pain in the ass. Now I realize that technically this is NOT the same band...there were numerous changes in personnel over the course of the early 70s, each change bringing a slightly different sound...but the name and two of the original members remained. This early stuff is absolutely amazing, and makes me feel very sad for what they became.

Once again I ask my naive question: how could one band (again, given the lineup changes that term is fluid) allow itself to put out the music they released in their later years...Gypsy, Say You Love Me, Don't Stop...given the quality of the music they had made previously? Of course, to address this question we also have to examine the concept of 'band' in the first place. Where does the true soul of a group lie? Is it dependent on each individual member? If one person leaves, is it actually a different band? Now, I realize that a rhythm section does not a band make, but nonetheless the name and two original members remain in the two very distinct incarnations of this group. How do we explain it? Are the two Fleetwood Macs completely unrelated, having nothing in common but the name?

Don't get me wrong. I realize the contribution the later Fleetwood Mac made to pop music in general, and I'm not denying that they had a certain appeal, given the era. I had all their albums in high school, saw them at the Atlanta Omni (God rest its concrete soul) in 1979, played their records at our many drunken parents-out-of-town parties - I admit that they were IT in the late 70's. But now, as a music connoisseur (ahem,) I must ask myself: did they actually feel good about what they turned into, given what they had been?

I suppose it's all relative anyway. There was no such thing as an arena band until the late 70s, so it isn't as if Fleetwood Mac made a conscious decision to give up their blues roots and become hugely popular. In a way they helped create 'hugely popular' in the first place. Nevertheless, there was a conscious decision at some point to go for success rather than quality. The music they were capable of and inspired to make in an earlier incarnation is light years away from the supergroup pablum they are famous for.

I think we have to ask ourselves, especially at this point in music history, where the value of a song is most often determined based solely on how many copies it sells: in the final scheme of things, is money truly the motivation for any artistic creation? Is all music ultimately a sell-out? Are the obscenely large number of album sales really worth the compromise Fleetwood Mac made, music-wise? Is this just the way it is, when art is a commodity? Is art ever NOT a commodity?

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1 comment:

Chicken & Waffles said...

A very thoughtful analysis, Jules. What's more, I completely agree with you. Everytime I hear a snippet from "Rumours," I throw up in my mouth a little (metaphorically speaking). As always, I enjoyed your thoughts here.

Gotta ask though--you spend your Friday nights working on your PhD dissertation? Seriously? It's summertime, baby. Take a night off!