on fleetwood mac and vaso-vagal syncopes

OK, time to get back onto the ululating horse and ride it. Not pain-free yet, but pain now seems to be morphing into something more tolerable, like discomfort. Yesterday I went into my doc’s office for an IV drip of glutathione and other nutrients, and the assistant (not the usual one) couldn’t find my vein, was poking around, and suddenly… I got very… dizzy… and sweaty… and passed out. I suppose it was a combination of being overly warm and a little freaked, but I’m usually OK with needles. My doctor said that sometimes that hunting for a vein can trigger a vasovagal syncope, or fainting spell, or, if you will, a swoon.

Did you ever notice how when you lose consciousness, time just stops? Or rather, extends? There’s a feeling of panic as you go under, then… surrender. I felt as if I stayed in that place for at least fifteen minutes, or as much as a few hours, but really it was probably only a minute or two at most. There were thoughts and events there that I can’t remember now, but I absolutely felt myself to be in some parallel reality. Do you know what I mean? Have you ever had an experience like this? It’s like reading (Proust, specifically), or dreaming.

So my poemtalk in Philly (on a characteristically brilliant poem of Sharon Mesmer’s), to which I’d been very much looking forward, has been postponed today because of the blizzard, and I’m at home with Gary and the little felines, looking out the windows at the snow-covered streets and tree branches, and, if you can believe this, listening to Fleetwood Mac on Rhapsody.

I hate Fleetwood Mac. I believe I have always hated Fleetwood Mac. But just the other day over at James Sherry’s loft, Drew Gardner, who likes Fleetwood Mac very much, was challenging me to explain why I hated them. He said that when I talked about them (or about other bands I hate, like U2), I looked as if I were about to spit up, but that I wasn’t really able to give reasons for my intense dislike. I defended myself by saying that I don’t really have the vocabulary to talk about music in the same way I talk about poetry, but thinking more about that, I’m realizing just how lame that is. I am a writer. I can write about anything I want – pitchforks, pipe dreams, periwigs – but to be articulate about things I dislike I need to pay some analytical attention to them, even if I am loath to do so.

Drew’s right that it isn’t enough for me to say that I hate Fleetwood Mac because I hate the bourgeois & complacent mindsets of the people who are their most devoted listeners, and that I can’t just make like Holden Caulfield and say I don’t like them because they sound “phony.” I really need to be able to back up my convictions with something more than just a sociological value judgment, or the vague statement that they sound too shallow or too sweet. Musically, what is it, exactly, that turns me off about the music of Fleetwood Mac, besides the fact that I had to endure living in Marin County as a young teenager around the sort of people who embody everything I dislike about them sociologically?

So I listened to three songs: Chain, Rhiannon, Say That You Love Me. Here are some things I notice that I dislike:

I dislike the bass line of Rhiannon. It sounds like it is recorded in a box. I am too aware of the way it bosses the song around. Somehow I am also too able to picture the way the strings look and how they feel on the musician’s hands, and that irritates me. It seems like the gestalt of the song gets lost in that bossy bass line.

I dislike the singing styles of both female singers. I know that Stevie Nicks in particular is a good singer, and there is a richness to her voice. But I still don’t like it. Neither she nor McVie ever sings full-throatedly (as, for example, Janis did, or Grace Slick), and that restraint sounds boring and lifeless to me. For that matter, I don’t like Sade either, although I haven’t heard her new album.

I admit that the songs are memorable, and I suppose that is something one wants out of pop music. But one also wants the songs to speak to one’s own experience in some kind of resonant way. This doesn’t happen to me for any of the songs of Fleetwood Mac, although they do call up memories of a specific time and place (Marin in the late 70s: ugh); I can’t imagine, though, ever wanting to listen to these songs for commiseration or solace or entertainment or motivation. Formally, what is it about them that makes me feel this way? It can’t be the repetition of lyrics, because all pop songs have that. It isn’t the cheesiness, because actually the songs aren’t that cheesy. If anything, they aren’t cheesy enough. I can still happily listen to “I Write the Songs” and “Knights in White Satin,” and feel suitably, if ironically, moved, but Fleetwood Mac songs feel, to me, almost perfunctory in comparison. They are too fluid, perhaps?

But that can’t be it. Joni Mitchell is the paragon of fluidity, and I don’t feel that way about her music at all.

I do like the harmonies at the beginning of Chain. It reminds me of CSN (Y?)’s Tin Soldiers a bit. But that 4/4 beat that sounds like someone is thumping on cardboard is just… insulting. After listening to Arabic pop, I can hardly bear it. Also, the lyrics of this song are boringly self-pitying…no?

The tinkly earnest guitar plucking of Landslide… does anyone like that? I mean, I like that in Donovan, and Dylan. Why not here?

“Mmm mmm, I don’t know,” sings Stevie, in this co-dependent song. I don’t know either. I don’t think I can separate from my long-held prejudices about the total boringness of this band, especially when I’m still on a typing quota, so, sorry Drew, I don’t think I want to bring my admittedly non-formidable analytical powers to bear on Fleetwood Mac any longer, because I think I’m going to be sick.

15 thoughts on “on fleetwood mac and vaso-vagal syncopes

  1. This is unrelated except from a technical standpoint, but are you familiar with Grooveshark.com? It's similar to Rhapsody, but free.

    Also, Dark Side of the Moon, while not as good as Piper, still rocks, and justifies Pink Floyd's continued existence as far as I'm concerned. 🙂

  2. Nada.

    I hope you get ot feel better sooner!
    please be well@

    a good band is the called

    HP Lovecraft.
    I know that you and Gary can listen
    to a band abot the Chthulu peoples.

    please listen to the band called HPOlovecraft.

    I hope you VGA is getting beetern

  3. Nice. I think the lack of tension is what you're reacting to most? It is relaxed, which I like. It does have things I know for a fact you like — tons of boy/girl drama and huge amounts of artifice, just not at the right angle for you. Pop music is infused with the power struggles of our teenage selves, but if you want to understand the music, and the people who listen to it, I do think you have to separate you visceral historical reactions and competitive social emotions from understanding it in context and talking about what it means beyond if you like it or not. For years I had a punk snobbery about this slick pop music, but then I heard Rumors years later and was like – Actually, this sounds fucking great! I realized I liked the clear balanced overall sound of the band, the group dynamic- several songwriters contributing to a unified group sound, the themes of love lost and regained, the tough lyrics of Christine McVie sung so sweetly alternating with the rough texture of Stevie Nicks. The drum production and playing is one of the best things about the band — so clear, like the pig tissue grafts they put on severely injured human soft tissue that creates a latticework for healing that otherwise could never happen. Ascribing a binary w/ Arabic pop to me is not clarifying about what either drum productions mean. The Fleetwood Mac drum production to me also means being clear when a lot of people are listening. Mostly just really good pop songwriting. I don't find Rumors to be phony at all- though it is superficial. I'm interested in surfaces though, and what's under them. I like the superficiality of it – one thing pop can do so well – to release superficial but real bursts of feeling. Tusk may be better for you – it's weird!

  4. Wow. I know all music writing has devolved to sociology-lite putdowns of fanbases, but wow.

    I'll break this down for you. It's part trashy novel, part British folk, part Hollywood fantasy a la Beach Boys; all perfect pop. The group had two prominent and well-differentiated woman vocalists, neither of whom actually has that great a voice timbre-wise, and one of whom has pitch/vibrato issues to the moon, but who nevertheless created very recognizable and relatable personae out of next to nothing nearly instantly. You try it.

    I guess the real question is, what about their soap opera hits home with you? What's triggering that anxiety. Marin in the 70s, I'm guessing, and if so, fair enough. But that's your projection, your overlay. You don't have to respect the song structure and story editing — but they're much better than you're willing to credit.

  5. I'm not convinced there was any “perfect pop” in the USA after 1966. Music became something else.

    And anyway, JD, your “perfect pop” may be my emetic. You know. The subjectivity thing.

    Perfect pop song: “Eight Days a Week”?

  6. I'm with Drew. And want to add that the three album run (Fleetwood Mac, Rumors, and, yes, Tusk) of quality pop music that they put out is something that very few pop bands, if any, have been able to match.

    That said, I know many people who hate Fleetwood Mac, and for many of the reasons you suggest, and I think there's a lot about the band that could truly be annoying if one wanted to be annoyed by it. Somehow, I'm not annoyed, even though in my early 80s punk/new wave days I never would have admitted it.

    It's funny though: without this post, I think I would have probably believed that the foofiness dress-up quality of the band might have been something that appealed to you. They don't automatically seem to me the opposite of your own aesthetic, like, say, Led Zeppelin would.

  7. I never liked Fleetwood Mac's sartorial sense, either, believe it or not (although some might say, Nada what's the diff between you and Stevie? those people just need to look more closely)…

    Led Zep I am in awe of, musically, although I was never “into” them. Complex. Operatic. Thrilling.

  8. I love Fleetwood Mac, but I wasn't a teenager in Marin County in the 70s–that's probably all the explanation I need to understand why you loathe FM. To someone who came of age in the 90s, though, the 70s seem comparatively deep. I mean, I don't even have any punk snobbery to access.

    I used to enjoy dressing a little too much like Stevie Nicks when I still lived in Washington, DC, but I won't do that now that I actually live in California.

  9. i think there was a point where Fleetwood Mac perfectly balanced the yin & the yang

    which probably negates for you whatever tension the other dynamic elements of their playing create

    it's like i used to hate the way some schools of painting want a totally gloss finish it just distracts me from the image

    Middle Eastern music in contrast sounds rather more unvarnished

    but if you were looking for the quality of yin/yang balance only, the Mac would not repel

    there is a time also for splenda


  10. This is a bit weird, but I was just thinking (because I heard a snatch of it on TV) how much I hate Rumours. I typed that into google, wondering if there was an 'I hate Rumours' society I could join, and found my way here. I agree it's difficult to put into words, but to me it epitomises 'the day the music died'. The instant I heard it was the instant I became aware that music had been replaced by product. The utter soullessness of it is debilitating. It is clearly the product of an industry that holds its customers in contempt, assuming they can't tell the difference between music and industrial slurry. Sad thing is, they're right, so many people bought into this pap. That IS depressing. I'm distressed to be part of a society that can't hear what's wrong with Rumours.

    Incidentally, I don't extend this distaste to the 'proper' Fleetwood Mac, with Peter Green, and before they got infected by the nauseating Buckingham/Nicks axis.

    Incidentally, I have come across 2 literary references to this recently – one in an Ian Rankin book (his Rebus character is a big music buff), where he says, regarding a rumour about himself “Rumours, like the Fleetwood Mac record, should never be listened to” (Amen to that!), and another in Neil Young's biography “Shakey” where he mentions being driven crazy by members of the road crew playing it.

    In short, Rumours is the knife sticking out of music's back.


  11. I hate Stevie Nick's Fleetwood Mac. I love the old Fleetwood mac because they were once a killer blues rock band.Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac trumps Stevie Nick's Fleetwood Mac anyday. If he didn't take acid, go crazy & give his Les Paul to Gary Moore he probably would have gone on to massive popularity instead of a cult following. The Peter Green era of Fleetwood Mac is underrated compared …to Stevie Nicks who is highly overrated.

    And this is a classic example of how a woman could ruin a band. And I am a woman so don't accuse me of being sexist. I'm just realistic, great women in rock n roll is far and few in between. What Yoko Ono did to the Beatles (not that the Beatles are great since Paul Mccartney and John Lennon think they are song writing geniuses) is what Stevie Nicks did to Fleetwood Mac. They should have changed the name once they hired those two clowns.

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