Saturday, January 26, 2013
I agree with a lot of what is being said here, out of context though because I don't think there is a direct connection between the manufacturing of Coke and the plight of polar bear habitats. And has the writer of the piece never heard of Cherry Coke Zero?
Bearing With Coke: Soft Drinks, Hard Choices
(By David Katz, Huffington Post, 26 January 2013)
Responding to our justifiably increasing preoccupation with widespread obesity, the Coca-Cola Company has released a masterful television ad on the subject. They characterize their own efforts, and invite us all to "come together" to combat this scourge. The whole "come together" concept receives great emphasis, with evocative images from the (presumably) good old days of: "I'd like to buy the world a Coke..." Predictably, the collective response of my friends and colleagues in public health has been less than warm and bubbly. Sensing a blend of propaganda, evasion, hypocrisy, and desperation in Coke's efforts, my clan has largely reacted with their own blend of dismissal, derision, and disgust. In essence, they have invited us all to lose this lunch, and roll our eyes. I confess, I am sorely tempted to join them. But before we can lose our lunch, we are perhaps obligated to chew on it. And before rolling our eyes, we may need to read the writing on the wall -- fine print, and all.
Before that chewing and reading begins, I do want to insert a disclaimer. I am the furthest thing from a food industry apologist. I have devoted years of my life to the development of programs for children and adults alike that reveal the all-too-often lamentable truth about the so-called "food" supply. At every opportunity, I have highlighted the fact that "betcha' can't eat just one" was far more than a clever ad campaign; it was a threat to public health, backed up -- at least in the case of Kraft -- by nutritional biochemists and neuroscientists using functional MRI scans to determine how to maximize the number of calories it takes for us to feel full. And I have noted repeatedly, as I will continue to do, that as we got fat and our kids got diabetes -- somebody was chuckling about it all the way to the bank.
Nor do I have even a little love for the Coca-Cola Company. I consider their flagship offering a chemistry experiment in a cup. I haven't had a soda in some 35 years since I first saw that light. Coca-Cola has systematically opposed public health campaigns to reduce soda consumption, deflected criticism, denied epidemiologic truths, and distorted their own contributions to epidemic obesity. I have -- at least in moments of private rage -- considered them an evil empire. Regarding my brief encounter with their CEO, I can only say I felt the dark side of the Force was strong with him. And when it comes to polished and compelling ads that obscure any semblance of truth, Coca-Cola has an impressive track record. They have given us polar bears enjoying Coke as they frolic in their winter wonderland.
This is wrong in so many ways it's hard to know where to start. For one thing, polar bears don't drink soda. For another, that's not likely to help them much -- because we are blithely destroying their winter wonderland. And guess what? Concocting chemical potions in factories to drink out of plastic bottles when a glass of water would do nicely is part of the reason -- as such industrial activity contributes to global warming and the melting of Arctic ice on which the livelihood of real polar bears depends. So, no -- Coke is not offering polar bears a drink. It's part of the reason they may have nothing left to eat. But, of course, only part of a much bigger reason.
Reacting to Coke's misleading depiction of polar bears, the Center for Science in the Public Interest engaged musician Jason Mraz, to give us the "real" bears. I fully support this campaign to show what might happen if polar bears actually did drink Coke. But of course, these aren't "real" bears -- because as noted, polar bears don't drink soda. So, the "real" issue is that we may not be smarter than the average bear after all. Bears are still eating and drinking what bears should eat and drink -- to the extent we aren't making it impossible for them. We, on the other hand, have been drinking Coca-Cola out of ever-larger containers. This just isn't about bears and the choices they make. It's about us, and the choices we make. And we apparently have some hard ones. We have water, but choose to drink Coke. We have broccoli, but choose to eat bologna. There are no bears involved. We have met the enemy -- and it is us. Yes, we are also the victim. Yes, the food industry really has manipulated us with foods engineered to specifications born of functional MRI scans. But come on: Does anyone think Coke is good for them? Does anyone not living under a rock think you can drink a gallon of that stuff daily and not suffer any consequences? Is there really anyone left who has not heard the rumors about sugar? And does anyone bemoaning the unbearable (pun intended) burden of a soda tax truly not know where to find a water fountain?
Coke is quite right about one thing: We are all in this together. Consider that when McDonald's -- another good contender for the food industry's evil empire award -- gave us McLean Deluxe, we didn't buy it. The product expired not for want of supply, but for want of demand. Folks, that's not McDonalds' problem. It's yours, and mine. It's our kids' problem. Similarly, remember Alpha-Bits cereal? If you haven't seen it lately, here's why -- courtesy of some inside information. Post reduced both the salt and sugar content, actually making the product more nutritious -- and people stopped buying it. Sales plummeted from about $80 million a year, to $10 million. Most product reformulations that allegedly give us better nutrition are actually lateral moves -- fixing one thing, breaking another. Salt is reduced, but sugar is increased. Sugar is reduced, but trans fat is increased -- and so on. I have an intimate view of all this, courtesy of my work with the NuVal program, which has established a detailed nutrient database for over 100,000 foods it has scored. All too often, banner ads implying better nutrition are entirely misleading. Low-fat peanut butter is substantially less nutritious than regular. Multigrain breads may or may not be whole grain.
But on those rare occasions when the food industry actually gives us better products, we don't buy them. Which brings us back to Coke: What, exactly, do we want from them? As I see it, against a backdrop of a growing burden of national and global chronic disease in which they are complicit, Coke has four options. They can (1) ignore the public health problem, and keep on keeping on; (2) acknowledge the public health problem, but say it's not their problem -- and keep on keeping on; (3) confess their corporate sins and absolve themselves with ceremonial suicide; or (4) change. Choices one and two have pretty much run their course. Shareholders are unlikely to bless option three. Which leaves us with option four: change. Change their product formulations. Change their inventory. And change their messaging. Stop talking about frolicking polar bears, and start talking about obesity. And while we have cause to be suspicious about Coca-Cola's motives, that's just what the new ad appears to be doing.
Yes, they sell us chemistry experiments in a cup. Yes, they help us become fat diabetics. But they are also a large company, employing a lot of people. If we simply want to drive a stake through their corporate heart, the result would be a lot of newly-unemployed people, still prone to obesity and diabetes while drinking Pepsi, or Mountain Dew, or Dr. Pepper, while perusing the want ads. And yes, the new ad about obesity is only in response to mounting pressure from a concerned public, and restive federal authorities. But is it bad or surprising that supply-side changes are responsive to a changing demand? The business of business, after all, is business -- and keeping the customer satisfied. If we want truly meaningful changes in the quality of our food and drink, we will in fact require changes in both supply and demand. It won't help if they build it, and we don't come. There are ways to propagate a shared taste for change, and such a course might allow for substantial improvements in the public health without blowing up the Fortune 500.
Admittedly, the new Coke ads addressing obesity are slick. Stunningly slick. In other words, they are just plain good -- working over the chords of emotional response exactly as intended. A testimony to what really deep pockets and top advertising talent can do. This could be just another reason to hate Coke, I suppose. But on the other hand, the simpler times when Coke was an innocent pleasure are not a Madison Avenue fabrication; they actually happened. We baby-boomers lived through them. There was a time before ultra-uber-gulps and widespread childhood obesity, and soda seemed an innocuous pleasure -- whether or not it ever really was. If that has changed over time, then so must we -- and so must Coca-Cola. What would such change look like? Probably something like the new ad.
As a closing aside, I attended the meeting of my local school district wellness committee this week, as they took on the task of complying with Connecticut nutrition standards. The gentleman who runs the high school store noted that by complying with the new regulations, he would lose business to the array of fast-food outlets accessible to the students just across a parking lot. And, I suspect he's exactly right. I share my colleagues' visceral opposition to everything Coke. But I think we may be letting our abdominal viscera get the better of vital organs situated higher up. Soft drinks do exist; they are big business. Doing something about that involves hard choices. Change -- incremental change -- is the most promising and plausible of them. So we have to allow for it if what we want is progress. If we won't accept change without calling it hypocrisy, then we don't really want progress. We want revenge.
Friday, January 25, 2013
(By Michael Dorstewitz, Bizpac Review website, January 20, 2013)
Romney in Boca Raton: “Mali has been taken over, the northern part of Mali, by al-Qaida-type individuals.” The last two weeks should go down as a period of vindication for former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and earn him the nickname, “soothsayer of the Western World” — a modern-age Nostradamus. On Jan. 14, Chrysler’s CEO acknowledged that Jeeps would be built in China, confirming a statement that unfairly earned Romney the moniker “liar of the year.”
Then, when forces linked to al-Qaida captured the government-held town of Konna, Mali, on Jan. 10, they drove home a statement Romney made during the second presidential debate in Boca Raton, nearly three months earlier. “With the Arab Spring came a great deal of hope that there would be a change towards more moderation and opportunity for greater participation on the part of women and — and public life and in economic life in the Middle East,” he said then. “But instead we’ve seen in nation after nation a number of disturbing events.”
Describing violence in Syria and Libya, he added this kicker: “Mali has been taken over, the northern part of Mali, by al-Qaida-type individuals.” This prompted, according to TheCommentator.com, a Bill Maher tweet: “Mitt, you do know that most of America thinks Mali is one of Obama’s daughters, right?” What far-left loon Maher doesn’t seem to understand is that it doesn’t matter if he knows what Mali is, so long as our president does.
This week saw another Romney prediction come to pass — that a re-elected Obama would infringe on our Second Amendment rights. “In a second term, he would be unrestrained by the demands of re-election,” Romney said at an April 2012 National Rifle Association convention in St. Louis, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “As he told the Russian president last month when he thought no one else was listening, after a re-election he’ll have a lot more, quote, ‘flexibility’ to do what he wants. I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that, but looking at his first three years, I have a very good idea.”
Referring to the right to bear arms, Romney told convention-goers, “If we are going to safeguard our Second Amendment, it is time to elect a president who will defend the rights President Obama ignores or minimizes. I will.” The president’s signature on 23 executive actions on gun control this week, as well as his acknowledged support for a ban on certain weapons and magazines, show how right Romney was.
Finally, Romney was ridiculed for using “binders of women” to describe what a Romney Cabinet would look like. Instead of mocking the poorly worded phrase, we should have listened to the words themselves. The president’s announcement of his second-term Cabinet prompted ABC’s George Stephanopoulos to ask on Jan. 10, “Where are the women?” Apparently, they’re all still in Romney’s binders.
In retrospect, this should come as no surprise to anyone. Romney is, after all, a businessman — a very successful businessman. What separates success from failure in the business world is an ability to assess a situation and to predict what will happen next. This is called reality. Obama’s hallmark is “hope.” See the difference?
(By Chris Richards, Washington Post, 23 January 2013)
Moments after President Obama recited the oath of office Monday, Beyonce floated to the podium on the steps of the Capitol — golden tresses spilling onto her shoulders — to deliver our national anthem. Both acts were largely ceremonial. He had been officially sworn in the day before; she allegedly mouthed along to a recording made Sunday with the U.S. Marine Band. Now, the president is back at work and the pop star is busy ignoring torrents of criticism. Fans flooded social media with praise for Beyonce’s agile rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Monday, and then replaced it with harrumphs on Tuesday when we all learned she might have been lip-syncing. If anything, our disappointment shows how confused our culture has become over its wobbly standards of authenticity.
Whether we’re channel surfing or grocery shopping, Americans consistently and zealously demand “real.” But not really. Instagram filters our memories, Cherry Coke Zero involves zero cherries, and the friends we collect on Facebook are rarely people we would invite into our homes. So why draw the line at Beyonce? Pop music has always been a place where fantasy and reality have ground up against each other to create hot sparks. From artists’ mythologized narratives to the actual transactions taking place up onstage, deception plays a huge role in how we consume this stuff. Was Paul dead? Has Taylor Swift ever used Auto-Tune? Does Bruce Springsteen sing from a teleprompter? Did Rick Ross once work as a correctional officer? WasWhitney Houston’s 1991 gold-standard rendition of the national anthem lip-synced, too? (Answers: No, not sure, yes, yep and uh-huh.)When it comes to live performance, contemporary pop fans are caught in a riptide. We expect kinetic concert experiences filled with lung-monopolizing choreography. Meanwhile, a dozen seasons of “American Idol” have made us all connoisseurs of acrobatic, soul-inspired pop vocalization. How many times has a “little pitchy, dawg” thought bubble involuntarily bloomed above your head? Too many. We want it both ways, and we demand that it all be real. To paraphrase author and thinker David Shields, our culture craves reality because we experience so little of it. Social media have scrambled our perceptions of friendship, fellowship, and, thanks to the recent and galactic humiliation of Manti Te’o, courtship. Add that to a century of pop culture built around the principle of suspension of disbelief, and it becomes tricky to be honest about when we’re okay with being deceived.
We blew our whistles at Mike Daisey and James Frey because we laid our money — and secondarily, our trust — down for one thing and were given something else. A pop concert operates on a similar kind of contract, even though the fine print often remains unacknowledged. We all expect Madonna to lip-sync. Yet, somewhat illogically, many of us would be aghast if Adele did it. Or maybe not. At Adele concerts — or any pop concert — fans are quick to raise handheld phones to capture the performance on video, their eyes locked on a small, glowing screen instead of the three-dimensional humans up onstage. We often prefer not to experience the real thing even when it’s right there in front of us.Regardless of what happens out on the dance floor, live pop music has always been a compromise between stagecraft and spontaneity. And considering the occasion, our disappointment with Beyonce this week is steeped in our muddled, unflagging desire for the latter. Because this was a once-in-a-lifetime gig. Hundreds of thousands assembled to cheer history along. An ocean of flags flapped in the January cold. Before finally retreating to the warmth of the Capitol building, Obama paused for a moment to soak the entire scene in.
Beyonce was seeing it, too, right? That’s why it’s reasonable to hope that the images landing on her retinas were influencing the sounds bursting from her throat. It’s what ultimately invests us in a live performance: the idea that our presence plays some kind of role in the outcome. Instead, the lip-syncing allegations punched a tiny hole in the fantasy of Monday afternoon. They made an uplifting mass gathering feel like hyper-scripted ritual — which, like so many big, beloved, all-together-now pop culture moments, it absolutely was.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Which State Is Better: Maryland Or Virginia? Washington Post Bloggers Square Off
(By Tom Jackman and Michael Rosenwald, Washington Post Magazine, 10 January 2012)
Perhaps it started during the Civil War, when they took opposite sides. For whatever reason, Maryland and Virginia have a rivalry as long and deep as the Potomac River that divides them, and control of which they’ve fought over. “Given the ideological split,” lobbyist Charlie Davis once told The Post, “God probably got it right putting the Potomac where it is.” “Virginia is for Lovers” was met by “Maryland is for Crabs.” Virginia welcomes “y’all”; Maryland calls you “hon.” Virginia bans gay marriage; Maryland allows it. Virginia taxes cars; Maryland taxes, well, everything. Virginia discourages unions (the professional ones, not just the gay ones); some observers say Maryland is run by them.
(By Tom Jackman and Michael Rosenwald, Washington Post Magazine, 10 January 2012)
Post bloggers Mike Rosenwald (Rosenwald, Md.) and Tom Jackman (The State of NoVa ) got together for a beer in neutral territory, a bar in the District, and immediately began comparing their respective states. Things started off politely enough. But gradually, the conversation turned, and the insults began to fly. The exchange went something like this:
Tom (Va.): Hey, Mike, sorry I’m late. Didn’t want to give up my parking spot on the Beltway there at Tysons Corner.
Mike (Md.): Well, at least you didn’t have to dodge the speed cameras, since Virginia doesn’t have them. In Maryland, even our speed cameras have cameras, to prevent vandalism.
Tom: Don’t feel too bad. Virginia is always devising new forms of Traffic Hell. Now we’ve built HOT lanes. This means you can pay good HOT money to sit in traffic. But only on the Virginia side, I guess. In Maryland, you can sit in traffic for free.
Mike: Not true! I pay $6 on the new Intercounty Connector for the advantage of bypassing the Beltway and cutting a whole six minutes off the time it takes to get to my in-laws’ in Baltimore. Why does it cost so much?
I think it’s because the underpasses have dark, luxurious bricks. Officials call them “earth-toned.” The road is basically an extension of Whole Foods, with Whole Foods prices.
I think it’s because the underpasses have dark, luxurious bricks. Officials call them “earth-toned.” The road is basically an extension of Whole Foods, with Whole Foods prices.
Tom: On the inner loop in Virginia,
I have seen people take up smoking, become addicted and then quit all in one trip. We call this showing state spirit.
I have seen people take up smoking, become addicted and then quit all in one trip. We call this showing state spirit.
Mike: Well, tobacco always has been important to Virginia.
Tom: Yup. Just look at our great monument, the towering cigarette shrine outside the Philip Morris plant on I-95 in Richmond. We are here to fill all your tar and nicotine needs.
Mike: Don’t feel too bad. At least you have decent wine to enjoy along with those cancer sticks. You have almost four times as many wineries as we do, and they turn out a better product. Maryland vintages are lucky to be labeled “table wine.” And if you want to buy wine in a grocery store over here, you will basically have to amend the state constitution.
Tom: You know, if we were meeting at a bar in Northern Virginia, I could keep my handgun legally stuffed in my pocket. Just in case some drunk, or Orioles fan (or are they the same thing?), wanted to give me some lip. Are there any bars over in Maryland where I can pack heat?
Mike: No. We prefer to settle our disputes by lobbing insults, sometimes on our license plates, such as that Redskins fan’s CWBYSUK tag, which made the news a few months ago.
Tom: And I thought it was Virginians who were the gentlemen.
Mike: Besides, we don’t have that many bars anymore, as you probably define them. We’ve grown out of them. We have tasting-menu places, though. They serve a lot of artisanal, locally grown haricots vert. So, you might not be able to pack heat, but you can pack wine. The corkage fee is about 10 bucks.
Tom: They charge you $10 to take the cork out of the bottle? If we still used corks, that would really hurt. Twist-off technology has taken root here in the Old Dominion. After all, we’re classy. Look at Michaele Salahi. First, she went uninvited to a White House state dinner, then she was a “Real Housewife,” then she dumped her wannabe winemaker husband for an over-the-hill Journey guitarist. Thankfully, she left the state, but we’re still stuck with her ex, Tareq Salahi, who, get this, is running for governor.
Mike: Hey, you have the Salahis. We have Dan Snyder. In classiness terms, he makes Michaele Salahi look like Condoleezza Rice.
Tom: At least you have Snyder’s Redskins. We have them only for practice and office space. Oh, and on our roads, because they mostly live over here, where they keep our cops tied up issuing traffic tickets and arresting them when they get out of their trucks to punch someone in the face.
Mike: That reminds me. I’ve been meaning to ask you what’s it like to not have a major professional sports team. You know what other state doesn’t have a pro team? North Dakota. Also, Idaho.
Tom: Virginia had a pro team once, the Virginia Squires of the ABA. Dr. J and George Gervin played for them. But there was not enough cocaine in all of Virginia for the Squires, so they folded. That was never a problem for Maryland, where the Bullets spent many years.
Mike: Speaking of crime, your major export, according to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is guns. Are you trying to get rid of them because you secretly agree that they’re sort of, oh, ... deadly? Over here, the subject of guns is generally limited to conversations such as: “Did you know the NRA is based in Virginia?” Reply: “Oh, my God. It makes sense if you think about it.”
Tom: What does Maryland export? Chickens to China? If some drunk doesn’t kill 70,000 chickens at once, as happened this summer. You wouldn’t catch a Virginian doing that.
Mike: But you have no compunction about killing criminals.
Tom: You’re right, we do excel at that. Why do you think that, when the D.C. snipers were arrested, they were sent to Virginia for prosecution, though they did most of their killing in Maryland? Because we get the job done. Seven years later, John Muhammad was dead. Proposed motto: “Virginia: You Kill Us, We’ll Kill You Back.”
Mike: You already have a bloodthirsty motto: Sic semper tyrannis. I looked it up. It means, “Thus always to tyrants.” I wonder: Is that why you allow guns in bars?
Tom: Yes, though if you want to mirror the motto, you want to use a sword, not a gun, to stab the offender then stand on his chest. That’s the image on our state seal and state flag, a woman with a sword standing on someone’s chest. But it’s got character, at least. Your flag looks like a second-grader threw up on a spinning paint wheel. What is that thing? And your motto is “Fatti maschii parole femine.” Know what that means? “Manly deeds, womanly words.”
Mike: It’s our unofficial state motto. And don’t start with me about manliness. You guys love bragging about being patriots and about your eight presidents. But I never hear a peep about William Henry Harrison, the Virginian who didn’t wear a hat in the cold rain during his inauguration. He caught a bad cold and died 31 days later. Embarrassed?
Tom: I’ll take eight presidents, including the founders of our country, over zero. Maryland hasn’t had any presidents because its top politicos — Marvin Mandel, Spiro Agnew,Jack Johnson, Jack Johnson’s wife — get indicted first. Your state motto should be “Maryland: You wanna play, you gotta pay.”
Mike: Speaking of playing, at least you can gamble in Maryland. The only gambling Virginia has is under-the-tailgate betting at those Gold Cup horse races held outside in a giant pasture, where you have to wear weirdly large hats or pants with suspenders.
Tom: You do more than gamble. You’re trying to make gaming a new Maryland sport. But your casinos have electronic blackjack tables, where cards are dealt on a screen by an avatar. Who is going to leave West Virginia for that?
Mike: I have one word for you: “Macaca.”
Tom: And the blurter of that word promptly lost an election he had in the bag. Maybe he was taking tips from William Donald Schaefer, who was never shy with an insult. He called one of his opponents Old Mother Hubbard.
Mike: Okay, enough about politics. As a fat guy, I want to talk about food. For a “Southern” state, your barbecue isn’t that good. Actually, I’ve squeezed better barbecue sauce out of a McDonald’s packet.
Tom: What? Virginia’s got all sorts of great food, in addition to our Chesapeake Bay crabs, which I’m told they have in Maryland, too. We’ve got the world-famous Smithfield ham, the renowned Virginia peanut, our 200-plus wineries and many great apple farms. Virginia is one of the biggest apple-producing states in the nation, and Winchester is called “the Apple Capital of the World.” Farther east, we’ve got great seafood. Farther west, we’ve got great moonshine. And you’ve got ... crabs.
Mike: Yeah, well, if your state is as tasty as you allege, then why is your official state beverage ... milk?
Tom: Nice try, Food Boy. So is yours.
Mike: Okay, why do Virginians insist on making Maryland kids envy Virginia kids? I mean, why would my kid like your kid if your kids don’t go back to school until after Labor Day?
Tom: We don’t see any use in overdoing the whole “education” thing. So, we’ve passed a law that public school cannot start before Labor Day, which allows folks plenty of time to pay good money to have their stomachs upset on the rides at Kings Dominion. An amusement park vs. school. C’mon, if you were a child, which one would you choose?
Mike: There’s that word “dominion” again. Old Dominion, Kings Dominion. You guys seem to have a strange affinity for it, considering that you lost the Civil War.
Tom: You mean the War Between the States? Maybe. But y’all lost the tourism battle. Thousands of people have flocked to Prince William County the last two summers to re-create the spectacle of our Southern soldiers scoring upset victories over the visiting team from the United States in the first and second Battles of Manassas.
Mike: Don’t you mean first and second Bull Run? The winner gets to name the battles, you know.
Tom: Whatever they’re called, we’re making money off them. We like to look on the bright side of trying to start our own country. It’s called leveraging our losses.
Mike: Leverage. Isn’t that the favorite term of every U-Va. biz school grad? I heard that word a lot during the financial crisis, which reminds me: Why do you guys foreclose on houses so fast? Is this another feature of “Sic semper tyrannis”?
Tom: Maybe in Maryland it’s okay to buy a house you can’t afford, not put a dime down, then squat there indefinitely. In Virginia, however, we discourage that. As a result, our economy is moving on, while Maryland’s languishes. I’ll take moving over languishing.
Mike: Let’s get back to tourism. Every time I see a “Welcome to Virginia” sign, the seventh-grader in me wants to point out the word “virgin” in Virginia.
Tom: Is that the best you can do? This is turning into a rout. Sorta like the Battles of Manassas, both the original and the rematch.
Mike: You mean Bull Run.
Tom: Fine. Whatever. I’m tired.
I’m possibly also out of material.
I’m possibly also out of material.
Mike: Me, too. I mean, using “virgin” as an insult? That was just weird.
Tom: I’m going home.
Mike: See you in traffic.
Tom: Watch out for those speed cameras.
Fairfax County has long been viewed as the ultimate burb, where Washington goes to walk the dog and water the lawn. But the more residents look around, the more they see what many have tried to avoid: high-rise offices, blight, crime and housing that's more likely to have a balcony than a back yard. That changing reality came into focus last week when County Executive Anthony H. Griffin raised the possibility of officially making
a city, prompting discussion among county supervisors about whether the
community of more than 1 million residents should highlight its status as an
enormous jobs center that is rapidly urbanizing or embrace its classic suburban
To Be or Not to Be Fairfax County?
That Is the Question Residents, Leaders Ask in the Increasingly Urban Suburb
That Is the Question Residents, Leaders Ask in the Increasingly Urban Suburb
(By Sandhya Somashekhar and Amy Gardner, Washington Post, July 5, 2009)
The basis for the idea is largely tactical -- under state law, cities have more taxing power and greater control over roads than counties do -- and it led to more than a few snickers about the thrilling nightlife in downtown Fairfax (punch line: there isn't any). Regardless of whether the county changes its status, a process that requires approval from voters, the state and courts, the discussion underscored a growing tension within Virginia's largest jurisdiction. What does
want to be? A giant urban expanse
like many new Sun Belt cities? Or more of a residential suburb, with a handful
of urbanized pockets sprinkled in? Fairfax
of today is
somewhere in between. Its 400 square miles include a sea of cul-de-sacs, parks,
pools and soccer fields, especially in its southern and western stretches.
McLean and Fairfax
remain high-end havens for some of the region's most exclusive addresses.
Clifton still feels like the country. Meanwhile, dense, Arlington County-style urban
villages are quickly claiming the skylines of Vienna, Merrifield and
Springfield, and county plans envision those and other developments ballooning
over the next decade. Tysons Corner is already an economic and commercial
behemoth, and it's only going to get bigger as development clusters around the
Metrorail extension. The Route 1 corridor and other pockets are increasingly
marked by blight. Great Falls
On an uncrowded weekday afternoon at Old Keene Mill Swim and Racquet Club in Burke last week,
suburban glory was on display. A gaggle of children with rackets under their
arms ran up a hill to tennis courts. A mother coated her daughter with
sunscreen by the pool, where a few dozen kids splashed and adults sat under
giant umbrellas. Another mother walked from her car with packets of hot dogs
and buns toward the club's grills and picnic tables. "I personally would hate to see any more
of a city feel to Fairfax County," Nancy Ohanian, 52, said while floating
on foam noodles with her 9-year-old daughter. "We're losing so many trees.
And I sure don't want to see my taxes go any higher." Fairfax
For these families, Burke is their corner of suburban bliss, a community so complete that they rarely venture more than a mile or two beyond their homes. "It had all the ingredients that I wanted for my family," said Mary Holden, 46, a mother of four. "My kids' schools, their sports teams, their friends, the shopping -- it's all here. I can go a whole week not ever leaving Burke, quite happy." Holden and others probably would be quite unhappy if they ventured about 10 miles north to Merrifield. There, two sleek new five-story apartment buildings rise from a weedy parking lot. The bottom floor of one building is taken up by restaurants, a jewelry store and a tailor. The sound of nearby traffic roars as workers in scrubs from the nearby hospital brush past women with strollers and groups of young men.
It was in Merrifield that county leaders celebrated their newest "park" last month -- a brick-lined plaza with a fountain and some benches centered between new apartment buildings. It's just that kind of urban feel that attracted residents such as Duy Anh Huynh. "I definitely think of
as a city. It's awesome, very vibrant," Huynh, 34, said after picking up
dinner at a burrito joint within walking distance of his apartment. Many policymakers and planners believe Fairfax
has no choice but to continue to grow along the Merrifield model. The alternative
is for the same suburban development patterns to worsen traffic, pollution and
sprawl -- or for the growth that is expected to continue regionwide to pass Fairfax by. After that
comes decline, they say. "What
would you rather do, leave it the way it is?" asked Robert E. Lang, author
of the book "Edgeless Cities" and co-director of the Metropolitan
Institute at Virginia Tech. "It's neither fish nor fowl. They are going to
be out-citied by Fairfax
and out-countried by Loudoun." Arlington
None of this means that redevelopment of Tysons or any other corner of
guarantees success. Politicians,
planners and nervous neighbors are acutely aware of the perils of building up:
more traffic if commuting patterns don't change; higher taxes to pay for the
massive foundation of infrastructure that must be built; and, eventually,
blight if Fairfax's new urban spaces or overall economy don't thrive. So far, Fairfax has been fortunate to escape
many of the downsides of urbanization. The percentage of people living in
poverty has declined slightly this decade, and average income, fueled by an
explosion in federal contracting and the technology industries, has risen. Crime, notably robbery, ticked up in 2007, the
most recent year for which data are available, but it followed a national trend
and remains well below national averages. Fairfax
The one typically urban issue
is grappling with is neighborhood blight. Old neighborhoods such as Fairfax Kings Park
along Braddock Road
along Route 1 have been struggling with decline. Unkempt rented homes and
falling property values dot these landscapes. Some areas, such as the partly
vacant mall in downtown Springfield, have developed such an unsavory reputation
that several of the mothers in Burke said they do not allow their teenage
children to go there. County leaders say
their plans to redevelop such places as Tysons and Springfield will help
reverse such decline rather than precipitate it. They say the central perils of
building up are the impacts on surrounding neighborhoods, not rising crime or
declining schools. "Whether we like
it or not, change is coming to Fairfax County," said Supervisor John C.
Cook (R-Braddock). "We are urbanizing. That doesn't mean that anything has
to change for the residents of Huntington
or Braddock, but staying static is not an option." Clifton
In reality, an official redesignation from county to city is no simple task. Experts say it would be the largest such effort in modern Virginia history, and county leaders might prefer a more subtle route to achieve their goal of improving their transportation network, a task they say the state has failed to do. If Fairfax does become a city, it would instantly become one of the largest in the nation, the size of San Antonio or San Jose. It would also diverge dramatically from the stereotype of the gritty metropolis.
enjoys many of the benefits -- wealth
and jobs -- and few of the detriments -- crime, troubled schools -- of a large
urban center. With a median household income of $105,000, it is the wealthiest
large county in the nation. Among large school systems, it boasts the highest
test scores. And it has the lowest murder rate among the nation's 30 largest
cities and counties. Fairfax
Still, the city label doesn't quite fit for some community leaders. Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville) represents the largely suburban area around
and Herndon, where some residents worry that transformation in nearby Tysons
will worsen traffic in their neighborhoods. The cul-de-sac lifestyle they have
chosen is still the one that defines Fairfax, he said. "I think the county form serves us pretty
well," he said. "Future growth will be more urban, but we've got a
huge population that has chosen a suburban model."
(By Cameron Crowe, Rolling Stone Magazine, 24 March 1977)
Peter Green didn't want his 30,000 [pounds] a year. The money was royalties from his work with his old blues band, Fleetwood Mac. He'd quit the band in 1970, saying he wanted to live a Christian life. He gave his money away and eventually took various menial jobs, including one as a gravedigger. But now, as more and more people acquaint themselves with Fleetwood Mac and dig back to old reissues, this money keeps arriving. He tries to get rid of it, but it's all just a bother. "I want to lead a new life," he would say. "I don't want to be followed around by the past". When Green could tolerate it no longer, he paid his accountant a visit, brandishing a pump-action 22 shotgun. He wanted the money stopped. Soon Green was standing in Marlebone Court in London, listening calmly as the judge read this verdict. Peter Green, blues-guitar-star-turned-ascetic, was ordered committed to a mental institution.
After ten years and a particularly lean time just before the group's 1975 smash, Fleetwood Mac, broke loose, everybody loves this quiet little British-American band that could. Fleetwood Mac's music has evolved into a sophisticated pop and rock sound that's just right for the Seventies, thanks primarily to two women, old-timer Christine McVie and newcomer Stevie Nicks. The group's latest album is being shipped out in greater quantities than any other record in the history of Warner Bros. There are, of course, reasons for Warner's optimism: Fleetwood Mac produced three hit singles ("Over my head" and "Say you love me" by McVie; "Rhiannon" by Nicks), sold 4 million units, has danced around the top half of the album charts for over 80 weeks and is Warner's all-time best seller.
And adding to everyone's enthusiasm were shows like the one at LA's Universal Amphitheater last fall. There, in front of an adorning crowd that included Elton John and two princesses of Iran, FM looked like they were feeling good. New energy was being supplied by Stevie Nicks and the other most recent addition Lindsey Buckingham. What with Buckingham prowling around the stage, dropping feisty lead runs into all the right places, and singer Nicks playing the whirling dervish Welsh witch Rhiannon, the group's dignified reserve was clearly a thing of the past. Even drummer Mick Fleetwood finally ventured out from behind his drum kit to play the African talking drum on "World Turning". And Christine McVie, Fleetwood Mac's brandy-voiced keyboardist of six years, recently overcoming a phobia against talking to the audience. Only John McVie, perhaps in the grand tradition of bassists, remains impassive and faultlessly proficient.
But one would soon learn that their minds were elsewhere - namely, in the tiny studio across town from the Amphitheater, where they were still struggling to finish their very latefollow LP, a trouble child, called Rumours. Work on the album began in February '76, immediately after the group had introduced their new lineup on a marathon six-month cross-country tour. Traveling to the Record Plant Studios in Sausalito, just north of San Francisco, FM had walked straight into an emotional holocaust. Christine and John McVie, married for almost 8 years, had recently split up and weren't talking to each other. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were about to do likewise. And Mick Fleetwood certainly wasn't talking to anybody. The father of two children, he and his wife Jenny were in the midst of divorce proceedings. "Everybody was pretty weirded out", Christine McVie explained. "Somehow Mick was there, the figurehead: "We must carry on... let's be mature about this, sort it out. - Somehow we waded through it."
They returned to LA, but the tapes from their nine weeks in the Sausalito studio - many of them mangled by a "recording machine" that earned the nickname "Jaws" - sounded strange wherever they played them. They were almost resigned to starting all over when one of their crew found a cramped dubbing room in the porno district of Hollywood Boulevard, a studio that perfectly accommodated what they had recorded. A fully booked fall tour was canceled, and there, while films like Squirm and Dick City played next door, Fleetwood Mac started the mixing process. As the songs took shape, the album began to sound like True Confessions: the band's three writers - Christine McVie, Nicks, and Buckingham - were all writing about their crumbled relationships.
As they added finishing touches to an album more intimate than they had ever anticipated, the band firmly closed their studio doors. "It was clumsy sometimes," said John McVie. "I'm sitting there in the studio and I get a little lump in my throat especially when you turn around and the writer's sitting right there." So they asked that interviews be done separately.
I always did have a kind of candle shining for Peter Green. I mean, he was my god. I thought, "Give me one chance at him..." Christine McVie, who looks considerably younger than her 33 years, grew up alongside Fleetwood Mac on the British blues circuit. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie are loath to dwell on FM's many past lives, but sitting in this cluttered office adjoining the studio where she has just finished mixing Rumours, Christine is happy to play the keeper of the FM legacy.
She pours a tall glass of white wine and surprises even herself with a fan's diary that is by turns, melancholy and passionate. "I dearly remember the old days... FM had this one-of-a-kind charm. They were gregarious, charming and cheeky on-stage. Very cheeky. They'd have a good time. Peter Green just made the audience laugh at this funny little cocky Jewboy. Jeremy Spencer was really dirty on-stage. At the Marquee one night he put a dildo in his trousers, came out and did an impersonation of Cliff Richard. Half the women left, escorted by their boyfriends." Green had also created a dark, mystical aura about the band. "He had this tremendous, subtle power," says Christine.
By the time she made friends with the group, Christine Perfect was already a journeywoman blues-circuit rocker herself. As a "real tubby" teenager - she weighed 160 pounds at 16 - Christine and a girlfriend/singing partner snuck away from their strict parents in Birmingham and visited every talent agency they could find in London. Their act consisted of strumming guitars and warbling Everly Brothers hits. Their career, which was highlighted by a obe-song pub appearance backed by the Shadows, was cut short when their parents found them out. Christine was sent to art college in Birmingham where she joined a folk club. "We'd meet every Tuesday night, above a pub somewhere, and drink cheap beer. Whoever could, would play a folk song or violin, whatever they could do. Anyway, one night in strolls this devastatingly handsome man, who was from Birmingham University. It was Spencer Davis. I just fell in love with Spence. I swore I would get thin and go out with him. "And I did."
Christine and Spencer began singing together, fronting the university's jazz band, but, she says, their relationship proved more musical than illicit. "Stevie Winwood was about 14, still in school and playing at a jazz club called the ChappelPub at lunchtime," Christine says. "He met Spencer Davis Group. I used to trail around religiously. Boy, they were so hot. Nothing was like that. Stevie Winwood played like I'd never heard anybody play before. It just gave me goose bumps. They were just a blues band, but a really, really great blues band. He [Winwood] could yell the blues. A 15-year-old boy. No one could believe it. The 19-20-year-old girls would have the hots for him."
Christine joined another blues band called Chicken Shack. The gruesome cover photo, showing severed fingers in a can, won as art award for their first album. Forty Blue Fingers Packed and Ready to Serve. "We had an underground following," Christine deadpans. Chicken Shack did occasional gigs with Fleetwood Mac, and Christine, now, playing piano, was invited to guest on some of Fleetwood Mac's early sessions because she "played the blues the way Peter liked." She never had designs on any of the band, she says. Besides, both Green and McVie already had girlfriends. Christine stops and slaps her forehead. "I'm forgetting a whole two-year episode with a Swedish guy I was engaged to. Ended up totally traumatizing my kitten who hated me evermore 'cause I just ran around the house screaming when he left me. I scared the shit out of it."
Caught up in her story-telling, Christine in not the same woman Stevie Nicks has characterized as "very private, very much to herself." She shakes her head, as if she's been talking too much. "I can't believe I'm remembering all these things." But, she continues, "I went to see Fleetwood Mac one night. John didn't have his girlfriend... He asked me if I wanted to have a drink and we sat down, had a few laughs, then they had to go on-stage. All the time I was kind of eyeballing ol' Greenie. After the concert was over, John came over and said, 'Shall I take you out to dinner sometime? I went, 'Whoa... I thought you were engaged or something.' He said, 'Nah, 'sall over.' I thought he was devastatingly attractive but it never occurred to me to look at him."
They went out for a time, then John McVie disappeared overseas for Fleetwood Mac's first American tour. "By this time I was really crazy about him," Christine recalls, "but I didn't know what was happening with him. Chicken Shack did a ten-day stint at the Blow-Up Club in Munich and I had this strange relationship with a crazy German DJ who wanted to whisk me off and marry me. I turned him down... and wrote John a big letter."
Fleetwood Mac returned from America and McVie proposed. They were married ten days later, mostly to please Christine's dying mother. But John and Christine didn't see much of each other. Both bands toured often and when she left Chicken Shack, she tried a disastrously unprepared solo tour and LP. Christine gladly retired to be John McVie’s old lady. "I thought it was extremely romantic," she says. "Obviously a little bit of the glamour of what Fleetwood Mac was in those days rubbed off. It was almost like someone marrying a Beatle. You married one of the locks in the chain and you were part of them. "We were very very happy. Very happy for probably three years and then the strain of me being in the same band as him started to take its toll. When you're in the same band as somebody, you're seeing them almost more than 24 hours a day. you start to see an awful lot of the bad side 'cause touring is no easy thing. There's a lot of drinking... John is not the most pleasant of people when he's drunk. Very belligerent. I was seeing more Hyde than Jekyll."
Peter Green, in a sudden plea for Christ, left the band in late '70, and Christine McVie came out of her retirement, adding keyboards to the band. Green's departure, says Christine, "was an out-of-the-blue shock to everybody. Peter had been quite happy and was starting to write this really incredible music like "Green Manalishi." It was like he was being lifted. He'd wrung the blues dry and already played 50 times better than most of the black guitarists." In the midst of a German tour the group's first peak of popularity, Green fell in with some people Christine remembers as "jet-setters." The band had recorded a Green composition, "Black Magic Woman," and, ironically, the group he ran into were reportedly into black magic and the occult. They turned him on to acid. He left Fleetwood Mac on that same tour. "Something snapped in him," Christine says, looking saddened. "He dropped this fatal tab of acid and withdrew. He still has this amazing power, but it's negative. You don't want him around. We've all cried a lot of tears over Peter. We've all spent so much energy talking him into more positive channels. He'll just sit there and laugh. "Fuck it..."
Not long ago, exasperated at being asked the perennial reunion question, Mick Fleetwood told an interviewer that sure, someday, maybe on an English tour, the original Fleetwood Mac might get on-stage one night. Later, when the band arrived in London, Peter Green was waiting for them in the lobby of their hotel. Unannounced, Christine didn't recognize the flabby, slept-in figure carrying a disco-droning cassette machine. "I heard this voice say, Hello Chris, I turned around and see this rotund little guy with a big beer gut and pint in his hand. I couldn't believe it. I said, Aren't you embarrassed?, Nah, he says, fuck it, what the hell." We gave him a room at the hotel for a few nights. He'd knock on your door, come in and just sit there on your bed. He wouldn't volunteer anything."
Jeremy Spencer left Fleetwood Mac a year after Peter Green, under vaguely similar circumstances. He stepped onto a Children of God bus in Hollywood and never returned. The writer met Spencer recently on a London Street, blank-eyed and selling Children of God books. His pitch: "I used to be in a group called Fleetwood Mac until I found..." Christine meticulously recollects the details of all the ensuing clock-in/clock-out personnel changes during Fleetwood Mac's lean years between their Future Games and Fleetwood Mac LPs. But she places particular emphasis only on Bob Welch. "I have so much love for Bob," she says, "He is such a big part of the band. I don't really get off on what he's doing in Paris [Welch's current band]. When he quit, he was getting into a real feel of the kind of guitar playing that Peter used to have and Lindsey definitely has got a lot of. It's very nebulous quality, very difficult to explain. It's a question of what note not to play." Welch's last LP with the groups was Heroes are Hard to Find, their first as a transplanted LA band. After breaking up with their manager they had moved to LA to start all over. The McVies lived in a small three-room in Malibu. It was there, on a portable Hohner piano in the bedroom that she wrote "Over my Head" and "Say you Love me."
"I don't struggle over my songs," she offers. "I write them quickly and I've never written a lot. I write what is required of me. For me, people like Joni Mitchell are making too much of a statement. I don't really write about myself, which puts me in a safe little cocoon... I'm a pretty basic love song writer." Christine shrugs off the suddenly massive acceptance of Fleetwood Mac as "a lot of rewards for a lot of hard work." And it wasn't the flush of super-stardom, she stresses, that caused her to split with John McVie. She explains compassionately: "I broke up with John in the middle of a tour. I was aware of it being irresponsible. I had to do it for my sanity. It was either that or me ending up in a lunatic asylum. I still worry for him more than I would ever dare tell him. I still have a lot of love for John. Let's face it, as far as I'm concerned, it was him that stopped me loving him. He constantly tested what limits of endurance I would go to. He just went one step too far. If he knew that I cared and worried so much about him, I think he'd play on it. There's no doubt about the fact that he hasn't really been a happy man since I left him. I know that. Sure, I could make him happy tomorrow and say, yeah John, I'll come back to you. Then I would be miserable. I'm not that unselfish."
Then there were the Sausalito sessions. "Trauma," Christine groans. "Trau-ma." The sessions were like a cocktail party every night - people everywhere. We ended up staying in these weird hospital rooms... and of course John and me were not exactly the best of friends. Stevie and I spent a lot of time together. She was going through a bit of a hard time too because she was the one that axed it. Lindsey was pretty down about it for a while, then he just woke up one morning and said, Fuck this, I don't want to be unhappy, and started getting some girlfriends together. Then Stevie couldn't handle it...
Almost immediately Christine McVie entered into a romance with Curry Grant, FM's strapping lighting director. They lived together for a year in Christine's home, above Sunset Strip. "I haven't been without a man in my life for... God, it must be 12 years. I can't imagine what it's like not to have an old man... but I have no intention of getting married. I don't think I'm in love..." She considers that for a few seconds. "I don't really know what the hell love is." Then, she suddenly adds, "I'm proud of having been John's wife." She still wears McVie's ring, but on another finger. Maybe we don't feel the same about each other anymore, but I wouldn't like to wipe that off board. John can't handle Curry too well, even though he's much more at ease with other women around me than I am with men in front of him. He's making an effort. But if I was the kind of girl who wandered in with a new boyfriend every week, enjoying my newfound freedom, I don't know how he could handle that."
Isn't she tempted to play the field? "It would be a new experience," she says shyly, growing amused at the thought. "Sure, you know." She leans toward a telephone. "Kenny Loggins! Call me up. I'd love to have a load of dates. I haven't done that since I was at college. But it's really out of the question. I mean I hardly meet anybody. I'm so involved in the band." Christine McVie's eyes light up with a revelation. "Seven more years until I'm forty. Then I'll start all over again..." John McVie stares silently out across a windy Marina del Rey, a half-hour away from Hollywood. "Two choppy today," he mumbles. "We shouldn't take the boat out." Having had this 41-foot schooner a year now, he is brisk and expert at tidying it up, taking down the sail and draining out side compartments before we find seats outside, on the stern, to talk.
For years, McVie dreamt about buying a boat. With the success of Fleetwood Mac, he was able to get one of the best. And when Christine asked for a separation, he moved on board, storing away everything, but some sailing books, a radio, a television set and numerous statuettes of penguins. McVie, who is 30, claims that he's "much more comfortable here than in a house anyway." But he seems oddly unhappy. He is a solemn man. If he is pleased with realizing one of his fantasies, his poker face doesn't show it. One wonders what success has meant to him. "This," he says quietly, knocking the stern of the boat, "the freedom to be here, rather than slogging your heart out in Hollywood. But this isn't... would you say this is a luxury? If there was a house with it, I'd say so. But this is half the price of a house."
John McVie, the Mac in Fleetwood Mac, started the band with Mick Fleetwood, Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green in '67. Before that he was a four-year charter member of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. He has seen Fleetwood Mac through the complete musical spectrum - 6 guitarists, 3 label changes, innumerable tours, every album and many, many, times more bad than good. If Fleetwood Mac had been a mediocre-selling album for the band, there would have been no desperation or breakup. If Buckingham or Nicks hadn't worked out, McVie would have dutifully helped find replacements. He's a strange creature to rock and roll: a patient man. "Fleetwood Mac was doing fine before that album," he figures. "People are always asking me how does it feel to have made it. If that's the case, what do I do now? Now that I've made it. I hate that phrase." For once, his voice is audible above the din of the marina. "I didn't anticipate all the commotion around the last album," he says. "Not as much as 4 million sales. There's a lot of good albums we've done. It's just one of those things - the right album the right time. But that's the criteria of making it in this business: a big album. Then you get your own TV show, you go make a movie. It's not important. Being seen wearing a Gucci suit... that syndrome is so sad."
So what's the motivation to be around it for more than 14 years? "Playing bass," comes the ready reply. "I'm not a dedicated musician particularly, but it's the one thing I enjoy doing." Would he soon consider retiring?
What would I do? Sit on the boat, but that would get as boring as sitting around the studio..." One cautiously broaches the subject of his split with Christine. It must have been a major turning point... "Yeah," McVie agrees. "It still affects me. I'm still adjusting to the fact that it's not John and Chris anymore. It goes up and down." Feeling suddenly awkward, McVie stops and assembles a statement explaining himself. "Its difficult to tell someone, yeah, I'm this kind of person... the quiet thing is fine," he says softly. "If I had anything that I thought was world shaking or profound, I'd say something. I really can come up with anything on politics, state of society, the relation of music to society... it's just horseshit. I play bass."
McVie sounds like his soft-spoken fellow member from the Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton, in both philosophy and personality. (Christine McVie: "those two? They're like two peas out of the same pod"). Clapton has said he finds his personality by drinking... "I drink too much, period," McVie bristles, "but when I've drunk too much, a personality comes out. It's not very pleasant to be around." In the end, John McVie is a droll, likable gentleman with a sullen aura. Used to touring and recording with his wife and band, he is suddenly alone on his boat. "He'll cheer up," an associate of the band says with a laugh. "He always does. Everyone's attitude is just leave him to himself. They know there's only one thing that could bring him around instantly: an affair with Linda Rondstandt."
McVie wistfully admits to this crush. Last year, suspiciously soon after learning that Fleetwood Mac would be on the Rock Music Awards show with Rondstandt as a fellow nominee, he bought an exquisitely tailored burgundy velvet, three-piece outfit. He wore it that night, and Fleetwood Mac won Rock Group of the Year, among other honors. Rondstandt never showed up.
Mick Fleetwood's the tall menacing-looking one who is, for all purposes, the manager of the band. When former manager Clifford Davis burned his bridges by sending out a bogus band with the same name and owners of the name, Fleetwood Mac was too broke to find another. Decisions fell directly to Fleetwood and McVie, the original members and owners of the name. McVie held no ambitions as a businessman, but Fleetwood became obsessed with the music business. He grew to love the new responsibility of managing himself. Fleetwood retained a lawyer, Michael "Mickey" Shapiro, and together they guided the band's career.
Fleetwood is surely in his element this morning. We're sitting in the executive conference room at the tip of a private Warner's jet returning to LA from a last minute Fleetwood Mac benefit in Indiana for Birch Bayh.
"Everything has taken a very natural course," he reflects pleasantly. "We've never made records with the attitude of making hits. With us, it's potluck. The fact that they are is great. That's not just from the present lineup of the band, that's going back years and years. Like when Peter Green wrote "Albatross" [FM's first successful single in England]. Everyone thought it was a concerted effort. It was a complete accident that it was a hit. The BBC used it for some wildlife program and then someone put it on Top of The Tops and it was a hit. If Rumours was a radical failure, I'm sure we'd all be disturbed, but we wouldn't feel disillusioned."
Mick Fleetwood, like John McVie, cannot think of a time when he was ever frustrated with the band's stalled sales figures. After ten years, they value Fleetwood Mac more as a way of life than as a business investment. Success was a pleasant surprise. "You go to the office every day and you don't think about it in the end, you just go," Fleetwood explains. "That's what we were doing. Being part of Fleetwood Mac, playing through the ups and downs."
Fleetwood is resolute: "I could have never planned any of this. I don't even believe in making plans. They only create an atmosphere of disappointment. So, it's not a day-to-day situation with us, but there's always full potential of either great things happening. That is very important to me personally... Fleetwood Mac, from point one, has been like that. We'll always be able to move without breaking a leg... I definitely want to have a baby in the next four years. For sure, I want to have one or two children and I don't want to wait any further than, say, 34. This is all part of my plan. By that time I hope that I'll be living up in the mountains somewhere with a very pretty house and a piano and a tape recorder, just writing, and then going to New York every once in a while to shop. I love that too, but I mostly like to be in a really warm place with a bunch of animals, dogs and cats."
It's a long way from Peter Green.
Twenty-eight-year-old Stephanie "Stevie" Nicks is an endearing blend of beatnik poet and sassy rock and roller. One thing is for sure: success does not faze her. She has, in fact, lived around it much of her life. Until heart surgery forced him into early retirement two years ago, her father, Jess Nicks, was simultaneously executive vice-president of Greyhound and president of Armour Meats. Stevie, the only girl, was "the star in my family's sky." Born in Phoenix and raised along her father's corporate climb in LA, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and finally San Francisco, she nearly graduated from San Jose State with a degree in speech communication. Instead, she quit a few months early to go on the road in 1968 with an acid-rock band called Fritz.
"That did not amuse my parents too much," Stevie notes wryly. Just out of the shower and toweling off her mousy-brown-flecked-with green-tint hair on an antique couch in her Hollywood Hills duplex, she makes easy conversation. "They wanted me to do what I wanted to do. They were just worried I was going to get down to 80 pounds and be a miserable, burnt out 27-year-old."
Despite a senior citizen's penchant for detailing her various aches and pains - she's always got a sore throat or a cold - the one thing Stevie Nicks does not exude is weakness. Through the three and a half year existence of Fritz, her all-male band members made a private agreement: hands off Stevie. That included Lindsey Buckingham, the slender, curly-haired bass player with whom she shared lead vocals. "I think there was always something between me and Lindsey, but nobody in that band really wanted me as their girlfriend because I was just too ambitious for them. But they didn't want anybody else to have me either. If anybody in the band started spending any time with me, the other three would literally pick that person apart. To the death. They all thought I was in it for the attention. These guys didn't take me seriously at all. I was just a girl singer, and they hated the fact that I got a lot of credit."
Nicks flouts the memory, laughing with defiance, "They would kill themselves practicing for ten hours, and people would call up and say: 'We want to book that band with the little brownish-blondish-haired girl.' There was always just really weird things going on between us." Now she is charged up and scoots to the edge of her sofa to make her point: "I could never figure out why I stayed in that band. Now I know that was the preparation for Fleetwood Mac."
But it would be another two years between the inevitable breakup of Fritz and an invitation to join Fleetwood Mac. Stevie and Lindsey chose to stay together as a duo, calling themselves Buckingham Nicks. "We started spending a lot of time together working out songs. Pretty soon we started spending all our time together and... it just happened." They moved down to LA, started knocking on doors, and eventually signed a contract with Polydor Records. They released an album and toured to good audience reaction. The band even developed a cult following in Birmingham, Alabama. In New York, however, Polydor was not impressed and dropped them before they could finish a second album. Lindsey resorted to a phone-soliciting job. Stevie became a $1.50-an-hour waitress in a Beverly Hills singles restaurant.
Waiting on tables? What about mom and dad?
"I'd get money from them here and there," says Stevie, "but if I wanted to go back to school, if I wanted to move back home, then they would support me... If I was gonna be here in LA, doing my trip, I was gonna have to do it on my own." They auditioned for Russ Regan, head of 20th Century records, who, Buckingham recalls, "thought we were a smash act but couldn't sign us" and Ode records president and artist's manager Lou Adler, who listened to half of one song and thanked them very much. Another manager recommended they learn the Top 40 and play steak and lobster houses.
When she visited home just seven months before joining Fleetwood Mac, her father was also discouraging. "He saw me getting skinnier and I wasn't very happy. He said, 'I think you better start setting some time limits here,' they saw, I really think, shades of my grandfather A.J. (Aaron Jeff Nicks). He was a country and western singer and he drank way too much. He was unhappy, trying to make it. He wanted to make it very badly. He turned into a very embittered person and he died that way."
In late 1974, Keith Olsen, engineer on the Buckingham Nicks LP, met with Mick Fleetwood. Olsen, pitching himself and his studio for the Fleetwood Mac account, presented Stevie and Lindsey's demo and his studio portfolio. Fleetwood listened to the album and made a mental note. When Bob Welch left Fleetwood Mac six weeks later, he looked up Stevie and Lindsey. They went up to Mick Fleetwood's house in Laurel Canyon to talk. Buckingham offered to do an audition, but Fleetwood declined. Instead, he simply asked: 'Want to join?' The two looked at each other and said, 'Yes.' "John and Mick," Buckingham says, "have always been open to having a lot of different people in the band - which is odd. I would never be able to do that. I would think it was real important to keep an identity. I remember being a kid - if a new member joined a group, I just didn't like that at all. But that openness is what's kept them going for so long."
But he and Nicks had one more commitment: a headlining concert in Birmingham. The show drew a screaming sellout crowd of more than 6000 fans who knew all the words to their songs. "We went out in style," says Buckingham. Fleetwood went directly into the studio, reworking such Buckingham Nicks material as "Monday Morning," "Landslide," and a new song written originally on acoustic piano about a Welsh witch Stevie had read about named "Rhiannon." "Everything was already worked out," says Buckingham. He plucked up a belly-backed acoustic guitar and played the introduction to "Rhiannon."
The newest members of the band were happy with the album, but Stevie Nicks went through an anxious period of self-doubt. She can quote entire passages from a review in Rolling Stone that, she says, almost caused her to quit. "They said my singing was 'callow' and that really hurt my feelings." She began to think that maybe she wasn't that good, and that she had been asked into the band only because she was with Buckingham. "Time after time I would read: '...the raucous voice of Stevie Nicks and the golden-throated voice of Christine McVie, who's the only saving grace of the band.' When it comes to competition, I won't compete for a man and I won't compete for a place on that stage either. If I'm not wanted, I'll get out. I was bummed."
But the bum didn't last long: Fleetwood Mac immediately became a gold album and Christine's ethereal song, "Over my head," broke big in both pop and easy-listening radio. Nicks, who'd done harmonies on the track, felt better. And when "Rhiannon" found an even bigger audience, with its mainstream rock and roll getting both AM and FM airplay, she forgot all about quitting. She also became Rhiannon, a witch in Welsh mythology. "I see her as a good witch," Stevie says. "Very positive. I sink into that whole trip when I'm on stage." With her diaphanous black outfits, her chiffon and lace, and a graceful way around the stage, she just as quickly became the band's first willing star/focal point. There was, of course, a price for all this. Last year, during the ill-fated stretch in Sausalito, she separated from Buckingham after over six years.
"The best explanation is: try working with your secretary... in a raucous office... and then come home with her at night. See how long you could stand her. I could be no comfort to Lindsey when he needed comfort." She cites an example from Sausalito. Lindsey was feeling depressed because he couldn't quite get some guitar parts down right. "So we'd go back to where we were staying and he would really need comfort from me, for me to say, 'it's all right, who cares about them?', you know, be an old lady." One problem, "I was also pissed off because he hadn't gotten the guitar part on. So I'm trying to defend their point of view at the same time trying to make him feel better. It doesn't work. I couldn't be all those things."
Stevie has kept mostly to herself since the breakup with Lindsey. Outside of a short romance with drummer/singer Don Henley of The Eagles, she's spent her days either in the studio or at home writing and taping her songs. She icily denies talk of an affair with Paul Kantner. "It's strange for me," she says in confidential tones, "I've never been a dater. I don't really like parties. I'm very alone now. I'm not one of those women who are just willing to go out and sit at the rainbow. In my position I could meet a lot of people just because of the band I'm in. Well, I don't want to meet anybody because of the band I'm in." Stevie doesn't mind airing her personal life like this at all. "I don't care that everybody knows me and Chris and John and Lindsey and Mick all broke up," she declares. "Because we did. So that's fact. I just don't want people to pick up a magazine and go, 'oh, another interview from Fleetwood Mac,' if it's interesting, I'm not opposed to giving out information".
"On this album, all the songs that I wrote except maybe 'Gold Dust Woman' - and even that comes into it - are definitely about the people in the band... Chris' relationships, John's relationship, Mick's, Lindsey's and mine. They're all there and they're very honest and people will know exactly what I’m talking about... people will really enjoy listening to what happened since the last album".
The sun sets in Hollywood and Stevie lets her house darken along with it. "I'll tell you an interesting thing that hit me after the Rock Awards," she says. "We won the Best Group and the Best Album awards - that was very far out and everybody was really blessed out over that and we went to some party at the Hilton or something afterward and just stayed about 30 minutes. My brother Chris and I got in our limousine and came home. And it really struck me, driving home in the back seat of a black limousine. I was so lonely."
"I thought, 'Here I am, we just won these fantastic awards, we've just been on TV, everybody is singing our praises and here I am driving home in my black limousine,' terribly alone. Sort of knowing how it would feel to be Marilyn Monroe or something. It was a very strange feeling and I didn't like it at all." Stevie Nicks opens her eyes very wide. "It scared me."
Lindsey Buckingham is no doubt the first member of Fleetwood Mac to list Brian Wilson as a major inspiration. Lindsey's California influence on the band is legitimate too. Born and raised in Palo Alto, Buckingham was "another jock in a family of swimming jocks." His brother Greg won a silver medal in the '68 Olympics. Late in high school Lindsey drifted into a rock and roll band and was sufficiently smitten to spoil family tradition. He quit the water polo team. "My coach went insane," Lindsey says. "He started screaming, 'you're nothing, you'll always be a nothing.'"
And he was nothing for a while, when that band went psychedelic and became Fritz. Buckingham couldn't master mind-blowing lead guitar and was put on bass for the next three and a half years. "I was just a young kid who thought it was really neat that we were in a band," he says. Then he teamed up with Nicks, and finally they joined Fleetwood Mac. Now, Buckingham lopes into the house of a mutual friend, looking a little dazed. Listening to the radio on the way over he'd finally heard himself singing the just released single, "Go your own way." "It sounded real weird," he shrugs. "I just want it to be so good that I got paranoid. I have to relax, get this whole time behind us..."
Ten months devoted to Fleetwood Mac's album has left Buckingham spindly and studio wan. He gives a rundown of how a group can spend so long taping 45 minutes of music: "there's one track on the album that started out as a one song in Sausalito. We decided it needed a bridge, so we cut a bridge and edited it into the rest of the song. We didn't get a vocal and left it for a long time in a bunch of pieces. It almost went off the album. Then we listened back and decided we liked the bridge, but didn't like the rest of the song. So I wrote verses for that bridge, which was originally not in the song and edited those in. We saved the ending. The ending was the only thing left from the original track. We ended up calling it "The Chain," because it was a bunch of pieces."
His face lights up as he realizes that it's all behind him now. "I feel really lucky that I've had the opportunity to go through some of the heartaches and shit we've been through the past year. it's had a profound effect on me. I feel a lot older. I feel like I've learned a whole lot by taking on a large responsibility slightly unaided." Buckingham laughs to himself. "Being in this band really fucks up relationships with chicks. Since Stevie, I have found that to be true. I could meet someone that I really like, have maybe a few days to get it together and that's about it. The rest of the time I'm too into Fleetwood Mac".
Buckingham has overcome the breakup with Nicks. "It was a little lonely there for a while," he admits. "The thought of being on my own really terrified me. But then I realized being alone is a really cleansing thing... as I began to feel myself again. I'm surprised we lasted as long as we did." Buckingham doesn't object to the confessional tone of Rumours either. "I'm not ashamed of my personal life," he proclaims. "Just 'cause you're in the public eye doesn't mean you don't go through the same bullshit." Lindsey Buckingham sets down the guitar. "Tonight I just want to get drunk," he announces. "I know the exact place too. They let me throw the foos..."
The two doormen at Kowloon's Chines restaurant greet Buckingham and his party warmly. They know him as the young gentleman who leaves a big mess and a bigger tip. "Do you know who he is?" one doorman asks the other. The other doorman nods casually. "He's an actor or something. I think he plays in a soap opera..."