Rumours, Movie Making and Greatest Achievements

Confounding people’s expectations was a way to maintain integrity – Lindsay Buckingham

About 6 months ago I watched an extended interview with Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac. It was a both enthralling and awkward hour of TV to watch, as he was asked about the relationship ‘complications’ that dominated the band’s greatest years. Whilst he handled this in a pretty dignified manner it was interesting to hear him get slightly prickly when people described motivations for his writing that he didn’t recognise. Telling a songwriter what they were thinking of when they were writing a song seems to create a certain tension…It’s almost as though retrospectively ascribing motivations to people you don’t know might be fraught with danger.

When Buckingham was asked what his greatest achievement was he said it was his children. The interviewer said that this wasn’t an acceptable answer (apparently only work counts…). He then replied that his greatest achievement, the one he was proudest of, was the album ‘Tusk’ . This seems a strange answer as the preceeding album Rumours sold over 40 million copies. Tusk sold 4 million.

For any of you that struggle with numbers the difference between those two figures is… comfortably more albums than Britney Spears has managed to sell in her entire career. Please note: I had to look that up, I’d like to reassure people I don’t follow Britney Spears albums sales as a hobby.

Tusk was a source of pride for a number of reasons that Buckingham believed mattered more than commercial success, namely

– he asserted more creative control than he had been able to do previously
– he broke away from the expectations of others (expecting Rumours 2) to do something different to what had gone before
– following up the Rumours with a relatively successful album was more of a challenge than writing Rumours (when expectations were low)

I dislike Tusk. There is barely anything on the album that I enjoy (maybe Sara..) and you have to skip forward to their next album, Tango in the Night, before there is anything I’d name as a favourite.

But Lindsay Buckingham saying that his greatest achievements were i) being a father and ii) addressing the challenge of staying creative following success  That is something that I can enjoy. That feels like someone who really has a handle on what success means.

A final point: Buckingham was incredibly aware of his own skill. It was in refining the work of others and providing structure to it, rather than in creating this himself. That’s probably true of a great number of people who are ‘creative’, but it takes some courage to admit you are an aggregator rather than a creator.

He described his work with Fleetwood Mac as being like movie making and I like that idea. Maybe that’s what more organisations need – people committed simply to bringing the best out of the people around them and editing and shaping their work into the best possible form. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Of course the best thing Buckingham actually did was this piece for National Lampoon’s Vacation. If I could only ever achieve as much…

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