The co-founder of Fleetwood Mac talks the glory days of the band, touring as a septuagenarian and what the swinging 60s were really like
Hey, Mick. How are you?
I’m OK, but I’ve got coconut oil all over my water bottle.
I put it on my hands. When you get old, you get lizard skin. I didn’t know but it’s an antiseptic. I put it on my head too. It doesn’t smell and it’s not full of chemicals. You can use it for cooking and it’s good for sex, too.
Sex and bald heads? Mick, I wasn’t prepared for this.
Well, now you know. It’s multipurpose stuff.
It’s the midway point of SXSW and some people are looking worse for wear. Any tips for hangover cures?
Drink lots of electrolytes even if you need to go to the toilet all the time, it’s worth it. And get hold of avocado or watermelon. Avocado is full of electrolytes and protein. Put it on some toast. Put a big fucking mashed-up avocado on toast and you’ll come back like you’ve never seen before.
Gracias. Why have you decided to put out a book about early Fleetwood Mac?
My former brother-in-law, George Harrison, did a similar thing in 1980. I saw it back then and it was something I wanted to do but didn’t get round to it. Jimmy Page did one for Led Zeppelin too. It’s all about what started the band and a lot of people don’t know about that period, and the band is 50 years old in August for the original members of Fleetwood Mac. This is the beginning of the group and it’s very important to me.
What is it about that period?
We were doing our thing and the Stones and the Beatles were blowing up in a way that has sociologically changed a lot of shit. Fashion, art, everything was going on. The attitude was probably the main thing in the ether. We had no idea. London was a hugely exciting place and it becomes even more exciting when you look back and think so much was going on. To do with art, to do with stuff that had a sociological effect on the world. It did. You get these comedic cliched moments of ‘Oh, it’s swinging London’, but the truth is it fucking was. There were people jumping into Mini Minors with Union Jacks on them. I know it’s become a joke, but it was that.
Was that your favorite iteration of Fleetwood Mac?
I think it’s the most important, because it’s how it started. We came from nothing and with Peter [Green] we were doing what we love to do. For that reason, it’s the most important period for me. Because I like to think when things got crazy later on, at least I personally would remind myself that I was lucky to be doing what I was doing.
How did you deal with his breakdown and eventual departure from the group?
Losing Peter was devastating for all of us. He was a dear, dear friend of mine. I lost him, it was like losing a lover. There’s a picture in the book where it looks like we are gay lovers. We were so happy. Life became so heavy for Peter. We were joined at the hip and put the band together.
Did you think about quitting?
No, because we were really frightened. When Peter left, if ever there was a period where it was over rover, that was it. First of all, it was like: ‘What do we do?’ Jeremy was there, Danny was there, John was there. We were so petrified we all huddled together like we were in an elevator when there’s a power cut – you learn to make friends really quickly.
Peter named the band Fleetwood Mac and then years later Peter said in an interview: “I named the band Fleetwood Mac because I knew at some point that I was probably going to leave.” He sort of knew. It didn’t have anything to do with why we kept going, but he said: “I always wanted Mick and John to have a job,” and we did. We always had a home.
In the book, you ask Peter about why he asked you to join the band.
Yeah, and it had nothing to do with me being able to play drums. He said, “You were so unhappy, Mick.” I’d broken up with Jenny, who Peter knew, and I was at a dead end. I was moping around and that’s why he asked me to do it. He identified with someone who was hurting. Love That Burns is the title of the book, and it’s a song Peter sang which is devastating to me and sums up this band, to say the least.
The last time we spoke to you, you said you were still trying to work out: “What is this creature Mick in the middle of this band?” Have you figured it out yet?
I still don’t really know what I’m doing. If someone says do that second chorus, I’ll go: “Nooo, I don’t know what that second chorus is.” I call it “going to the blackboard”. If you leave me alone, I’ll do my best. But if you start saying read this, my whole stomach will go and I get off track. Peter said: “You’re perfect for playing the blues because you feel shit, you’re like a big fucking sponge.” Looking at me, Mick, through what is nearly a 50-year career – I love to be around creative people, and I cling on to that. It tells a story about what I need or what I don’t have.
You’ve finished an 18-month tour that had 220 dates. How do you cope at 70?
I take care of myself. I didn’t used to. I keep physically fit. It’s about knowing when you’re done. I drank and had nights out for 35 years. For a while it trains you like a circus animal, and you find a way to come back from it emotionally. You learn a sick form of survival. The last tour I couldn’t do what I do and perform and all my shenanigans like I used to – staying up for three days and then playing four shows in a row. I can’t do that and I don’t want to. It’s a realization that those days are over.
Do you miss it?
I think they’re war stories and you have to be careful how you tell them. I still drink a little bit, but I stopped for 14 years. I’m lucky, but as you get older you just can’t do it, and if you do you’re saying good bye to life as something that can be enjoyed. Everyone has their own way of handling it. Take the various forms of abuse out of the equation, you take care of yourself. I’m 70 years old and I play harder now than I used to. I don’t want to look like an old fart and I’m not an old fart. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to do what I do. I’m sort of a goofball.
Love That Burns: A Chronicle of Fleetwood Mac is out via Genesis Publications in September