Friday, May 1, 2009

This Day in Rock History (Mick Fleetwood Files for Bankruptcy)

May 1, 1984—Demonstrating far worse talent for finance than for supplying the backbeat for Fleetwood Mac, drummer Mick Fleetwood filed for bankruptcy in a Federal court in Los Angeles. The news astonished fans of the rock group, who, for the last several years, had read how the band’s 1977 LP Rumours had become one of the bestselling albums of all time.

Rock ‘n’ rollers have varied wildly in their ability to retain and manage their money. Some just have a natural talent for it—and in at least one case, the need to make money gave rise to the urge to make music. I’m talking here about Dave Clark, who, because his soccer team, the Tottenham Hotspurs, needed money in 1960, brilliantly thought of starting a rock ‘n’ roll band, buying himself a set of drums and learning how to play.

There’s also Mick Jagger, who used his acumen from the London School of Economics to ensure that the Rolling Stones remained a moneymaking machine even after their creative peak had long passed.

On the other hand, there’s someone like Billy Joel, who, after the breakup of his first marriage to a wife who doubled as his manager, turned around and, in a move of supreme illogic, hired as his new manager his ex’s brother, who promptly swindled him out of millions. Or Bruce Springsteen, who, in signing with first manager-producer Mike Appel, agreed to an insanely low royalty rate of three percent of retail price.

At least Joel and Springsteen were naïve young men. Fleetwood had been a working musician for nearly two decades by the time of his bankruptcy filing—he’d been around.

Maybe, in a sense, that was part of the problem—he’d been around too much, in very fast company.

If you listen to Fleetwood, his insolvency resulted from faulty Australian real estate investments. Especially in light of recent events, that has a surface plausibility—and, indeed, the bankruptcy came before Paul Hogan’s Crocodile Dundee films and “shrimp on the barbie” commercial had made Americans sit up and take notice of the coolness of Down Under. In that sense, you could make an argument that Fleetwood was just a bit ahead of his time.

Yet, in the same interviews where he blames his problems on these ill-advised speculations, Fleetwood has also admitted to putting $8 million in cocaine up his nose. If you ask me, I think substance abuse cost him far more than that.

Think of all the following ramifications of the rock ‘n’ roller’s self-indulgence:

* Without cocaine, do you think he would have been quite as likely to have even more fun with groupies—and break up two of his marriages and thus incur expensive divorce settlements?

* Without cocaine, do you think he would have made such risky investments in real estate in the first place?

* Without other forms of substance abuse (i.e., alcohol), would he have done insane things such as breaking a $7,000 Rolex with his beer bottle?

* Without the general insanity this induced all induced—the hangovers, the argumentativeness, the depression—would Fleetwood Mac have broken up so readily in 1982?

* Without the depression induced by his bankruptcy, would Fleetwood have written a memoir that made his old bandmates even more ticked off at him than before—and even less likely to hold the Fleetwood Mac reunion he wanted and needed so badly?

Fleetwood, of course, was not the only member of his group with all kinds of issues (Lindsey Buckingham is a mad genius, with the madness often overcoming the genius part). But he was the one most likely to be wrecked by a bankruptcy because a) he was not a songwriter who could collect royalties and b) as a drummer, he could not simply tour on his own—it had to be with others.

Ten years after the bankruptcy filing, Fleetwood finally was able to confront his substance abuse and begin to get control of his life again. In videos I’ve seen of Fleetwood Mac, he seems to be the one group member not in it for the prospect of another paycheck—quite simply, he looks blissed out that, in his early 60s, he’s still alive to do what he’s always loved.

None of this is to say, though, that he’s done with scrapes with financial ruin. In the past few months, Fleetwood and some business partners have become embroiled in a lawsuit with a former attorney who, it’s claimed, failed to give them the right advice about a dispute with the BBC. (It seems that the attorney did not tell them they could be personally liable for more than $4 million in legal fees.)

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