13 May 2008

Trouble in Shangri-La

and you, you got in my way
stood between me and my friends
It was my sin, it was my shame
You were unconscious to the pain I was in

~Stevie Nicks, "Trouble in Shangri-La", from the album of the same name, 2001

I just finished reading Storms by Carol Ann Harris, former consort to Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham. Carol Ann and Lindsey were together through the Mac's Rumours tour until 1983/1984.

My parents listened to Fleetwood Mac, and then I spent a lot of time listening to classic rock in my late teens. Fleetwood wasn't quite the same as zoning out to Led Zepplin, but I always loved the way the band harmonized, how Stevie Nicks sounded so different from Christine McVie, and yet their combined voices rival any opera duetta by any great duo of opera singers you care to name.

When Bill Clinton was elected to the presidency in 1992, I was in Sweden, and paying no attention at all to the ruckus surrounding the election. I was not legal to vote. It wasn't that I was apathetic to politics, it was that I was apathetic to anything that was happening in the United States; the world stage was opened to me for the first time, and the nightly news in Sweden was more about the unrest in Yugoslavia than it was about what was going on in America. Which was far more "real" to me, the fact that people were dying in the cities and towns that my host parents grew up in than Gennifer Flowers and poll numbers.

(If I've never mentioned it before: my Swedish Mama and Papa emigrated to Sweden in the 1960s from Croatia. Yes, its a bit confusing.)

So when the band reunited to play Don't Stop at one of his inauguration balls, MTV Europe said *yawn*. When they released The Dance later in the decade, though, I loved it, and played it a lot. The songs didn't hold deep meaning for me as some other artists that I admire, I just loved singing along to it.

Carol Ann's book has an old picture of the band on the dust cover, and I picked it up on one of my periodic ramblings through the bookstore. I will read almost anything, and biographies have held an interest for me since I was about 9. Quickly, I was sucked in to the backstory of the end of the Rumours album recordings and the subsequent world tour. After I finished reading it, I went searching for reviews of the book, and I discovered that many book critics find all sorts of fault with her delivery, her prose, and her side of the story.

I can't agree. This is the story of a woman, like so many of us, with almost no self esteem, fragile, beautiful. Her twist is that she was living in the public eye, and caught up in a vortex of drugs, rock & roll excess and an abusive relationship.

She did a fair degree of foreshadowing that I found annoying, but that is one of my personal kvetches; I don't approve of foreshadowing as a literary device.

I was struck over and over how she was living in such a different era. Lindsey wouldn't "let" her work, something that baffles me. She felt it her obligation to just be there for him, even when he spent weeks at a time during their relationship locked in his home recording studios, that she would subsume all that was Carol so that Lindsey could be Lindsey.

The time period can't explain all of this away this for me, though. Women's lib began in the 60s, and by the mid-70s, there were plenty of women balancing career and family. By the time the two split up in the early 80s, the idea of the career/family superwoman was a part of the dominant culture. Lindsey was not at all supportive of Carol's modeling in the late 70s. When she began acting classes, and then studied costume design with folks who were on the cutting edge of music video production in the 80s, he was nasty, demeaning, sarcastic about her excitement about what she was learning.

The book brought a deeper understanding of many of the Fleetwood Mac songs I've loved over the years, given me insight here and there to the music that I wouldn't have had otherwise, but the end of the book left me hurting, physically aching for this girl who had no idea, at least until the bitter end, that being the muse for this tortured musical genius and class-A asshole was going to be the death of her unless she walked away.

There are very few "unforgivables" when it comes to the relationship between two partners, no matter the sexual preference, in my book. Things that might be able to be overcome, given enough time and counseling, but that are deal-breakers for me. Number one is infidelity. Once a cheater, always a cheater. I think that if someone gets away with cheating the first time, they're only going to do it again and again, a cycle of heartbreak-in-waiting for the person being cheated upon. Number two in my list is abuse, be it psychological, physical, emotional, what ever. When that happens, walk away. Don't look back. Don't make excuses for the abuser. Don't blame yourself. Just walk away.

She did eventually walk away, but not before he'd nearly killed her at least three times, strangling her, and once even punching her in the face in a Los Angeles nightclub.


My parents, over the years, have often pointed out as friends parents got divorced, or other long term relationships crumbled, that there are two sides to every story. Sometimes there are more than two sides. I don't know Buckingham's side of the story. I've never read so much as an interview with him, and so I don't know his twist or take on it. I don't care to, either, but I sincerely hope that he's gotten some therapy.

I also think about how in this age of cel-phone cameras and Perez Hilton, there's a good chance that Buckingham's behavior just might have been noticed by the paparazzi.

Harris paints a fairly unflattering portrait of Stevie Nicks as well, but ultimately, Nicks comes off as far more sympathetic a character than Buckingham.

You know how sometimes we read more into something than is reality? I think that perhaps I'm hearing more into Nicks's Trouble in Shangri-La album after reading the book. Seems to me the title track is about the demise of Buckingham and Harris's relationship, about a lost little girl. The last line of the song, show me the way back, speaks to me of finding yourself again after coming out of a particularly difficult time.

Even though the ending of the book isn't particularly "happy," as the focus of the story is the relationship which ultimately dies, Harris is a survivor. I think it took incredible courage and strength to tell this story. I'm sure she knew when she was writing it that the blame-the-victim mentality of the popular press was going to be excruciatingly painful for her. I admire her grace and restraint; she never denigrates into name-calling or finger-pointing throughout the entire book.

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