When Rumours Came True in Sausalito

By Larry Clinton

Celebrated Living, the inflight magazine of American Airlines, recently ran an article detailing how the spirit of Sausalito contributed to the hugely successful Fleetwood Mac album, Rumours. Back then, says the unsigned article, Sausalito’s harbor “was regularly filled with rock and movie stars of the 1970s, many of whom saw Sausalito as a high­end getaway where they could at once be afforded luxury accommodations appropriate for their wealth and a hedonistic nightlife that suited their indulgent lifestyles.”

Fleetwood Mac’s visit to Sausalito was legendary not just because it produced the 26th­best album of all time according to Rolling Stone – but, as Celebrated Living states: “because of what the band went through personally, how that infused the album and led to brilliance, and how the town gave the members the focus and the energy to see them through it all.”

Christine McVie wrote in Making Rumours: The Inside Story of the Classic Fleetwood Mac Album: “I thought I was drying up when we started recording Rumours.

Then, one day in Sausalito, I sat at the piano, and my four ­and ­a­half songs on the album are a result of that.” The album went on to sell more than 40 million copies. In 1978, it received a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

When the band arrived in Sausalito, “they were in relationship turmoil,” according to the magazine. “During the recording sessions, the fault lines would widen between Christine and John McVie, who were divorcing after eight years, and between Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham. A few weeks into the recording, Mick Fleetwood found out about his wife’s affair. The women in the band rented their own apartments in the Sausalito harbor to get away from the men, who stayed (for the most part) in a studio ­provided home in the nearby Marin County hills.”

Several band members have said they think if they’d tried to make the record in L.A., the band might have broken up. The isolation made them deal with the emotions directly, and that found its way into the songs. Comparing Sausalito’s culture to the band’s home town, Los Angeles, Buckingham recalls, “Sausalito, as an extension of San Francisco and the music scene up there, was a smaller community that had far more idealistic underpinnings.”

The Record Plant’s “dark lighting and narrow wood ­lined hallways led musicians and studio staff into a labyrinth punctuated by small recording rooms,” notes the magazine. “The studio had no windows, so even though it was situated in this sunny waterside resort, it gave the feeling of being a timeless vault, not unlike the effect of a casino.”

 Plant Studio Sausalito, CA

Plant Studio Sausalito, CA

“The music was my only escape,” Fleetwood says in his autobiography, Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac.

The article continues: “Buckingham — whose songs ‘Second Hand News’ and ‘Go Your Own Way’ had a darker edge when addressing the aftermath of a breakup than did Nicks’ — acknowledges the importance of the Record Plant’s psychedelic and spiritual prison like mojo in shaping the emotions on display in the album.

“But, he says the town of Sausalito itself was just as important to the record’s emotional foundation as was the studio. ‘There was a great history to the Record Plant, sure. A lot of people had done great work,’ Buckingham says. ‘And the people working there were sort of an extension of the town and its tight community. It’s an interesting thing because I think the community was something that was nurturing to us.

But because we were our own little community and there was so much humanity to what we were doing with the album and in the studio, I think our presence during those few months was felt by the community of Sausalito as well’.” One spot they gravitated to was The Trident, which, says Celebrated Living, “was to Northern California what Studio 54 was to New York City. It was the place where, from the mid­’60s until later that year in 1976, would be the epicenter for stardom and excess, for ’70s free love and mind­altering experiences.” Buckingham and his wingmen also found a nearby bar, the short­lived Agatha’s Pub (now Angelino’s Italian restaurant), and made it their home base. Celebrated Living notes that “Buckingham soon began dating a waitress from the pub throughout his stay there, trying to move on from his ongoing breakup with Nicks.”

The best part of the spirit of the ’70s subculture was the kind of freedom which, the magazine reports, “can still be felt along the streets and bayside enclaves of the town today. Not the drug culture so often celebrated as essential to that freedom. Even the band members say they succeeded despite that. No, it’s the freedom you feel when you deal with the pain of the last days of a relationship and come out the other side of the tunnel stronger. It’s the freedom afforded you when your vacation to Sausalito runs for a leisurely weekend or for 10 weeks of creative tension. It’s the freedom you feel when you walk along the wharfs with your headphones, hit play on ‘The Chain,’ and let the ghosts of Sausalito’s past move you again.”

The cover of Rumours features a stylized shot of Fleetwood and Nicks