Suzanne Connolly analyses the intent behind the lyrics to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’.
2013 marks the 35th anniversary of the recording of Fleetwood Mac’s generation-defining album “Rumours”, heralding the chance for them to return once again to the world stage on their upcoming 2013 tour. It is interesting, then, to consider just how “Rumours” revealed in the raw fragility of a band which would go on to have such unlikely longevity. Aspects of fear and change are apparent in almost every song featured on the album, revealing tensions and relationship breakdowns that were occurring within the band at the time the tracks were written and recorded.
Search “Fleetwood Mac The Chain 1982” on YouTube and you’ll come across what is, I find, one of the most emotionally charged live performances ever recorded. What you are watching is not simply a band performing a greatest hit, but a band performing a greatest hit in the midst of several personal crises and unapologetically showing it.
The resonance of the song’s lyrics with the band, especially in former romantic partners Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, is evident as they showcase not only their musical talent but manifest within it their lingering tensions through brooding glares, animalistic howls and direct address from one to the other. “The Chain” happens to be the only song credited to all five members, Nicks, Buckingham, Fleetwood, McVie and McVie. Recognisable to many, partly due to the use of the bass solo on Formula 1 coverage, “The Chain” reveals the fears of a band which would profit hugely from the same internal breakdowns which threatened to end their collaboration before it had the chance to really begin.
As the lyrics show, the song deals with a fear of breaking commitment both to a relationship, as was the case with the inter-band breakups of Nicks and Buckingham alongside the divorce of John and Christine McView, as well as the fear of the breakup of the musical collaboration, shown in the accusatory lines:
“And if you don’t love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain”
The final chant-like repetition of the line “Chain… Keep us together” provides a sort of mantra for the band at a time of great uncertainty as to their staying together.
Although the history of Fleetwood Mac is much longer and more complex than just “Rumours”, the band itself having several line-up changes before and after, it is undoubtedly this album which established them as one of the greatest bands of the 20th Century and is finding a revived fan-base in the 21st. Lindsey Buckingham ends the intense 1982 live performance of “The Chain” with a few words to the crowd: “a lot of people were wondering what happened to us… Well we’re here to show you that we just refuse to go away”. True to his word, 35 years on Fleetwood Mac are living up to this statement, and “The Chain”, even if they have had more than a few bumps in the road along the way.
This is the hip-hop that matters, it is born out of poverty and discrimination, searches for justice with beats and rhyme. There is a growing scene of Muslim hip-hop in Europe, their music expresses their hostility towards being objectified as an enemy or as dangerous people, they feel marginalized. Farah Pandith, the US representative to Muslim communities in America, says hip-hop conveys a “different narrative” to counter foreign violent ideology, it is a form of peaceful protest, and suffering is best conveyed to the privileged through the arts of music, visual media, or written literature. However these forms of protest have been condemned by governments as “Muslim hate rap,” rappers have been prosecuted and the slogans like “Free Palestine” have been tuned out of Radio One Xtra to “ensure impartiality was maintained.”
Salah Edin, a Dutch rapper, speaks of racial dicrimination and islamophobia, in his music video ‘Het Land Van,’ (funded by the government and later condemned for its racialism) he is body searched and an old man is searched because he was praying, Salah Edin’s beard progressively becomes thicker as the video progresses and this leads him headlong into Guantanamo bay.
Kerry James is a French Haitian rapper born in Paris, he is widely known in France and popular among the large West Indies and Muslim population. He speaks out against the same problems of race and religion, he says the French government are:
“…pillagers of wealth, murderers of Africans, torturers of Algerians, the colonial past is yours, you chose to link your history to ours…”
In his video people are blindfolded, handcuffed, guns and barbed wire surround them. These symbols clearly show us the feelings of the marginalized populations in Europe, and it could replay the Civil Rights Movement in America during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Six hours after writing this article the Narcicyst (Iraqi – Canadian hip-hop artist) declared on Facebook…
“Due to partnerships that have just been made clear to me, I have chosen to drop out of the CreativeTimeSummit tomorrow in Dubai. I stand in support of the Palestinian people and against the genocide of a people and am a firm supporter of the Palestinain BDS National Committee. I apologise to the organisers here, but it is my duty and role as an Arab artist to stand with the people of Palestine. To see the change we have to be the change.”
The history of folk music is often associated with an overt political stance and didactic intellectual sentiments. Yet its renaissance in recent years which has permeated mainstream charts with pseudo-folk music in a guise which is devoid of such tropes. The social protest songs of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan feel long done, and one wonders how such monolithic figures would view self-fashioned folk bands such as Mumford and Sons. Would they see them as contemptibly contrived, or somehow retaining the essence of their past music? Exploring such a question can have its merits.
Bob Dylan described his attraction to folk music, and what compelled him to write such songs, as being found in the fact that folk music was “more of a serious type of thing. The songs were filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings”. He was drawn into it as he felt that it interacted with the listener on an sentimental and intellectual plain, rather than the rock ‘n’ roll of the time which he saw as simply Hedonism that held “great catch phrases and driving pulse rhythms” at its core. Through these “great catch phrases”, Dylan notes how the rock ‘n’ roll music of the 1960s was construed to capture public support, but actively revolted against such consumerism, and felt – or rather may have wanted to feel – that “I had no songs in my repertoire for commercial radio”.
Yet this music which strived to forge a more private relationship with the listener, also paradoxically believed music to have the potential for important wide-reaching social change. Indeed, one of Dylan’s compatriots in the 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene, Joan Baez, fervently expressed her belief that “action is the antidote to despair”, through her music. At a march for civil rights in Washington in August 1963, the pair – Dylan’s reputation not yet cemented – performed in front of the thousands of protesters, and from henceforward were linked to the plights and protests of such Americans. A large number of their most seminal recordings are such ‘protest-songs’, and songs such as “The times they are a-changin’” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” are formative members of the western canon.
And here we come to those singers and groups that are branded ‘folk’ by sometimes themselves, sometimes critics, and sometimes by listeners, yet they precipitate a number of questions: have they redefined the genre? Or has the very term ‘folk’ been so bounded around that it retains only a semblance of what it previously defined?
Artists that fall under this ambiguous genre of ‘folk’ such as Noah and the Whale and Mumford and Sons, seem to have in many respects retrograded the tropes the genre has hitherto held dear. Instead of the reserved and often poignant songs of Neil Daimond or Dylan, these artists reveal at best contrived sentiment, and at worst unashamed frivolity. But the public devouring of such releases is clear in impressive chart sales.
In addition, songs by these artists – indeed, whole albums – are embarrassingly self-absorbent, a far cry from the aforementioned politically motivated singer-songwriters. Of course it can be posited that all art is self-absorbed, but these recent neo-folk releases seem to be entirely divorced from the social context they are written in. Sentimentalists will defend them as “timeless expressions of the human condition” or some other tosh, but they undeniably not in keeping with the socially minded folk music of the 1950’s/60’s/70’s.
The problem may lie in the critical mis-classification of these new artists, more than any damning criticisms of their artistic merits, or lack thereof. Yet my real contention rises from their elevating to a pedestal of what should be celebrated as some of the most powerful of twentieth century music. Donning an archaic waistcoat and growing a beard, or having a violin in one’s band does not constitute replicating one of peaks in popular music.