As I'm sitting down to write this, Songbird is starting up in my head and it's choking me up. It's not the type of song I typically like––it's slow, sentimental, and singer-songwritery. That said, unlike a lot of slow, sentimental, singer-songwritery songs, it's actually, truly, emotionally resonant. Christine McVie had a genius for emotional resonance, and that was but one aspect of her badassery. I came to appreciate her late in her career. Growing up on New Wave and Post-Punk, my first exposure to Fleetwood Mac came at the height of their mainstream success, mid-'80s, when songs like Tell Me Lies and Everywhere were on near-constant rotation on Mtv. The Mac were a mainstream pillar of the (in my teenaged mind at the time) mainstream Boomer generation, and as such, my dyed-hair-in-the-wool Gen Xer self didn't really give them the time of day. Later, I would come to understand that she was the primary songwriter on both of those hits, and I would also come to understand just how well-crafted they are. When I started touring and recording with my own band, I began looking for references for vocal harmonies, and I remembered a friend of my mom's playing some Fleetwood Mac songs for me. They stuck in my head at that point because I'd noticed the tight, ethereal, harmonies and appreciated them from a vocal music perspective. Having sung in competitive choirs in my youth, I consider a group of diverse voices weaving music out of complicated harmonies to be one of the holy grails of creativity. There's a feeling about it to which nothing else quite compares. It's a beautiful, tangible example of what human beings can do when they collaborate creatively. Listening to those harmonies hooked me. I started delving into Fleetwood Mac's history, their catalogue, their well-covered dramas and traumas, and I discovered for myself the genius and badassery of Christine McVie. She was an easy role model to adopt for a female musician with an alto voice who has spent much of my life singing, playing keyboards, gigging, and touring. I could identify with her on that level, certainly, but I also identified with her quiet confidence; I respected her quiet confidence. I've long felt like I had to force myself out of my introvert/Aspy shell in order to make an impact on stage, but she didn't do that––she seemed to intuitively understand that you can make an impact just by being who you are. There's an elegance about that. She was undeniable as a musician; a consummate pro pianist and keyboard player who readily held her own in a band of men at a time when there weren't many women along for the ride in that rough and tumble lifestyle. True to form, she didn't make a big deal about being the woman in the band; she was just in the band, which is how I believe it should be. Having joined Fleetwood Mac in their nascent years, she was an establishing member of one of rock's most historic and successful acts. She lived through the affairs, divorces, and drama, and out of them she crafted some of that band's most successful songs. She did all that while being, effectively, a sideman*, and she seemed content with that role, like John Paul Jones. She never came across as a prima (bella) donna, and in fact, she seemed to me to be the antithesis of that; a bastion of confident humility who didn't need to seek the spotlight in order to realize her talents.
In her songwriting, she had the ability to tap into some spiritual, cosmic, emotional core without it ever sounding woo-woo or pretentious. In that way, she was the perfect foil to Stevie Nicks's witchy theatricality (also admittedly brilliant). McVie's emotional tap came through writing about small moments that are near-universally accessible and even somewhat mundane, and because they are small and accessible and somewhat mundane, those moments resonate with me as being so very much like life. That. Is. Genius. And it is so badass. As an older female musician, I loved seeing her in her mature years, still writing, still playing, still looking beautiful not despite her age, but as informed by it. In her sixties and seventies, she possessed a regal and elegant comfort with herself that I think is the crowning glory of any human being, but especially any artist, because so many of us start life feeling so out of place. I love knowing that she tackled and conquered her fear of flying late in life, specifically so she could get back on the road with Fleetwood Mac. Christine McVie is, and will continue to be, my role model for what being a female musician can look and be like at every age. Now, even while Songbird is choking me up, I'm thinking about spinning Tell Me Lies and Everywhere––two songs I have come to adore––and I'm already craving that dreamy sequencer intro to Everywhere. The orchestration and production on that song are tight, tasteful, interesting, and dynamic––up there with the best pop work from the ABBA team, Quincy Jones, and Barry Gibb. From this vantage point, that gives me chills. Thank you for sharing your genius and your badassery with us, Christine. Thanks for giving me a role model for being an older female musician, a role model for what a truly professional sideman can do, and just for being you. I appreciated you, and I think your creative genius is undersung. I hope that changes in light of us losing you. *I'm sticking to my guns about using the terms sideman and frontman in their original state. They aren't about gender; they're about the institution of being a gigging musician, in a lexicographical lineage that dates back to the early Jazz and Vaudeville days. There's an honor and a return-on-dues-paid in those terms that is genderless; they are a rank, achieved. She achieved them.