Kurt Cobain is back in the headlines, following the release of the documentary "Montage of Heck". It's been touted as the most personal and revealing portrait yet of the former Nirvana frontman, and I know I'm not the only one who reacted to the hype with a fair bit of suspicion. Nirvana are one of the most dissected bands ever, so much like the release of something from the bottomless pit of Beatles recordings, my first reaction was "how can there be anything left"? There have already been a few Nirvana documentaries and concert DVD's, a box set, and the publication of Cobain's private journals. Don't we know everything already? When is it finally enough?
Brian Ives considers that very question in this commentary about "Montage of Heck" and a few other, extremely personal documentaries about other rock legends. I still haven't seen the Cobain doc, but Ives' article informed me about a rarely seen Fleetwood Mac film, "Destiny Rules", about the making of their album "Say You Will" and the preparations for their massive world tour.
The second half of the film is fairly standard backstage pass type stuff, as we see the band putting the finishing touches on the album and jamming in preparation for their tour. The meaty stuff happens in the first half of the film. Buckingham shows up to the studio with a plateful of songs, Nicks turns up with her songs (and a mood-setting decorative statue/scarf holder), McVie and Fleetwood sit around looking bored while mentally calculated the money they're earning (or losing) with every passing day, and it might as well be the 1970's all over again. Buckingham is determined to stick to his vision of an ambitious double CD, thinking only about the art and completely oblivious to the concept of what may or may not sell in 2003. Stevie Nicks also sees dollar signs floating in front of her eyes while listening to the playback of their shimmery pop rock demos, instantly recognizable as the sound of classic Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham insists its all about the art, and if the art is good, the album will sell records based on the name value alone. If it sells only half a million copies, then he's fine with that as long as his creativity isn't compromised, except nobody else in the band thinks that he truly believes that. Nicks is marginally more realistic, believing that if they can cobble together their catchiest twelve new songs, then kids in their teens and twenties will buy their album. Nobody seems to have any concept of the realistic ceiling for this album. From 2000-2004, pretty much the only rock bands to make a dent in the singles pop charts were Creed and Nickelback.
In the end, they did probably reach the absolute ceiling for "Say You Will". Buckingham came to his senses and agreed to a single CD (albeit a bloated, 18-track, 75-minute single CD). Near the end of the film, he speaks to the camera and explains that the added costs of releasing the double CD would necessitate a much longer tour (and/or future tours) to recoup the costs, something that nobody in the band is ready to commit to just yet. With a new house to pay for and a family to feed, he can't take that chance. Of course, the idea that they could recoup costs by selling more records is no longer considered. By this point, they've understood that it's not 1977 or 1982 or 1987 and their brand of music isn't going to enter heavy rotation on the radio or MTV. The tour was a huge success and did lead to a number of follow up tours that continue to this day. The follow up album to "Say You Will" never materialized. 2002-3 was just about the latest year that a record company would consider letting a band record that might (if they're lucky) sell a million CD's, record their album in the matter they'd been accustomed to, with months of studio time, rented Hollywood mansion, and so on. Fleetwood Mac post-2003 know where their bread is buttered, and after seeing "Destiny Rules", it's easy to see why they're not rushing to go through the stress of recording again together.
The documentary I really want to see is a definitive look at the Buckingham-Nicks relationship. Ives writes about a nearly unbearable tension between them as they agree to disagree over the recording and mixing of various parts of the album. I always see something different whenever I see them on film or on stage together. I see a pair with a deep connection that often transcends words, an ex-couple that are completely over each other but inexorably drift back together to make their best music, often with each other as the lyrical subjects of their most inspirational songs even thirty years later. Moments before they take the stage for the first concert in support of "Say You Will", they clasp hands and stare at each other intensely. There's a glint of fear and nervousness in Nicks' eyes, which is a bit surprising for someone who has played countless gigs in large arenas, but also a sense of comfort in knowing that Buckingham is there and between the two of them, they'll get through this gig with flying colours just like they always have in the past. You see the same look of admiration and respect when they sing a duet together on stage. They're two conjoined souls completely in awe of each other's talent, and I don't think anyone other than the two of them really comes close to understanding it.