The Guitarist and the Albatross


I heard this morning that Peter Green, co-founder of the very successful rock band Fleetwood Mac, had died at age 73.

Peter Green was born to a Jewish family in Bethnal Green, London, in 1946. Although he is described as a singer (and he did have quite a soulful voice and wrote amazing songs, too) – no, it was the guitar, that subtle, blues twang that emerged when he graduated to a Les Paul. This was at a time when blues music became enormously popular in the UK.  There was John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the Yardbirds, and more (including the Rolling Stones). Green apparently started early, playing in several bands from the age of 15.

It was the “sound.” And the songs. No, Santana did not write “Black Magic Woman.” Peter Green did. Here it is – that clear as a bell guitar. And here’s a truly vibrant live version.

Soon after Peter Green left the band, Fleetwood Mac went on to create some very catchy pop tunes and reaped enormous success – especially after “making it big” in the United States – as was often the case in those days with other British artists like David Bowie, the Rolling Stones and others. I always felt they weren’t the same, without him.

This morning, I heard the tune “Albatross,” a slide guitar instrumental recorded by Green and Co. in 1968. Simple, cool, ocean-like. One can almost hear the waves, and one can almost see the birds soaring. It was the only “number one hit” the band had in the UK (that was a big deal in those days, to be Number One).

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The Wandering Albatross, which has a wingspan of eleven or twelve feet. They are threatened by entanglement with fishing lines, pollution, climate change and other human activities.

Back to YouTube again, and here’s a truly lovely video of the song, accompanied by photographs of this magnificent bird.

I am reminded of a beautiful chapter in that rich weighty, novel “The Luminaries,” by Eleanor Catton, in which albatrosses appear. Two young people, meeting casually for the first time, talk about the birds as they wheel around, leaning on the rail of their ship that is approaching Dunedin, on New Zealand’s Otago peninsula. Here is a part of their conversation:

“So few birds are truly mythical,” the boy went on, still watching the albatross. “I mean, there are ravens, I suppose, and perhaps you might say that doves have a special meaning, too…but no more than owls do, or eagles. An albatross is different. It has such a weight to it. Such symbolism. It’s angelic, almost; even saying the name, one feels a kind of thrill. I’m so glad to have seen one. I feel almost touched. And how wonderful, that they guard the mouth of the harbour like they do!”

“Birds always make me think of ships,” Anna said… “Heavy ships are so graceful in the water…I believe that it’s the same with birds. Large birds are not buffeted about by the wind. They always look so regal on the air…Seeing him fly is like seeing a heavy ship cut through a wave…I should like to see him in a storm.”

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Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac: (l-r) Peter Green (front); bass player John McVie; co-founders Jeremy Spencer and Mick Fleetwood and Danny Kirwan.

Peter Green’s creativity was cut short. He took too much of the psychedelic drug LSD, had mental health problems and left the band in 1970 – only three years after he co-founded it with Jeremy Spencer and Mick Fleetwood. He was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia and life was downhill after that. We have to realize that, in the 1970s in England, mental health was not treated as it is now – it was dealt with in a far less enlightened way, sadly.

Peter Green’s facial expressions were usually solemn, but his guitar was anything but. I will forever associate those ringing chords with the bird I saw, miles out on the sea in California, from a whale-watching boat.

The edge of a wing, at once elegant and filled with power, disappearing into the ocean fog. I will never forget.

Sail on, soar on Peter. Don’t forget to smile.

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The Wandering Albatross.

 

 


9 thoughts on “The Guitarist and the Albatross

  1. Dear Petch, What an absolutely lovely tribute to a misunderstood – and tortured – genius! That live version of “Woman” is endlessly inventive. Back in the ’80s I did a show on the NPR station in L.A., KCRW, called “Sound of the Sixtes.” Stephen Davis, who had just co-written Mick Fleetwood’s autobiography, brought him to the station for an hour long interview. What I remember most about it was his deep feelings for Green and his grief for the loss of his partner to mental illness. As an example he cited a time after Peter had become a so-called “Jesus Freak” and stormed into his lawyer’s office threatening to kill him if he didn’t stop sending Green his royalties.  With Carlos’ version(s) he could have lived off those royalties – royally – for his whole life. There’s a lesson in here somewhere, but I’m not sure what. Noting your interest in the great music of the ’60s – in 2017 I was interviewed for a CNN series called “Soundtracks” in an episode about Nam and Kent State. CNN ran a promo spot for it for a couple of weeks in advance that began with me but when the evening of the broadcast came around, it was pre-empted by some stupid Trump Scandal. Apparently it was never shown in the States, much to my frustration. Then I began hearing from friends in Europe that they had seen it there. My attempts to find a copy have had years of failure. Now, see below, I have located a link. my wife Mary and I watched it last night and it’s a terrific film, beautifully edited, lots of great  talking heads – they’ve even got a short segment about my tv show in Vietnam, “Poetry for People Who Hate Poetry with Staff Sergeant Roger Steffens,” which will be good for a laugh. Hard to believe it’s been a half a century since these events took place, so thankful that I’m still here to tell the story. Daughter Kate is hard at work with me on my Vietnam memoir, which will be our next Family Acid book, although very different from the first three of those.Here’s the link:  https://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2017/11/09/cnngo-soundtracks-episode-101-kent-state-vietnam.original-series Hope this finds you well and safe. I love your writing and look forward hopefully to meeting you the next time I’m able to come to Yard. One Heart,Roger attached: a shot of my wife with our addition to the protests. and three of nearby Silver Lake Reservoir, whose 2.2 mile circumference is completely covered in the names of Black folk murdered by the police. It’s incredibly moving, and names are (sadly) added weekly. Roger Steffens’ Reggae Archives1865 Lemoyne StLA, CA 90026323-667-0867rasrojah@aol.cominstagram.com/thefamilyacd

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    1. Hey! Roger, it is so good to hear from you again. Yes, he was truly misunderstood and certainly tortured, one of the “casualties” as they like to say of that period (which was “my era” – and indeed, he and I have some shared history, but that’s a long story.) Sometimes we never know what the lessons are, you know! I remember he started playing concerts dressed in a Jesus-like robe, so sad. I thank you SO much for the link to the program that never was a CNN programme. I also very much look forward to your Vietnam memoir. It touched us deeply in the UK, too. I would really love to meet up with you next time you are here – please don’t forget to let me know if/when you are coming over. We are right here in Kingston. Silver Lake Reservoir! How extraordinarily sad, all those names. But we are living in strange and rather overwhelming times, aren’t we. Please take care of yourself and your family! Until we talk again (or meet perhaps)…

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  2. Beautifully written, Petchary. God, what a talented artist he was. One of the great “triple threats” in rock music – a wonderful songwriter, a beautifully (as you said) soulful lead singer, and as a guitarist…as tragic as the erosion of his immense gifts through schizophrenia was, his music will remain through the magic of singles, LPs, CDs, and the Internet. “If music be the food of love, (Then) Play On….”

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    1. Yes, absolutely… His music will be there forever, and the passion and love that inspired it! Thank you Larry, so good to hear from you. I was so moved by his passing – I had to write a little bit about him. And the birds…

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