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.
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).
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.”
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.