“And I wish you all the love in the world, but most of all, I wish it from myself.”
That is the hauntingly beautiful lyric that, for me, punctuates one of the most profound and moving ballads in rock history, Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird.”
Amazingly, the entire song was written in less than half an hour by the band’s consummate keyboardist and vocalist, Christine McVie. Last week, on Nov. 30, the singer and songwriter died following what her family said was a “short illness.” She was 79.
When I heard of McVie’s death, I was unexpectedly and intensely saddened. I mean, in recent years I hadn’t really thought too much about Fleetwood Mac, or McVie, although I came of age as a young man listening to the iconic 1977 “Rumours” album, which still is one of the best-selling and most-beloved recordings of all time. In fact, in 2018, “Rumours” was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry, being deemed “culturally, historically, or artistically significant” by the Library of Congress.
Yet for me the sense of sadness had nothing to do with cultural significance, but rather, from a sense of loss that yet another voice that moved and shaped my world is now gone. It’s a similar sense of loss that I felt nearly three years ago, when I learned of the death of RUSH drummer and lyricist Neil Peart.
Now, unlike Peart, I never had the chance to meet Christine McVie. In fact, I’ve never been to a Fleetwood Mac concert. My only real experience with the band is through their art, and my only connection with McVie is through her emotionally layered vocals, her affectionate, thoughtful, and direct lyrical messages on love, loss and relationships, and through her impeccable sense of melody.
Christine McVie doing what she did best, connecting with the world via song.
All of those brilliant songwriting characteristics are on full display in “Songbird,” and despite having listened to this track for some four-and-a-half decades, it still moves my soul each time I hear it with its captivating piano progression (written in the key of F for all of my fellow musicians) and heartfelt message that “the songbirds keep singing like they know the score, and I love you, I love you, I love you, like never before.”
For more detail on the musical side of what makes “Songbird” and McVie’s work so great, check out this analysis from producer, musician and educator Rick Beato.
As I processed the news of McVie’s death, I felt the bittersweet taste that news like this leaves on one’s mental palate. The bitterness is that all of us will cease to be, and everyone that matters to us will one day be gone.
The sweetness is that the memories of those past, and what they did while they were here, cannot be taken from us. This is especially true in the case of McVie because we have a direct link to her spirit virtually any time we want it, and that is through her recorded music.
Finally, McVie’s death served as a reminder to me that what matters most in this world is to do something beautiful with our limited time.
That beauty can take many forms. It can come from our efforts at productive achievement, from our interactions with others or from our efforts to make the world just a little bit better than it is right now.
Today, I dedicate this issue of The Deep Woods to what matters most in this world… doing something beautiful.
And for being one of so many illustrious examples of how one does just that, I want to thank Christine McVie in the best way I know how to create beauty in the world, and that is through my writing.
Goodnight, Songbird. I love you like never before.
If you wake up and don’t want to smile
If it takes just a little while
Open your eyes and look at the day
You’ll see things in a different way
Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here
It’ll be better than before
Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone
— Fleetwood Mac, “Don’t Stop”
Another Christine McVie classic off the “Rumours” album is “Don’t Stop,” a song that advocates for the premise that beauty and goodness in the world can be yours if you choose to look at life through the lens of an optimistic future. This benevolent universe perspective is something we all need to remember, especially when “the now” gets very tough — because it always will.
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