Fleetwood Mac’s Danny Kirwan Dies Homeless

Oh man. I can’t believe I am writing this in the shadow of the US-North Korea summit, the Department of Justice’s report on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation, the continuing Hamas agitation on the Gaza border and the drone killing of Mullah Fazlullah, the head of the Pakistan Taliban and murderer of schoolchildren.

But if I don’t write about this at this moment, I know regrettably it will never command my attention again. I cannot ignore this cultural touchstone even in the midst of such

Much has been written over the last week about the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two astoundingly successful creators and celebrities, and both tragic deaths strike us as inexplicable, mysterious.

How could Kate Spade take her own life in her apartment in New York City when her soon-to-be estranged husband was present in another room?

Why would Anthony Bourdain choose to take his life in a rural town outside Strasbourg while filming an episode of his acclaimed series Parts Unknown with his great friend, Eric Ripert?

Music has been a central element of my life.

In a safer time, I would often attend concerts at the Fillmore East in New York, promoted bluegrass concerts in a small church in Englishtown, NJ (where I would later see a transformative concert by The Grateful Dead), accidentally attended one of The Dead’s final shows at The Lyceum in London on their now-immortal Europe 72 tour, saw Bruce Springsteen at The Ledge, a student center at Rutgers University, before anyone outside of New Jersey had ever heard his name and had the distinct pleasure of helping to create MTV, originally envisioned as a televised version of a classic rock radio station.

One of my earliest personal discoveries was an English blues band, Fleetwood Mac, headed by an absolutely brilliant guitarist, Peter Green (whose given name was Peter Greenbaum), whom I would argue, was as an accomplished blues guitarist as any of his peers, including the incomparable Eric Clapton.

Fleetwood Mac was not the pop band as we think of them today, featuring the easily-consumable musicianship of Lindsey Buckingham or the pseudo-witchiness of Stevie Nicks. I do not mean to disparage their overwhelming influence on Fleetwood Mac; when the band is mentioned today, people immediately think of the masterful hooks created in songs like “Go Your Own Way” or “Gold Dust Woman”.

For me, Fleetwood Mac will always be embodied by the troubled soul of Peter Green who created songs like “Black Magic Woman”, always attributed to Carlos Santana who interpreted the song beautifully, and the epic “Albatross”, an instrumental released in 1968, which became their only #1 hit in the UK.

One could argue that 1968 was the most important year in music in the last fifty years. The Beatles’ White Album, Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland, The Rolling Stones Beggar’s Banquet, The Band’s Music From Big Pink, Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay, Big Brother’s Cheap Thrills, Small Faces’ Ogden Nut Gone Flakes, Cream’s Wheels of Fire, Traffic’s second album Traffic, and Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks were all released that year, but “Albatross” was unquestionably one of the most ground-breaking #1’s of that pivotal year.

Quiet, spooky, vocal-less, Mick Fleetwood’s drums rolling in the background and Jeremy Spencer’s haunting slide lead with Peter Green playing with him harmonically, the song sounds completely contemporary today.

But Peter Green was unable to complete the composition without the addition of 18-year-old Danny Kirwan. Kirwan became the group’s third guitarist, but with his addition, Fleetwood Mac became The Golden State Warriors of rock. “Albatross” was his first measurable contribution to the band as a teenage guitar player.

Green had little desire to become a “rock star” and he was quite content to be just a member of the band. Kirwan’s first full album with the band, Then Play On, released in 1969 featured one of the band’s seminal songs “Oh Well”, written by Green, featuring Danny Kirwan on lead. Kirwan’s song, “Coming Your Way”, was actually selected to be track one, side one, the premier position on the album.

Despite Peter Green’s having sponsored Kirwan’s entry to the band, their relationship became fractious, competitive and Green wanted nothing to do with it. He left the band in 1970, but the group was joined by Christine McVie, bassist John McVie’s wife, and Kiln House was released, featuring several songs Green had written before his departure. “Station Man” which Kirwan wrote and which Fleetwood Mac still performs is perhaps his best composition: a syncopated rocker with several independent sections that reminds one of some Page-Plant songs like “In the Evening” where disparate melodic sections are magically woven into a whole.

But, for all intents and purposes, that was the end of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. On a tour in Los Angeles, Jeremy Spencer left the band without notice and joined a cult called Children of God. They tried to lure Peter Green to return but instead had American Bob Welch join the band.

Kirwan was already drinking heavily, according to Welch, and Mick Fleetwood fired him in 1972. Kirwan descended into the same state of mental deterioration that had plagued Peter Green. Clifford Green, the band’s early manager, blamed the deterioration of both on LSD they had both consumed at a party in Munich in 1970. Whether true or not, both were never the same.

Danny Kirwan died this week at age 68 in a hostel for the homeless. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, but he did not (or could not) travel to the induction ceremony.

Mick Fleetwood wrote a very touching tribute to Danny when his death was announced. Mick claims that he had lost track of Danny’s whereabouts.

Fleetwood Mac has become a tremendously wealthy enterprise over the years and is obviously so comfortable and so driven by commerce that it fired Lindsey Buckingham because of his reluctance to travel at the rate the band demanded. Lindsey out, Mike Campbell from the Heartbreakers in.

It could be argued that Fleetwood Mac would not be the corporate behemoth throwing off the kind of cash it does without having had members like Peter Green and Danny Kirwan.

Please: use your Spotify or Amazon Music and listen to all or parts of Then Play On, Kiln House and Bare Trees.

It is just remarkably sad that an enterprise with this level of success could not have determined a way to help two of its most troubled and gifted founders who drifted into mental illness and homelessness.

In a 1997 article in The New York Times, Mick Fleetwood apparently owned homes in Bel Air, Malibu, land in Hawai’i and Australia. He said he needed a “safe harbor from what was a crazy world” at that point.

Pity he never seemed to think about the safe harbor his mates never seemed to find.

About the Author
Professionally, Mark Greenberg comes out of the world of New York Media. He was a member of the management team that started MTV. He turned down a job at ESPN to move to Austin to raise his family of four boys in a more rational atmosphere. He was also a member of the bicoastal media elite that he critiques on a regular basis.