Contributors to this interpretation included: Erik M. Grebner, Stephanie M, Justine, Leah Kindsey, Lauren, Joanne, Steph, Hayley, and Jessica.
Some biographical information courtesy of The Penguin:
As one plods along the track listing on his or her first listening of Fleetwood Mac’s double album Tusk, the avid listener is exposed to rock marches ("The Ledge"), hypnotizing females ("Sisters of the Moon"), sexual frustrations ("Not That Funny") and accordions ("I Know I’m Not Wrong"). Along this diverse and unusual path, one finds upbeat and sometimes quirky songs that though resemble very little from their previous LP, Rumours, do not totally separate from the Fleetwood Mac much of the public knew and loved.
Then, Track 19 comes along, and things begin to change. Instead of a catchy drum riff, a glorious melody, a piano obstinato, or a bass line, the listener is sucked into a circling array of indiscernible voices and echoes that builds and crescendo into each other. The echoes hypnotize the mind, and the listener is drowned among the organized chaos. Here, even before any music starts, one knows that this is not Rumours II, nor is it anything that has ever been heard. This is something completely different.
And so begins the most experimental track (and also the first single) from Fleetwood Mac’s double album. Tusk employs Burgundian-European chanting, a marching band, polyrhythms, countermelody, and a Ghanaian drum beat to form a rock version of a tribal march, straight from the pen and psyche of Lindsey Buckingham. Many feel that Tusk personified the extreme U-turn Fleetwood Mac took to avoid matching the formula that made Rumours achieve phenomenal record sales. Though it failed to sell the 17 million copies its predecessor did, Tusk the album sold 4 million double-albums; taking the $16 price tag in effect, the sales were more than modest. The "Tusk" single, in fact, reached #9 in the Billboard charts, showing that at least true Fleetwood Mac fans were willing to accept the new sound and open their minds to a brilliant songwriting experience.
The song as a whole is built by a series of simple, unifying factors that work together to form a stratification of musical lines. For this reason, "Tusk" in both lyrics and music form the musical painting Buckingham strives to conceive.
Lyrically, Lindsey Buckingham follows a consistent pattern—he writes simply but ambiguously. Lindsey usually writes as if he is talking to another person, not to a general audience. Songs like "Big Love," "Street of Dreams," and especially "Go Your Own Way" take on a feel of an interpersonal or intrapersonal communication he is sharing with us all. We are drawn in to the discussion, possibly relate to situations he is going through, but keep an element of separation—this really is Lindsey, not me. During "Tusk," though, Lindsey begins to take on not only his point of view, but also the point of view of others. Because of this extension of his lyrics to the second and third person, the listener is drawn even closer to the music.
Why don’t you ask him if he’s going to stay?
Why don’t you ask him if he’s going away?
Mick Fleetwood’s relationship with Jenny Boyd had always been a tumultuous one, sparked by the strenuous toll of being on the road and the perpetual lack of success before 1975. Jenny’s affair with Bob Weston didn’t help matters much, for not only did it create tensions within the band (leading to Weston’s dismissal), it also caused Mick and Jenny’s relationship to collapse. Shortly after the addition of Lindsey and Stevie, Boyd left Mick to live with her sister, Pattie, and her beau, Eric Clapton. She later moved back to L.A. with Mick, but the unprecedented success of Rumours hammered another stake into their relationship, and six months after kicking all her drug and alcohol habits, Jenny divorced Mick and returned to England. Mick, distraught and heartbroken, turned to two things that gave him comfort. One was substance abuse, a habit he would not kick for nearly twenty years, and the other was Stevie Nicks.
Stevie and Mick would try to hide their brief relationship from the public and even from the rest of the band. In an October 30, 1997 Rolling Stone article, Stevie Nicks stated that, "Mick and I were absolutely horrified that this [affair] happened. We didn't tell anybody until the very end, and then it blew up and was over." She also mentions that she and Lindsey have never spoken about her affair with Mick, even during the time of reconciling during The Dance production.
In the above lyrics, it appears that Lindsey, even back in 1979, knew about the affair. Seeing your former spouse day after day, not helping but to pay attention to her whereabouts, it is not surprising that he noticed things. Mick has mentioned how he would often visit Stevie at her house during the affair. Lindsey has noticed the visits, and wonders what they mean. Is Mick going to stay in that house tonight, or is he going to leave? If he stays, then the affair is obvious; if he leaves, then he’s being careful. Lindsey wonders if he should just ask Mick aloud, bringing the affair into the open. Instead, he reserves those thoughts to the power of lyric.
But Lindsey may not be speaking for just himself, but for also Jenny Boyd. Although Mick’s affair with Stevie was after his divorce, they often engaged in flirtatious behavior before the split. Lindsey’s thoughts are reminiscent and representative of what Jenny was thinking during the waning days of the relationship. Lindsey may even see this connection, and wonders just how long the affair has really been going on.
Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?
Why don’t you tell me who’s on the phone?
In his thoughts, but not necessarily his spoken word, Lindsey begins to become bolder. He ponders Mick's hereabouts, reviews his suspicions, and wants the full explanation. One time, a hundred times he says the words to Mick in his thoughts, rehearsing the conversation over and over--"Mick, what's going on between you and Stevie?"--dying to know the real truth.
Lindsey also notices that Mick is taking greater risks in the contact of the relationship. Beside unexplained leaving, Mick now converses on the phone to the "other." The hushed phone conversations on the bedroom line are often symbolic of an affair, and Lindsey is not blind to this warning sign. Although Lindsey is clear an affair is adrift, he is not sure why Mick is being so secretive about it. His marriage was nearly in shambles, and past affairs within the band were quite publicized (i.e. Christine's affairs on the road). Why the hush? Why the quiet? Why must Mick resort to the phone cliché?
The only reason Lindsey can attribute is that the knowledge of the affair can hurt him, and with what person would he be most hurt if he know someone was having a relationship with her. The answer becomes abundantly clear. By trying to hide their affair, Mick and Stevie made it even more apparent.
Why don't you ask him what's going on?
Why don't you ask him who's the latest on his throne?
With these statements, Lindsey questions two people. The first is Jenny. The secrecy of the whole affair may have ate at Lindsey's psyche; he would rather know for sure than be constantly guessing (as sure of his guesses as he may be). There may have been times that he wanted Jenny to make an accusation of her husband (or ex-husband) in order for Mick, who would undoubtedly tell the truth, to bear all. Lindsey may be hurt, but there would be at least some semblance of closure involved.
The second person he asks these two questions is of himself. As many times as he rehearsed that conversation, he can never make it to the stage. One time, a hundred times he approaches Mick to asks, only backing down, asking a mundane question about recording or walking past him, staring blankly into space. Why can't he do it, he wonders. Perhaps he fears that another affair could break the band for good. Although the turmoil of Rumours caused not a question of splitting, everything was on the table then.
Now the players have aces up their sleeves, and the band may not survive the cheating. Also, Lindsey, in his heart, has not gotten quite over Stevie. While he romances with Carol Ann, he may be wishing that she is someone else "outside the door." To Lindsey, no news is good news, for every relationship Stevie has with another causes her to be torn farther and farther away from him. When she is single, he regains a chance of being with her again.
Don't tell me that you love me!
Just tell me that you want me!
Just say that you want me!
Don't tell me that you . . .
The turmoil of this guessing-game Lindsey plays inside himself does not build gradually; it explodes in a catharsis of screaming lyrics. Lindsey has rehearsed and rehearsed long enough, and he finally approaches Mick or Stevie to finally know the truth about the affair. The progression of the song would dictate that these screams would be an exchange of accusations, lies, and truths, pent-up honesty leading to heartbreak and hurt . . .
But that is not what Lindsey says, for he says nothing at all.
He instead explodes within his mind, pretending that the affair is of his full knowledge. He wonders just what Mick and Stevie have between them . . . is it love (as Mick claims it was but Stevie does not confirm), or, as in most affairs, lust. If it is love, Lindsey knows that he has lost Stevie forever, for even if the affair ends, Stevie shows capacity for loving others true besides Lindsey, meaning that she can go on in her life. If it is lust, than hope remains . . .
Lindsey curiously begins to do some role-playing. He imagines Stevie evading Mick's claims of love, telling him that she only wants to be wanted, lusted after, companionship over commitment. Lindsey, in a way, may be miMicking his own relationship with Carol Ann, one he sees of lust that she sees of love, and hoping Stevie and Mick are the same way.
But even in Lindsey's greatest wishes, his uncertainty and pessimism appear with a vengeance. The last phrase is never finished, left open for Lindsey (and the listener, for that matter) to wonder: don't tell her WHAT????? One would expect that Stevie would be repeating her previous statement about not wanting to be loved, but she stops. Has even in Lindsey's dream of the "best possible" situation, Stevie has a change of heart and begins to love Mick?
The thought shall remain permanently unfinished. Stevie and Mick's affair was brief. In his 1990 book, Mick revealed the affair, and in the 1992 Disney special, stated that they were "very much in love." Lindsey and Stevie have never gotten back together; his pessimism may have very well been justified.
In the history of music has no one phrase best summed up the yearnings and motives of a man and a woman than this one. Not even the Paradise of the Garden of Eden could prevent Adam and Eve from satisfying temptation. The human is indeed a savage beast, motivated by desire more so than logic. Logic would dictate that a man and woman would remain loyal to each other in order to produce a happier and more stable commitment. But desire thwarts logic and loyalty, and the person becomes dominated by a different part of the body than his or her brain.
Lindsey also gives the most optimistic appraisal of Stevie and Mick's relationship, that of a simple consummation of lust, and a real savage-like one at that. He wanted their affair to have been nothing beyond that status, not the "love" Mick claims it was.
It should be noted that after the Tusk tour, Lindsey no longer said this statement during a performance of "Tusk." The absolute truth of the affair may have, through some means, been revealed or recognized by Lindsey, and he could no longer be optimistic.
It has been well-documented that Mick believes the word "Tusk" is analogous to the male sexual organ. That imagery is indeed consistent with the overall theme of the song and makes an appropriate title (it especially goes along with the "Real savage-like" cry mid-song). But if "Tusk" was indeed symbolic of a penis, than why make it necessary to cry it, and, for that matter, keep repeating it?
Tusk goes beyond a restatement of the male genitalia. Lindsey, unable to straightforwardly expose Stevie and Mick for what they are, accuses them ambiguously with one word instead, a word symbolic of the lust and desire and deceptiveness of their affair. He has found a way of saying, "I know what you two are doing, I know where Mick goes at night, I know who's on the phone, I know who's on his throne!!!!!!"
Beyond even that complex meaning of Tusk, though, is another part of Lindsey the word represents: his integrity. His heart was ripped from him when Stevie left. By having an affair with someone so close, so near, he feels he is being mocked, embarrassed. You left me, now you gloat by having an affair right under my nose.
His love had been exposed to the world through the Rumours album and to the prying eyes of millions of fans. Instead of the closure he so richly deserves (and would not get until after the making of Tango of the Night, when he left the band), he sees his love with another, and it is with a person he cannot avoid seeing every day, wondering if he could walk over to him and smell something familiar, the knowledge of a woman only one close to her could know and identify. The anguish he experiences does not go away, and keeps building day after day, even long after the affair is over. The inner conflict grows to inner madness, knowing everything but not bringing himself to be sure, to ask one question. So, it expands, lengthens, widens in girth like the suspicions we all have of our lovers, our spouses, our mates. Why are you home late? Why didn't you call? Where were you? What were you doing? WHO WERE YOU WITH??????
And then, without warning, the bubble bursts, the fury rises, and the anger and frustration comes out in one word, a cry to stop the rumours, the lies, the deception, the lust, the desire, a cry for one's own soul to survive the torture . .
(The interpretations to these lyrics were compiled through discussions on the message boards of the Penguin, The Ledge. It is entirely possible that the artists had something completely different in mind.)