Preview: Graham Nash shares the 'Wild Tales' of his legendary bandmates
September 12, 2013 4:00 AM
Graham Nash, left, and musical partner David Crosby perform protest songs at Occupy Wall Street's Zuccotti Park encampment in New York in 2011.
"Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life" by Graham Nash.
By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Graham Nash is in the midst of a rare solo tour just as his tell-all book about his life and best musical mates hits the shelves. But don't read anything into that. Sometimes one and one don't make two.
The tour, which stops at the Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead on Saturday, is simply a chance for Nash to do justice to his accomplished 55-year career.
Where: Carnegie Library Music Hall of Homestead, Munhall.
"I've got too many songs to sing," he says in a phone interview, "because you know, when you're with David [Crosby] and Stephen [Stills], they need an equal amount of songs because we treat this very democratically, and so therefore in a 20-song set, you can only get seven or eight songs in there. And then when you get Neil [Young] in there, there has to be seven or eight of his -- you know, that he wrote this morning. Now I get a chance to do songs that I've never done, and do brand new songs that have just been written."
His tour runs through the middle of November (with keyboardist and Crosby son's James Raymond and guitarist Shane Fontayne), but in October it will be interrupted by a Crosby, Stills & Nash tour of Europe and a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young show at the Bridge School Benefit in Mountain View, Calif.
Nash and his three partners make up the leading cast of his new autobiography "Wild Tales," documenting the exploits of what could be rock's most interchangeable and on-again-off-again ensemble.
There are indeed wild tales to tell: a magical beginning in Laurel Canyon discovering their heavenly harmonies; drug-fueled parties and recording sessions; the risky addition of the volatile Y; a second-ever gig at Woodstock; the infamous Stills-Young ego clashes; the maneuvering for the same women, including Joni Mitchell; and the ups and downs of Crosby, who, in the worst of times, was sneaking offstage to freebase cocaine.
At times, it reads like a nightmare, but Nash wasn't pulling back on the lurid details.
"They're my friends and they understand that I've always been honest and I've always tried to face up to reality," he says. "My main concern was Crosby, because I was very honest about our relationship. And when he called me and said, 'I read the book. It's all totally OK. I did do all that mad stuff. I did put you guys through [expletive] insanity, and it's OK with me,' that was a big relief to me."
As for Young, who is portrayed as brilliant but always out for his own interests, he says, "Between him and his manager Elliot [Roberts], I'm sure Neil has read the appropriate parts, and he's very friendly lately. He called three or four days ago and wants us to do the Bridge School Benefit, which he does every year. I know that if I had [ticked] Neil off, he wouldn't have called to invite me to sing."
As an aside, Nash did read Young's recent memoir "Waging Hippie Peace" and wasn't a fan. "Unfortunately," my ego got in the way of me thoroughly enjoying the book. When you talk more about your wife's dog than you do about me and David who made great music with you for 45 years, it [ticked] me off a little, I must admit. But this is not the last book from Neil and maybe he'll be a little kinder in his next book."
Although he became the stable force of CSNY, Nash was the oddball of the bunch having been raised in the dreariness of post-World War II England, where he came alive as a teenager inspired by the harmonies of the Everly Brothers. He and his school friends formed The Hollies, a sugary addition to the British Invasion. As the '60s wore on, the Hollies, with songs like "Bus Stop" and "Carrie Anne," seemed dated to Nash compared to the creative bursts of the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and the psychedelic folk-rock scene on the West Coast.
With Crosby getting booted from The Byrds and the Stills-Young-led Buffalo Springfield petering out, Nash slipped away from the Hollies to form supergroup CSN in 1968. After much debate, they added Young, a notorious loner, for touring purposes after the release of their classic debut album in 1969.
The gentle Brit found himself among three brilliant, turbulent songwriters while also in a romance with the equally imposing Mitchell. Nash, best known for the gentle entries "Teach Your Children" and "Our House," explains in the book how he would write the song "Simple Man" to describe himself in contrast to those other heavy hitters who were coming up to the table with songs like "Suite: Judy Blues Eyes," "Deja Vu" and "Country Girl." Even though he notes in the book that the band was able to learn his songs in "30 seconds flat," he was never intimidated.
"Not at all. I'm a very curious man about life," he says. "I know who I am and I'm not threatened by anything. But it was an incredible learning process to sit down and watch Neil Young write, or to sit down and watch Crosby write or Stephen or Joni. I learned a great deal. I already knew how to make a great pop song for two-and-a-half minutes. The Hollies had 17 or 18 Top 10 hits before I left. So, I knew I had a certain ability to write, but watching these people create made me realize that I could go a lot further and I learned a great deal."
The Laurel Canyon scene bloomed in the late '60s with everyone from CSN to The Mamas & the Papas to the Doors, but it didn't last long, as some of them began migrating north.
"We were young, we were creative and you move on. Yes, the birthplace of all that incredible music was the Laurel Canyon, but when you're on the road, and suddenly you're in Chicago or you're in New York, or a different country, you move out of your birthplace. David had moved to San Francisco, because our friends were there, the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane, and San Francisco is a very English city, especially if you include the weather, so I felt very comfortable in that city, I felt very comfortable hanging out with those people."
Stages and studios weren't able to contain the four egos in CSNY much beyond the 1970 album, "Deja Vu," especially with the fierce musical rivalry between Stills and Young that sometimes played out on stage in extended jams. Some bands in those days had whip-cracking managers to keep them in place.
"There was nobody that could tell us what to do," Nash says. "There were a couple people who were advisers of what to do. But nobody could tell us what to do. We were full of piss and vinegar and full of ourselves and full of the recognition that we had created something that was unique and that was loved by many, many hundreds of thousands of people. But nobody could tell us what to do."
A lot of the early creativity was fueled by marijuana and LSD. Things started to get ugly when cocaine came into the picture. Nash was able to walk away from it for good in the early '80s. Crosby, his musical soulmate, wasn't so lucky, and ended up blowing his fortune and going into a Texas prison a broken man in 1982. Nash battled hard to save his life.
Looking back on the band's drug use, he says, it was "necessary and yet destructive. We'd get high before every session. That's how it was, it was no big deal. It was indeed a double-edged sword. We felt it necessary for creativity, and at the same time, it kind of spaced us all, and my book talks about that dichotomy a great deal."
During one of the rough patches with Crosby in the early '80s -- the label, he notes, balked on a proposed Stills-Nash album that became "Daylight Again" -- Nash found comfort by going back to the more innocent tunes of The Hollies for an album and tour. He also accompanied his old mates when they were all inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
"I think The Hollies are being more appreciated the further we go along into the future," Nash says. "It was upsetting to me that they were recognized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame so late in their career. But at least we got there. I kind of knew that Stephen and David and I would get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it was just inevitable, but I never thought that the Hollies would get in. I don't know if we weren't cool enough or we didn't know the right people, for whatever reason. But now that the Hollies are in the Hall of Fame, I felt better about that than I did about Neil and David and Stephen, because I expected us to get in there."
Over the years, of course, CSN and CSNY have reunited numerous times for various album projects, tours and social causes and, amazingly enough, all four have maintained their musical chops and spirited personalities.
Although the group has thrived on harmony and a degree of internal tension, Nash says, "I'm not so sure it was that competitive. It was like the four of us against the world. And we were very supportive of each other. Yes, we [ticked] each other off. Yes, we were nasty to each other occasionally, but the only thing that's really important about all of this is the music. What is the music like? Did it enrich people's lives or was it a waste of time. I don't believe that any of it was a waste of time."