Graham Nash’s 60 Years Of Songs & Stories

GARY STEEL chats with GRAHAM NASH about his halcyon 60 years in rock and his first-ever solo dates in New Zealand.

Photo: Ralf Louis

What a long, strange trip it’s been for Graham Nash; one that began in the UK beat boom of the mid-1960s with hitmakers The Hollies, and then got a hippy makeover in the late ‘60s with the fledgling Laurel Canyon music scene and those first two all-time classic Crosby, Stills & Nash albums (the second of which requires the word ‘Young’ appended).

It’s a long, strange trip that hasn’t ended yet for the 82-year-old (82-year-old!) Graham Nash, who is touring the world on the coattails of his first new album in 7 years, Now, with a show pragmatically titled Sixty Years Of Songs And Stories… a tour that’s set to begin its international run in New Zealand with performances in Auckland and Christchurch early next month.

Speaking from his home in Manhattan, New York over a sporadically glitching Zoom connection, Nash looks at least 20 years younger in his trademark shock of white hair and well-preserved countenance.

“You can say that again!” he says, when I mention that a lot has happened since his last appearance here in 2012 with Crosby, Stills & Nash. The group officially called it quits in 2016 and at the time of David Crosby’s death last year they still hadn’t properly patched up their differences, though they had reconnected through emails. As for Nash, after living in the sun-soaked Los Angeles area since he washed up there in 1968, hooking up with Joni Mitchell to inspire the classic picture of domestic bliss, ‘Our House’, in 2019 he moved to New York to be with his third wife, artist Amy Grantham.

Sixty Years Of Songs And Stories is a 25-song set that covers a remarkable timespan of popular culture, from the Buddy Holly-inspired group The Hollies, for whom Nash sang hits like ‘On A Carousel’, ‘Carrie Anne’ and ‘Bus Stop’, through the enduring discography of CS&N and CSN&Y and on to his many albums both solo and with Crosby.

CS&N’s back porch folk-rock – being a distillation and progression of groups that came before like The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield – had a profound influence on certain strands of NZ music in the 1970s and tied in with the whole hippy back-to-the-land, environmental aware ethos that was so prominent in a time when many young adults were dropping out and joining communes. (Check out a group like Waves if you don’t believe me).

Nash with Joni Mitchell

While Stephen Stills was the guitar slinger of the group and David Crosby the weirdo mystic, Graham Nash wrote anthems like the aforementioned ‘Our House’, ‘Teach Your Children’ and when provoked to, political songs like ‘Military Madness’. But unlike the other two (or Neil Young, for that matter), Nash’s songs were always somehow warm and open-hearted and even when he was seething with rage there was the sensibility of an English gentlemen between the grooves.

Nash won’t be drawn on the subject but broadly agrees with my hypothesis. “I’m wearing my heart on both sleeves. And I am a very English man.”

Throughout our short conversation, Nash returns to his gratitude for all the good things in his life, and so he might. While his songs might suggest a title like Born To Be Mild, his 2013 autobiography, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, attests to a lifestyle that was almost as drug and sex-fueled as many of his former compatriots who have fallen by the wayside. What’s remarkable is that somehow, he came through it all without any noticeable damage.

 

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Gratitude, and luck. They come up repeatedly in conversation. For instance, on songwriting: “A lot of people that listen to music but don’t write it think that songwriting is a very mysterious, magic thing and it really is. I’ve been able to speak my mind for the last 50 years and I’m incredibly lucky that way.” And on the trajectory of his life: “I think one has to start by being grateful, for whatever my life is. I’m incredibly grateful to my mother and father. When other people were getting a hit on the side of the head and [their parents] saying ‘get a real job’, my mother and father recognized my passion for music and encouraged that passion, and I’ll be forever grateful. So that’s where you’ve got to start, you’ve got to be grateful for what you’ve been given and try to do your best with what you’ve been given, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. I’ve tried to be the best musician, the best husband, the best father, the best friend… I’ll never make it, but at least I’m trying.” (Nash seems to have memorized this last line, because he’s used it in other interviews as well.) On living in a world in turmoil: “I guess the world is always in turmoil, there’s always something awful going on, but at the same time there’s always something beautiful going on, particularly in science and medicine, and one has to take a deep breath every morning, be grateful that you’re alive, and get on with your day and make your day full of creation. That’s what I try and do. If I’m not writing songs I’m sculpting, if I’m not sculpting, I’m collecting, if I’m doing photography… so… I’ve got a lot to do in my life and I love that.”

Perhaps it’s his newfound love of Transcendental Meditation that has made him feel so grateful, or perhaps he’s always been of a cheery countenance. What’s certain is that TM has proved fortuitous. Nash was approached by, of all people, David Lynch – the film director responsible for dark and moody masterworks like Blue Velvet, Eraserhead and Twin Peaks.

“I didn’t know him,” says Nash. “But for some reason he was following me on social media, and I went to see him in Los Angeles and he was very kind to me and he told me that meditation would be good for me and it’s been GREAT for me.

“I’ve found it incredibly useful. I meditate twice a day, 9 o’clock in the morning and 4.30 in the evening. I feel stronger, I feel more settled, I feel that I like myself a little more. Meditation has been very good for me and for my wife Amy also. And yes, it was David Lynch that gave me the gift of being taught.”

But back to the reason for our chat: the tour, and those two NZ gigs at the beginning of March.

“I have a lot of music to play,” says Nash. “I have like 25 songs in a set and I’m as passionate as ever. I know that I’ve sung ‘Our House’ and ‘Teach Your Children’ a million times, and I don’t care. I know that the audience loves it so then I’ll sing it, and I’ll sing it with the same passion as when I wrote it.”

Has his attitude to life has changed fundamentally over the past 60 years or so?

Nash: “No, not really. I know what my life is. I am not worried about anything, I’m still writing, I’m still performing, and even at 82 you can still rock!”

+ Graham Nash performs at The Civic, Auckland on Friday March 1 and at the Isaac Theatre in Christchurch on Sunday March 3. Book here.

 

 

 

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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