One of rock music’s quietly powerful geniuses remains both reflective and hopeful.
With the wonderful life that Graham Nash has had to date, there are many things to be thankful for. Being a prolific, revered two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is a biggie; being a talented and respected photographer isn’t bad either. Heck, being Joni Mitchell‘s boyfriend — he wrote “Our House” after a romantic day with her, and she wrote “Woodstock” after he recalled to her tales of the festival — should be up there as well, if you ask me.
But Nash is a little more reflective, a little more down to earth, a little more present day with what he is most thankful for these days.
“Breathing. I think that leads to a lot of things,” Nash told me recently as he was preparing for his summer solo tour, which hits The Birchmere on August 5th. “I like being alive. I like being creative. I feel excellent and I’ve had a good time with my life and it doesn’t show any sign of changing.”
Nash continues to tour with CSN as the legendary band is scheduled to go to Europe this fall. But as with his legendary bandmates, he also possesses the innate need and burning desire to keep venturing out solo, to keep establishing his life outside of the three- (and sometimes four) headed monster, even amidst the many life challenges a rock legend accumulates.
“I’ve been going through personal turmoil in my life, and I’m loving being able to feel again,” Nash said with a healthy dash of optimism. “Everything’s fine. It’s just life, and I’ll deal with it as it come to me. For this tour, I’m going to be playing by myself, but I’m going to have Shane Fontayne playing guitar with me. Anything from The Hollies to a song that I’ll probably write that morning. And last October, I had an incredible month with Shane, who is the second guitar player in the Crosby Stills and Nash band; we wrote 20 songs, came off the road earlier this year, went into the studio and cooked those 20 songs in eight days. So I’m bringing [the new record] out in spring of next year and that’s only, what, seven months away?”
Only needing to worry about his own music is a relief of sorts for Nash, as it is with anyone who goes out solo after having been in a tight knit, and often contentious, band for decades.
“I’ve taken such delicate care with the music of Crosby Stills and Nash and all our recordings and all our archives for so long, you know, it’s very interesting only having to deal with my music,” said Nash. “I’m always the democratic one in the band. I want equal representation from everybody. But having to only deal with the music that I have written is kind of freeing in a way.”
Nash, 73, is a British-raised American citizen, so it makes sense that the basic values of free speech in America would give him joy and comfort, being the guy who wrote such scathing political anthems as “Chicago”, “Immigration Man” and “Military Madness.” In other countries, these songs might have gotten him arrested, or worse.
“I enjoy my ability to speak my mind, which I can here in America,” Nash said, with that aura of quiet passion that is always apparent in both his gentle manner and his music. “I’m not so sure that some of the stuff that me and David [Crosby] and Stephen [Stills] and Neil [Young] talked about in this last 45 years would have been allowed in a different country. This is the United States and it has its problems, obviously, but it is a beautiful country and the people are wonderful. The people here want exactly what people around the world want, they want a better world for their children than they had, they want their children to be fed and educated and taken care of. Basic stuff, you know?”
Nash agrees with what his cohort Crosby told me two weeks before, that when all is said and done, people won’t remember any of the abuse, strife or struggle – they’ll remember the incredible songs.
“I think it comes down to the music. No matter what we have done to ourselves in the past, no matter how much we’ve argued or backstabbed or any of those other silly things that go on when you’re in close contact with three or four people for so many years, the most important part of our relationship, without question, is the music. That’s the thing that will live on long after our bodies fall apart.”
Although life is still very vital and exciting and productive for Nash, when you ask him to remember his happiest moments as a musician, you can sense a bit of wistfulness, the likes of which we all feel about something at some point, as he remembered a magical time with David and Stephen when life was less complicated, fresh, and truly miraculous.
“It was exciting, it was new, it was sunny, and it was friendly,” said Nash. “It was creative. We loved each other, we loved each other’s songs, and we loved the opportunity that was given to us when we first discovered that vocal blend. Yeah, that’s the happiest I’ve ever been recording, that first Crosby Stills and Nash record.”
Graham Nash performs Wednesday August 5th at the Birchmere, 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA. For tickets click here.
Steve Houk writes about local and national music luminaries for WashingtonLife.com and his own blog at midliferocker.com. He is also lead singer for the successful Northern Virginia classic rock cover bands Second Wind and Heywoodja plus other local rock ensembles.