Gra­ham Nash on how a su­per­group fell apart

Gra­ham Nash talks to JOHNNY RO­GAN about his rift with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young band­mate David Crosby and why Trump has set Amer­ica back 50 years

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

Fifty years ago, Gra­ham Nash un­der­went a life-trans­form­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. At the time, he was mar­ried, an es­tab­lished pop star in the Hol­lies and a de­vel­op­ing song­writer. He was also rest­less, ide­al­is­tic and ar­tis­ti­cally am­bi­tious. On a US tour with the Hol­lies, he had es­tab­lished a mu­si­cal rap­port with David Crosby and Stephen Stills, and was never the same again.

“You can just imag­ine what a feel­ing in my heart it was when David, Stephen and I first sang to­gether in Joni Mitchell’s liv­ing room. An un­be­liev­able mo­ment in my mu­si­cal life, that’s for sure. I had never heard any­thing like this. The Byrds, Buf­falo Spring­field and the Hol­lies were pretty de­cent har­mony bands but try­ing to make our three voices sound like one was very ex­cit­ing for all of us.”

By the end of 1968, Nash had left his wife, Rose Ec­cles, his home, his coun­try, his man­age­ment, his friends in the Hol­lies and re­lo­cated to LA, where he ro­manced Joni and formed Crosby, Stills & Nash. It seemed akin to a re­li­gious con­ver­sion.

CS&N was the per­fect mu­si­cal union, a fu­sion of tal­ent greater than any­one could have imag­ined. The vo­cal com­bi­na­tion was unique, the song­writ­ing ar­tic­u­late, the ar­range­ments ex­cep­tional and the play­ing highly ac­com­plished. Their self-ti­tled de­but al­bum es­tab­lished them as the undis­puted masters of the acous­tic bal­lad in the golden age of the singer-song­writer. Nash pro­vided the pop sen­si­bil­ity with the catchy sin­gle ‘Mar­rakesh Ex­press’, a touch of Ten­nyson on the erotic ‘Lady of the Is­land’ and a brisk rocker with ‘Pre-Road Downs’.

“Stills played al­most ev­ery in­stru­ment on that record,” Nash points out.

“David and I played rhythm guitars on our songs, of course, but Stephen played pi­ano, elec­tric gui­tar, rhythm gui­tar, bass, the B-3 or­gan and per­cus­sion. Stephen Stills is a quiet ge­nius.”

By the time their de­but was re­leased, CS&N had re­cruited Neil Young, a de­ci­sion that was to have se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for the re­main­der of their ca­reer. The mas­sive-sell­ing Déjà Vu, which in­cluded Nash’s ‘Teach Your Chil­dren’ and ‘Our House’, es­tab­lished them as rock’s ul­ti­mate su­per­group, a liv­ing em­bod­i­ment of what the press termed the Wood­stock gen­er­a­tion.

Once the pub­lic heard the four to­gether, a mythol­ogy was cre­ated that al­ter­na­tive per­mu­ta­tions of the clas­sic line-up would strug­gle to equal. Nash be­came known as the great me­di­a­tor when egos in­evitably clashed. Their tri­umphs and con­flicts some­times reached soap-opera lev­els. The won­der is that all four are still alive.

“It’s been a wild band,” Nash mar­vels. “I don’t think any­body can re­ally tell the en­tire story of CSN&Y.”

Flash for­ward to 2014. News fil­ters through that Nash has left his wife of 38 years, Su­san Sen­nett, moved from Hawaii to New York and his new part­ner is Amy Gran­tham, an artist, photographer and film­maker in her mid-thir­ties. It’s also an­nounced that CS&N is over as Nash re­vives his solo ca­reer with a re­mark­able writ­ing spree that will cul­mi­nate in the re­lease of This Path Tonight, his most il­lu­mi­nat­ing work in ages.

What hap­pened? “Life takes over and you’ve got to fig­ure out what you’re go­ing to do. Well, you have to make de­ci­sions and life is full of choices. I had to fol­low my heart.”

For a man in his seven­ties, this was rag­ing against the dy­ing of the light in ex­tremis. It was as if he was chan­nelling the 26-year-old rebel of 1968, aban­don­ing ev­ery­thing in pur­suit of his dream.

If song sources pro­vide any clue to his state of mind, then ‘Car­ried Away’, com­posed decades ago, now sounds oddly prophetic. The lyrics fantasise about leav­ing a re­la­tion­ship in search of new pos­si­bil­i­ties.

“To be hon­est, it wasn’t a fan­tasy,” Nash now ad­mits. “It was real. It was a woman I saw and re­ally flashed on but she had a boyfriend so it wasn’t hap­pen­ing, but that’s what I was feel­ing. And ‘Car­ried Away’ was the first in­di­ca­tion that my mar­riage was not in good shape.”

The song was ac­tu­ally re­leased in June 1977, less than a month af­ter his wed­ding to Su­san Sen­nett. Clearly, it was com­posed some time be­fore the cer­e­mony. Yet there was noth­ing no­tice­ably shaky about his sec­ond mar­riage, which lasted for decades, pro­duced three chil­dren and sev­eral key com­po­si­tions in­spired by his wife, in­clud­ing ‘Bro­ken Bird’ and ‘Song For Su­san’.

If Nash’s mar­riage break-up came as a shock, fans were even more amazed to learn of a ter­ri­ble rift with his long-term band­mate and best friend David Crosby.

“He tore out the heart of CS&N and CSN&Y in the space of a few months,” Nash an­nounced.

This was no ex­ag­ger­a­tion. First, Crosby dis­par­aged Neil Young’s new part­ner, Daryl Han­nah, in an in­ter­view, then crit­i­cised Nash for sex­ing up his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy Wild Tales with al­legedly in­ac­cu­rate ac­counts of David’s sex­ual ex­ploits. Some scathing emails fol­lowed and the two have not spo­ken since. The fall-out seemed strange, given all they’ve been through. Odder still, Nash’s book re­vealed lit­tle or noth­ing that Crosby had not re­lated even more ex­plic­itly in his own au­to­bi­og­ra­phy.

“It’s per­sonal be­tween me and Crosby,” Nash con­cludes. “The truth is what­ever we

did in the 45 years or so we were to­gether, we made some pretty good mu­sic and we made peo­ple happy.”

On a lighter note, there is a lin­ger­ing hope that one man might be ca­pa­ble of bring­ing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young back to­gether. Step for­ward Don­ald Trump. It might sound crazy un­til you con­sider CSN&Y’s his­tory: in 1970, they sav­aged Richard Nixon in the protest song ‘Ohio’; four years later their cel­e­brated sta­dium tour co­in­cided with his im­peach­ment; the 2006 Free­dom of Speech tour de­manded the im­peach­ment of Ge­orge Bush. Pres­i­den­tial crises and CSN&Y re­unions are syn­ony­mous, a fo­cus and panacea for what­ever di­vides them.

It’s per­sonal be­tween me and Crosby. The truth is what­ever we did in the 45 years or so we were to­gether, we made some pretty good mu­sic

Nash laughs at the no­tion of Trump as the four­some’s un­likely neme­sis and saviour, then turns se­ri­ous. “The truth is we have to speak out against this ad­min­is­tra­tion. He’s putting Amer­ica back 50 years, par­tic­u­larly with women’s is­sues, and his out­right de­mand that peo­ple fear other peo­ple of dif­fer­ent colours and dif­fer­ent re­li­gions. He is stok­ing dif­fer­ences in this coun­try that should not be.”

Nash’s 2018 Euro­pean tour con­cludes with a con­cert at Dublin’s NCH.

Al­though he has ap­peared in Ire­land be­fore as part of CS&N and the Hol­lies, this is his first billing here as Gra­ham Nash. He will be joined by gui­tarist and song­writ­ing part­ner, Shane Fon­tayne.

“I’m now 76,” Nash says, “and I feel in­cred­i­bly healthy and I’m still pas­sion­ate about mu­sic and re­ally look­ing for­ward to the visit. When we come to play for you in Dublin, that will be our last show of the tour.”

He al­ready has songs ready for an­other solo al­bum, with more to fol­low. “While we’re here we’ll be in the back of the bus af­ter the show fig­ur­ing the next record. And it won’t be a 14-year wait, I can tell you that.”

An In­ti­mate Evening of Songs and Sto­ries with Gra­ham Nash comes to Dublin’s Na­tional Con­cert Hall on July 31

Out of sync: Nash, Stills and Crosby

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