And there’s so much time to make up Everywhere you turn
Time we have wasted on the way
So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away
From the CSN song “Wasted On The Way”
Graham Nash is in a midtown recording studio putting the finishing touches on an autobiographical audiobook. A sandwich sits untouched on a small desk in an adjacent studio as dinnertime passes. A photographer waits in another room to do a photo session. On a break, sometime before this interview would start, Nash comes by to say hello to everyone waiting for him. He offers a warm smile, a firm handshake and wild enthusiasm and willingness to tackle whatever his next assignment is. It is this graciousness, work ethic and eagerness to collaborate with other people that have made the 71-year-old one of the most iconic figures in rock history.
The autobiography, titled Wild Tales and published this month by Crown Archetype, is aptly named for his second solo album. The book is primarily about how a working class lad from Manchester, England, escaped the poverty and after-effects of World War II to first join The Hollies, one of the spearhead bands of the British invasion, and then to become a part of one of the defining groups of the West Coast music scene: Crosby, Stills & Nash. Nash’s relationships with Stephen Stills and especially David Crosby—and even Canadians Neil Young and Nash’s former girlfriend Joni Mitchell—make up the heart of Wild Tales. The section on his love affair with Mitchell is particularly poignant and details how it was the inspiration for the classic song “Our House.”
Looking spry and trim and bearing a full head of white hair, Nash looks closer to 40 than 70 and has changed little since the last two times I interviewed him. Part of his energy stems from his sense that time is running out and there is still so much to do. It is also one of the driving forces behind why he chose to finally write his autobiography. “I don’t have much time left,” Nash soberly said. “I’ve been losing friends by the dozen. I have three kids; they know who I am, but now I have a granddaughter. I want her to know who her grandfather was.” When I asked whether he kept a journal he said, “No, I was stupid. I wish I had, but it’s all here,” (pointing to his head). And not just there. His fans have had a window into his life through the great songs he has written. “Every song is autobiographical,” he stated. “I write for me. I don’t write for anybody [else].”
While Nash remains a part of CSN and has continued to perform and record with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (the only group with all of its members inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice), his time with The Hollies is often forgotten. In Wild Tales he finally gives a full history of his time with the group. Nash escaped from The Hollies to move away from pop and to create a new kind of music with Crosby and Stills in 1969, but he is now able to look back at his first band with a different perspective. “In the last ten years I’ve been slowly realizing what a fabulous group The Hollies really were.” He was also candid about becoming disenchanted with the group at that time.
“I had been in a band that had 18 top-ten singles,” he began. “We were popular. We had girls, we had hits, we had it all down. But, it wasn’t enough. We weren’t saying anything.” After being introduced to David Crosby of The Byrds and Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield (through Cass Elliot of The Mamas & the Papas), it all changed. “I meet David and Stephen and they’re writing Long Time Gone, 49 Bye-Byes, Guinnevere and Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. I thought, ‘not only are they these fine singers, but listen to the songs they are writing.’” When asked if he missed England after breaking up with his first wife, leaving The Hollies and moving to California, he said, “Anybody that heard me, David and Stephen sing in the early days knew why I couldn’t wait to get out of England. I needed that music. It was golden to me.”
Another great passion in Nash’s life has been his photography. He picked up a camera at the age of ten at the urging of his father and he hasn’t looked back since. “I love photography,” Nash enthused. “It was my first love, but you couldn’t get girls with a camera. You could get girls with a guitar.” And his love of photography extends beyond just being a photographer, he’s a collector and connoisseur, too. Through the years he amassed a huge archive of photographic prints and in the ’80s he launched Nash Editions, one of the first digital photography fine art printing companies. He has also published two photo books: Eye to Eye and Taking Aim. Nash said he is not surprised that rock photography has now become a fine art and explained why it’s so exciting. “With a rock music moment, it’s gone if you don’t get it. It’s gone forever.”
As it always does, talk of The Hollies, family and photography eventually lead the conversation back to Nash’s musical and personal relationship with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. The trio has been working on an album of covers recording “songs we wished we had written… We’re going to make it sound as if we wrote the songs. That’s the essence of what we’re doing.” They were working with producer Rick Rubin. Rubin, who cut his teeth in the hip-hop world and ran Sony Music, worked wonders for other song-based artists such as Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. But things went awry. The group was in the studio and planning on recording at least two Beatle songs, “Blackbird” and “Norwegian Wood.” Nash explained that Rubin said, “There’ll only be one Beatles song on the record.” According to Nash, David Crosby replied, “There’ll only be one Beatles song on the record if CSN says there’ll be only one Beatles song on the record. Who the fuck are you?” Nash continued, “From that moment it was dead; it was completely dead. CSN will listen to any idea, but you can’t tell us what to do. You can suggest anything you want and we will listen with an open heart and open ears. You can’t tell us what to do and that’s the mistake that Rick made.” The group took seven recordings from the aborted sessions and went to Jackson Browne’s studio where five tracks have been completed to their satisfaction. Also in the works for CSN is an appearance on an upcoming album of acoustic versions of Jimi Hendrix songs; they covered “Angel” with help from singer-songwriter Jason Mraz.
When asked whether or not he saw any of the recent Buffalo Springfield reunion shows Nash said he didn’t, but he voiced his love of the group purely as a music fan and remembers playing the first two Buffalo Springfield albums endlessly when he was in The Hollies. He did however offer some insight into the complex relationship between Stephen Stills and Neil Young. He said theirs is an “unspoken, incredibly attractive, incredibly repellent relationship. They both hate each other and love each other to death. Neil is very cognizant of Stephen’s talent and recognizes that the guy is a monster musician.”
Future plans for Nash’s CSN bandmates include a solo album from Crosby. Stills is riding high with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Barry Goldberg in The Rides—the band is on tour with their album Can’t Get Enough—and Stills is also writing his autobiography.
As our conversation wound down and the whole process of reflecting on his life through his autobiography continued to reverberate, Nash wistfully, hopefully and forcefully tried to sum it all up. And his songwriting process became a ready metaphor, “I’m not earthbound. I don’t care where I am to write. Borders, boundaries it’s meaningless. I am a man of the planet. I exist wherever I am. I think I am a decent person. I think I care a lot about people. I think I am curious. I try to make art out of everything I do.”
Graham Nash performs at NYCB Theatre in Westbury September 22nd