Graham Nash finds the harmonies in ordinary moments - pulse
BY JANE DUNLAP SATHE - pulse
Graham Nash can look back on some heady musical moments with The Hollies, with Crosby, Stills & Nash — and later Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — and in his own solo career. He has accepted Grammy Awards and been inducted into prestigious halls of fame. But these milestones aren’t necessarily the ones that turn into lasting memories that’ll linger in the ear, and the heart, for a lifetime.
“I think that people who appreciate music who aren’t composers are fascinated by where songs come from,” Nash said. “Most songs come from the most ordinary moments.”
“Our House,” for instance, from the 1970 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album “Deja Vu,” came from a morning’s jaunt to Art’s Deli from the home the British-born musician shared in Laurel Canyon with fellow songwriter and then-girlfriend Joni Mitchell.
“I took Joni one morning to a delicatessen in Los Angeles for breakfast,” he said. As the couple walked back to the car after breakfast, Mitchell spotted a vase in an antique shop’s window.
She loved the vase at first sight, and Nash encouraged her to treat herself. Soon they were heading home with their purchase.
Discovering the vase brightened a chilly, gray morning, and as soon as Mitchell and Nash got home and stepped out of the drizzle, Nash headed for the fireplace.
“I said, ‘I’ll light the fire while you place the flowers in the vase you just bought,’ ’’ he said, pausing and chuckling slightly at the memory. One can almost hear the smile deep in the warm tenor familiar from so many recordings.
While Mitchell stepped outside to pick some flowers from the garden, Nash sat down at the piano. In about an hour, his comment, slightly reworded, had turned into a timeless opening line — and “Our House” was home. Ever since, fans have enjoyed the slice of reassuring domestic comfort that Nash conveyed in mere handfuls of words.
“I’ve been a lucky boy, haven’t I?” he said.
Nash said he looks forward to his Paramount show. “I have a new manager, and I wanted him to put me in places I hadn’t played before,” he said.
Friday’s show will team Nash up with Shane Fontayne on guitar and Todd Caldwell on organ. Fontayne produced “This Path Tonight,” Nash’s 2016 album; Caldwell, who plays Hammond B-3 for Crosby, Stills & Nash, has worked with him for about six years. When they’re on stage together, they’re all serving the music.
“I love making music with Shane,” Nash said. “He wants to reinforce and support the music. When you strip the song down to the essentials, there’s nowhere to hide.”
There’s another connection with Fontayne: “He saw the Hollies when he was 10 years old,” Nash said with a laugh.
Nash, who turned 76 on Groundhog Day, isn’t planning to slow down anytime soon. He’s also known for his visual arts career as a photographer and digital printing pioneer; his 1969 portrait of CSN colleague and friend David Crosby is in the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution. (Crosby fans can mark their calendars for his Paramount Theater appearance at 8 p.m. May 31.)
The songwriting work is never completely done, and that’s a happy problem to have.
“Ever since I was 18, I’ve been able to do what I love to do,” Nash said. “There’s so much to write about that I can’t stop. The unrecorded songs inside my head drive me crazy. I’m probably working on at least a dozen now.”
Doing what he loves to do has brought induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice — once for his work with The Holies and again for his CSN tenure. He was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame twice as well, both as a solo artist and with CSN.
Many of his songs still resonate decades after they were written — “Teach Your Children,” “Marrakech Express,” “Wasted on the Way,” “Military Madness.” But Nash looks forward to sharing his newer compositions in Charlottesville, too. He doesn’t have time to rest on his laurels; there’s too much writing yet undone, and too many moments that might slip away uncaptured.
“I don’t look backwards. There’s no point,” he said. “I look forward to the songs I’m doing now.”
Each show offers another chance to connect, to focus on shared things that last. The melodies and messages flow through the filter of each listener’s unique experiences. Another moment is in the making.
“You have to do it one song at a time,” he said. “One audience member at a time.”
“Think of all the trillion things you have done in your life. Now multiply that by a thousand,” Nash said quietly, referring to the others in the audience. “All the stuff that we’ve done in our lives has brought us to this moment, so we’ve got to make the most of it.”