Graham Nash shares wild tales at Bread & Roses appearance
By Paul Liberatore, Marin Independent Journal
I’ve probably interviewed thousands of people in my ink-stained career, most of the time on the phone or in some private setting, but occasionally on a stage in front of an audience. That was the case one night this week when I was honored to fire a few questions at one of the icons of my generation, double Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Graham Nash.
The white-haired, 75-year-old rock star was kicking off “An Evening with Graham Nash” solo tour with a performance for a Bread & Roses-hosted, invitation-only event at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, sponsored by the folks at Bank of Marin. Nash has been a longtime supporter of B&R, the Marin nonprofit founded by Mimi Farina that has been bringing live music to people shut away in instutions for the past 43 years.
He’s on the road promoting his memoir, “Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life,” just out in paperback. And he’s got a new solo album, “This Path Tonight,” his first studio recording in 14 years. Strumming acoustic guitars and accompanied by a fellow Brit, lead guitarist Shane Fontayne, he sang a string of his hits from his solo career and from his years with the British invasion band the Hollies and with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY) — “Bus Stop,” ‘Marrakesh Express,” “I Used to be a King,” “Immigration Man,” “Teach Your Children.”
Singing in his not-quite-as-high-as-it-used-to-be tenor, he slipped over to a piano for sweet renditions of “Wind on the Water,” inspired by a blue whale sighting on a sailboat journey with David Crosby, and “Our House,” the musical picture of domestic bliss he wrote when he was living in Laurel Canyon with Joni Mitchell.
He rounded out his set with “Myself at Last,” one of the deeply personal songs he wrote for the new album when he was in the emotional turmoil of divorcing his wife of 38 years, Susan Sennett, the mother of his three grown children, and exchanging the idyllic home they’d shared in Hawaii since 1979 for an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and a new life with girlfriend Amy Grantham, a 37-year-old New York filmmaker and photographer who’s accompanying him on the tour.
‘CRAZY OR BRAVE’
His book, “Wild Tales,” ends where the current chapter of his life begins. So I asked him to fill us in on the profound lifestyle change he’s made, reminding him that he was quoted in Rolling Stone as saying he’s either “crazy or brave” to be starting over again at his age.
“I’m both,” he said, candidly telling the audience — assembled in one of Fantasy’s historic studios — that love has to be nurtured for it to last, and that he had simply “fallen out of love” with his wife and in love with Grantham, a slim blonde who looks even younger than she is. He couldn’t see wasting what was left of his life in a loveless marriage.
“Time is the only currency we really have,” he said. “Bill Gates, Zuckerberg, can’t buy a f-ing second. Not one. We have to make sure that the rest of our time is the best we can make it. You owe it to yourself.”
In that sense, I asked him about outgrowing his hometown mates in the Hollies early in his career, coming to America and making rock history with the airtight harmonies that were created when he joined his pure high tenor with the voices of Crosby, Stephen Stills and Neil Young in CSNY.
It was hard to leave the Hollies, but he explained that he’d written “Teach Your Children” and “Marrakesh Express” when he was still with them and they’d turned their noses up at both those now-classic songs, preferring to keep cranking out teeny bopper hits like “On a Carousel,” “Stop Stop Stop” and “Carrie Anne.”
“In the bowels of EMI — a studio on Abbey Road in London — there is a track of the Hollies doing ‘Marrakesh Express’ that sucks,” he said, cracking up the crowd. “They just didn’t want to do it. But Crosby heard that song and said, ‘Wait a minute, I can hear money coming out of the radio. That’s a great song.’ It was Crosby who really saved my ass.”
Nash and Crosby became best pals in the band after that, a checkered friendship that Nash documents quite fondly in “Wild Tales.”
One of the saddest parts of the book is set in Crosby’s home in Marin County on a late summer afternoon in 1969, when CSNY was rehearsing songs for “Deja Vu,” their first album together. Crosby and his gorgeous lover, Christine Hinton, were living in a big old country house in Novato, hanging out with guys in the Grateful Dead, who lived down the road. Nash went up to visit them on that ill-fated day, remembering everyone being stoned, as usual, except for Hinton, who wasn’t a drug user. She rolled joints, but that was it. Anyway, they were all poolside, Nash writes, “vegetating in that near-perfect hippie setting,” unaware that tragedy was about to shatter their rock ’n’ roll reverie.
Later that afternoon, Hinton and a girlfriend were taking their cats to the vet in Crosby’s van when one of the animals leaped into her lap, scratching her. As she leaned down to grab the cat, she drifted into oncoming traffic and was hit by a school bus, killing her instantly. Crosby was devastated.
“He went off the rails,” Nash writes. “He was never the same again.”
Before the show at Fantasy this week, I was sitting in the green room with Nash and Grantham and some others. Knowing he’s a serious photographer, I complimented him on the beautiful photo he’d taken of Hinton that he included in his book, the only one I’d ever seen of her.
“Maybe that’s why David is so mad at you,” Grantham whispered as she sat beside him on the arm of an overstuffed leather chair.
“No, that’s not it,” he said softly, sadly.
In his memoir, Nash writes extensively about Crosby’s decades of cocaine abuse (perhaps too extensively), an addiction the troubled singer eventually kicked after doing time in a Texas prison. Whatever the reason, Crosby hated the book, to say the least, damning it as “shallow, very self-serving and full of B.S.”
The two old friends haven’t spoken since, and Nash has vowed never to play music with him again. But never say never in rock ’n’ roll.
Toward the end of the evening, someone in the audience asked him about his plans for the future, if there was any chance that CSNY would get back together one more time. I expected him to dismiss the notion out of hand, but he surprised me when he mentioned that Young had called him and left a message that very morning, noting that his notoriously testy former bandmate isn’t the type to call for no reason.
And he ended the night the way he ends his book, saying that if Crosby called him up and played him three great songs, then bygones may have to be bygones.
As he’s said more than once, “It all comes down to the music.”