Nash and Joni Mitchell had linked up in ’68, before the first CSN album was in the can. For more than a year, they lived an idyllic artists’ life and wrote songs about how happy they were. Nash’s “Our House,” with its comfy-cozy, two-cats-in-the-yard scenario, was all about Joni.
Then, on her Ladies of the Canyon album, Mitchell described the relationship — and why it was doomed to failure — from her perspective. The song took Graham’s nickname “Willy” for its title.
Nash: Every word is true. It’s a heartbreaking song for me. To be in love with Joni Mitchell and have that love come back at you, even to the point of marriage — to lose that was devastating for me. I’m old enough now to realize it was a long, long time ago, and I can admit that I was heartbroken.
Joni’s grandmother had always wanted to be a creative person. But in those days, you had to be a wife and a mother, and you had to bake and take care of the kids. You had to stay home while your old man went to work. She had never been given the chance to express herself artistically.
And Joni recounted to me that she remembered the story of her grandmother kicking the door viciously, out of frustration. Joni, I believe, saw that as one of the downfalls of marriage.
I also believe that somewhere in Joni’s mind she thought that I would demand that of her. Which is completely false. How in the hell could anybody with a brain say to Joni Mitchell, “Why don’t you just cook?”
So even though we talked about marriage, I think the reality of it — from Joni’s point of view — was very scary.
To have had the love of that woman was such an incredible feeling for me. I was flying. I was on cloud nine — no, I was on cloud 10! I felt insanely lucky. Many people have said “You know, when you and Joni walked into a room, the whole room lit up.”
Nash’s first solo album, Songs For Beginners, arrived, unannounced, in May of 1971.
Nash: Those songs were written with CSN or CSNY in mind. I’ve always been more comfortable being a member of a band. It’s just the way I grew up.
By that time, Stephen and David were making their solo records. There were no plans to record, but I had these songs. So what the f**k do you do with them? I started out to make a very simple record; almost a record of demos. I just kept writing and recording, and then I thought f**k, I guess I’m in the middle of my first solo record.
Perhaps because of his relationship with Mitchell — which had just skidded to a painful halt — Nash’s lyrics on Songs For Beginners were much more personal than ever before. “I’ve saved millions of dollars in psychiatry bills because I talk to myself constantly,” he says. “It’s my way of exorcising my demons.”
Oh, and the world didn’t know it, but as a group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had already ceased to exist. It wasn’t pretty.
Crosby’s ’71 solo tune “Cowboy Movie” detailed the break, using violent Wild West imagery: Eli the Gunner (that’s Stills) comes to blows with the Duke (Nash) over the affections of an Indian maiden (this turns out to be session singer Rita Coolidge).
Fat Albert and Young Billy (Crosby and Young) can only watch and hold on tight; the outlaw gang will never be the same.
“Cowboy Movie.” How true is that?
Nash: It’s very true. The relationship between the four of us wa