By Mike Greenblatt
It’s been 14 years since the last solo album from Graham Nash. If “This Path Tonight” is any indication, his best work might still be ahead of him … and that’s saying something, as the former Crosby, Stills & Nash superstar has written a large percentage of the songs that constitute the soundtrack to my life and the lives of others. He’ll continue to take the new songs and a lot of the old ones on tour with him this year. Prior to the road, though, he sat down to talk about the various paths he’s taken and why CSN will not be one of them going forward.
Goldmine: This album haunts me. Besides all the usual hallmarks of melodic and harmonic subtlety and loveliness, it’s dark, which is not usually one of your hallmarks.
Graham Nash: Yes, but don’t forget on the cover I’m walking into my future, which looks very bright. I’ve been going through emotional f**king hell for the last two years so it could be perceived as being dark. But I think there’s a lot of hope in the record.
GM: It’s philosophical. The title track is most telling. You write, “I try my best to be myself but wonder who’s behind this mask.”
GN: That’s right. I look at myself and I wonder who the f**k is looking back at me through this mirror. I don’t recognize my body anymore. I’m 74 now. I’ve had a certain image of who I was for all these years, but I look in the mirror and say, “Who is that guy?” So, yes, I’m trying my best to be myself, like the line says, because I still want to be the best Graham Nash I can be. Extrapolate that into my personal life and, yes, I want to be the best husband, the best father, the best lover, the best musician. I know I’ll never make it but I’m trying at least.
GM: Remember what you told me the first time we spoke? You said that because your father died early, and you thought you would, too, you made a conscious effort to cram as much work as possible into your life because you were convinced you’d die young.
GN: That’s right. I certainly don’t feel like I’m 74. The image I had at one time of a 74-year-old man is someone who was ready for the grave. I don’t feel anything like that. Having said that, I’m sure that people like Prince and Sir George Martin both woke up thinking, “What a beautiful day,” on the day they did not make it through. The truth is that we have lost of a lot of very dear musicians in this last six months alone.
GM: You also write “no one knows just how I’m dealing with this heart that’s not for hire/It’s got me rocking, got me reeling and I feel like I’m on fire.” I think there’s a ton of information in those two lines. How are you dealing these days?
GN: Music is helping me. It always has. When you look at a person, you know there’s a bunch of feelings inside, experiences and life stuff that they’re constantly dealing with, regardless of how they seem on the outside. This thing called life is rather incredible.
GM: Yet you admitted in 1982 that you were “Wasted On The Way” and could have written many more songs.
GN: I could’ve yes. But at least I wrote 20 new songs with (guitarist) Shane Fontayne.
GM: Only 10 made the CD. Might the other 10 make it on to a follow-up? I understand this one is doing quite well.
GN: I continue to write. I’m about to go on the road and that’s usually where I do most of my writing. That’s how Shane and I wrote those 20 songs. We were on the bus traveling around the country. Yeah, who knows? I don’t think, though, it will be another 14 years until my next solo album. I’m really loving these smaller beautiful theaters. When you can look into people’s eyes and know that you’re connecting, know that you’re actually touching their hearts, it’s really a beautiful feeling.
GM: Will there be surprises on this tour?
GN: It’s just Shane on his electric and acoustic guitars and me on my acoustic guitars and my piano. That’s it. I’m stripping the songs right down to how we wrote them. It’s really effective. People are really responding. Look, I understand. If I do “Our House” and it’s great, I understand people getting on their feet and applauding. It’s been happening to me all my life. But when you can bring an audience to its feet having only heard a song once, that’s very different.
GM: You did that in 2012 with “In Your Name.”
GN: Ah yes. There’s so many people killed in the world in the name of religion. Look at what’s going on in the world right now. Same sh*t.
GM: But musically, I contend that “In Your Name” is right up there with “Teach Your Children.” I swear, when I heard you debut that song at the Sands in Bethlehem, Pa., I was singing along to a song that I had never even heard before. That, right there, is the art of a good writer. How do you do that?
GN: You know what the truth is? Here’s the truth: on “This Path Tonight,” the entire record, it’s 95 percent my words and 95 percent of Shane’s music.
GM: He wrote that much of the music?
GN: It was incredible. It was like writing with a mirror in front of me. What a great experience.
GM: With no band on the tour, he’s got big shoes to fill.
GN: Yes, he does. But he fills them. No one’s come up to me so far to say, “You know what? I miss the drums.” No one! They’re loving this show. I go from The Hollies to a song I wrote this morning.
GM: You’ve said on stage the muse never leaves you … that’s incredible to me. Do you realize how many songwriters have told me independent of one another that the well does, indeed, run dry after awhile.
GN: It’s incredible to me, too. I’m not even sure what I’m doing half the time. Where did I get this ability from?
GM: You even sing during “In Your Name,” “Lord, if you’re out there.” If!
GN: Well, if he’s not, we’re f**ked.
GM: I loved your book. “Wild Tales: A Rock ’n’ Roll Life” (2013) certainly lived up to its title. It was as if you and I were sitting across from each other at a bar and you were filling me with wild tales, alright.
GN: That was exactly my intention. It’s also why I did an audio book, too, just to recite it to myself. I wanted it to feel like I was sitting in your kitchen having a cup of coffee talking.
GM: I understand it’s coming out in paperback now. Has there been any changes?
GN: No … only in some of the credits in the back. One of my sons had twin boys and I dedicate it to them in the back of the paperback edition.
GM: What the f**k is going on with you and David Crosby?
GN: I have f**king run out of patience with him, that’s all.
GM: Care to elucidate?
GN: No thanks.
GM: You’re in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. How much satisfaction does that give you or do you not care about such accolades?
GN: I don’t particularly care about things like that, no. But I know that because of things like that, my creations, my songs, my paintings and my photographs really do touch people. That, right there, is the overwhelming essence I get when things like that happen. I’m just a lucky man who happened to have found a passion for music as a boy that was totally encouraged by my mother and father to the point where they allowed me to go out into the world with open eyes and an open heart and here I am talking to you.
GM: The other aspect of your public persona is that of the outraged political activist. There certainly is a lot to be outraged over.
GN: I have to feel something strongly before I make any kind of statement about it. I always, though, try to be honest with my feelings. The political scene today is the absolute craziest in the 50 years I’ve been here in this country. I’ve never seen politicians stoop so low. I remain a big supporter of Bernie Sanders, but I think that the revolution he has ignited in this country is way bigger than him. He’s probably astounded that he got this far! He’s done really well in trying to change the platform of the Democratic Party. Having said that, I think Clinton will make a great president for the present system. Still, though, the present system is broken. It needs change drastically. Passionate Sanders fans have to realize that we cannot let someone like Trump actually be the president. Just the thought of that terrifies me. Just think of the last six months. How many f**king times have you said to yourself, “Now he’s gone and said something that will get him out of the race.” Mexican rapists? Big wall? No people of the Muslim faith allowed into the country? Mass deportations? So you think, “he’s outta here!” Not true. His numbers went skyrocketing. How terrifying is that?
GM: Any plans for after the tour?
GN: More creation. More beauty. More love.
GM: What do you do away from music, away from photography?
GN: I’m never away from that. For me, everything else — be it cinema, theater, whatever — is a voyage of discovery that fuels my art. I’m a very curious man. I go to the cinema, go to plays and I’m completely involved with cultural pursuits. But the creation part of me never stops.
GM: Do you sometimes think that you want to turn it off?
GN: No, not at all.
GM: Do you find yourself competing with earlier versions of yourself?
GN: No. It’s like this. I’m on a path of this thing we call life, trying to do my best. I’m lucky. I’m grateful. And I’m looking forward to getting on with the rest of my life.
GM: You have recently been honored for your photography alone to the point now where the art you create through the lens of a camera is equal to the love you make through your music.
GN: I’ve been a photographer a lot longer than I’ve been a musician. In my “Eye To Eye” book, the first portrait I shot was of my mother. I was 11. I love photography. I see no difference in the energy of photography or music. It’s all creation to me. And don’t forget, I started my printing company, Nash Editions, in 1989. And we were the very first fine art digital printmaking studio in the world. Our first printer is now in the Smithsonian Museum.
GM: Are you Sir Graham Nash?
GN: No, not quite. There’s different levels. There’s Member of the British Empire that The Beatles were. There’s Officer of the British Empire, which I am. There’s Knight of the British Empire, which David Gilmour is. Then you get into the Sir line. That’s when you bow in front of the Queen and she puts a sword on your shoulder and you become Sir Paul McCartney.