Graham Nash – Life Used To Be So Hard, But Now Everything Is Easy
by Ken Sharp
Two time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Graham Nash knows a thing or two about chemistry. As a founding member of The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN)/ Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY) or various iterations of the same, his delicate voice has helped create some of the most magnificent harmonies in rock and roll… from ‘”Carrie Anne” to “Our House.”
Nash’s latest project, the book Wild Tales: A Rock and Roll Life, lives up to its name. It details a colorful life marked by picture perfect moments of beatific harmony alongside raw snapshots of disharmony. “I wanted you to hear my voice while reading the book,” observes Nash. “I wanted it to feel like I was just sitting in your living room talking to you.”
Frank and intimate, in Wild Tales Nash pulls no punches. He chronicles in vivid detail a musical and personal journey that unfolds like an unfinished song. By story’s end, it winds up as a beautiful symphony.
PopEntertainment.com writer Ken Sharp spoke with Nash.
Doing the book, what did you learn about yourself and your fellow band mates?
I really believe that I like people. I love David [Crosby], I love Stephen [Stills], I love Neil [Young]. And I love Joan [Joni Mitchell]. I really like these people. When I looked down at the manuscript after I read everything that I put down was, “Oh my God, I wish I was him.” (laughs)It’s been such a wild life. It’s not only about sex, drugs and rock and roll – which sells books of course – but it’s about loyalty and friendship and love.
You grew up in Salford, England. You said, “Dreams were often the only way out.” What were your dreams as a kid?
I’ve known since I was thirteen-years-old that I wanted to be a rock and roll musician. At school I wouldn’t be doing my homework. I’d be drawing drum kits and Fender guitars and practicing my autograph at thirteen.
You wrote “King Midas in Reverse” for The Hollies. Recount writing and recording the song. Could you sense it was an artistic breakthrough?
It was one of the reasons why I left the Hollies. We had an agreement where whatever we wrote was always split three ways. I started to write songs where they didn’t contribute anything. I was still sharing it and it upset me, so I had to stop that. I thought I’d written a pretty decent song with “King Midas in Reverse.” It was very emotional for me. I was talking about myself, of course, and I did think we cut a great record of it. I’m still very pleased when I hear the record of “King Midas in Reverse.” I think it was definitely a step in the right direction for me as a writer. I began to realize that songs are more than just “Moon, June, screw me in the back of the car.” I’ve got nothing against those kinds of songs. I wrote many of them myself (laughs), especially when I was with The Hollies. But I began to realize that there was a lot going in the world that needed to be spoken about. Needed to be examined and have some sunshine lighting it up.
Take us back to your fateful meeting with David Crosby and Stephen Stills and singing for the first time. You asked them to play “You Don’t Have to Cry.”
I’d come from London to Los Angeles to meet with Joni Mitchell, who I was going out with at the time. We were in her living room and David and Stephen were there. We finished dinner and David said, “Hey Stephen, sing Willie that song.” It was the song “You Don’t Have to Cry,” which I personally think is a really brilliant song. They sang it. It sounded great in two part harmony. I said, “Sing it again.” They looked at each other and said, “Okay.” They sang it again. Then I said, “Okay, well bear with me now. Sing it one more time.” I had my harmony down. Whatever vocal sound that CSN has was born in that first forty seconds.
Once you joined CSN, your writing took a great leap forward from your work in The Hollies. What precipitated that evolution? Was it simply a case of you trying to up your game surrounded by other incredible writers… a la Stills with “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.”
I wasn’t trying to up my game. I was witnessing the way Crosby wrote and the way Joni wrote. Unbelievable songwriters. They were very different from what I had been trained to do with The Hollies, writing these two and a half minute pop singles that you can’t forget, unfortunately. When I watched David and Stephen and Neil and Joni write, obviously you get affected by witnessing such great stuff. I started to get really, really serious about songwriting. Not that I wasn’t serious before, but I realized there’s a lot going on in the world that needs to be spoken about.