Graham Nash - Wild About Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life
Anytime I’ve had to deal with Graham Nash, it’s been a pleasant experience. He never seemed like the type of rocker who ever threw TVs out of the Continental Hyatt House or was a groupie-izer, and he always seems to have those polite English manners. He claims to have a temper that builds slowly, according to his long-awaited biography Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, but I have never seen any anger out of him in the few times I have hung around him—even if fans were bothering him with dumb questions about what certain CSN&Y songs were about.
The book candidly covers his entire life and it’s interesting to find out that he was from a working class Manchester family that kept a “stiff upper lip” and rarely showed affection. Looking back, Nash still seems shocked about his dad going to jail for a year for giving him a camera that turned out to be a “hot” item (it was actually stolen by Nash’s aunt and his father took the blame), and how Nash’s family barely had food on the table during this time. Later on, while in the Hollies, Nash was riding around his hometown on the upper level of a double decker bus and saw his mom kissing a strange man but kept his mouth shut about it. Years later, while being interviewed for an in-depth article on The Hollies, an interviewer shockingly notified Nash that his sister Sharon had a different father than he did.
I admit to being a bit of a rock and roll “gossip groupie” so before reading the book in chronological order, I looked in the index to see what he had to say about his famous romance with Joni Mitchell which inspired the rock and roll classic, “Our House” about their humble home together in Laurel Canyon. I always heard that he stole Mitchell away from band mate David Crosby—who had discovered her singing in a Florida coffeehouse. According to Nash, Croz and Mitchell’s affair was long over and they had remained friends. As a matter of fact, early on in CSN’s career, they jammed in Mitchell’s house and valued her commentary on their music. Nash was madly in love with Mitchell but the romance ended when he did not want to marry her. His descriptions of her make the famed Laurel Canyon-based songstress seem like a flawless “otherworldly” person whom excelled at everything she set out to master although they did have many arguments.
Nash also had a year-long romance with Rita Coolidge but why that ended isn’t exactly clear; it seems like their career duties pulled them apart and it’s interesting to note that before their first date, Stephen Stills hijacked Coolidge by saying Nash couldn’t make it! Also on the romance front, Nash was the unrequited love interest of Mama Cass and in a gentlemanly way, he told her he would like to be “great friends” with her for life but that he was not interested in her as anything more than that.
As a classic rock fanatic, I wanted to hear all about the evolution of The Hollies, a harmony-based group from Manchester that drew inspiration from the Everly Brothers. They were just a bunch of kids kicking around the neighborhood but the real nucleus of the group was Nash and Alan Clarke. Nash and “Clarkie” attended late 50s and early 60s “package shows” with and developed a voracious appetite for American rock and roll with. (Nash and Clarke became friends when they were six and still remain great friends to this day; the musical magic is still there as The Hollies performance during their Rock And Roll Hall of Fame Induction was so precise, clear and crisp that you could close your eyes and pretend it was 1965.) The Hollies started having hits only six months after forming and Nash’s first experiences on tour with them in the States circa 1965 are really wonderful. Nash and company flew to NYC with eyes wide open. He says he will never forget how huge The Paramount Theater in Times Square was and how they played at least five shows per day as part of a 60s package tour. He later walked around the city and marveled at the diversified neighborhoods and also recalls having dinner with the corrupt Morris Levy, who wanted to sign The Hollies in America. The Hollies had heard about Levy’s thug-related operations and wisely decided not to sign with him.
After a few years with The Hollies, Nash basically saw that the world was changing and singing sugary pop was not enough for him, even if The Hollies’ vocal harmonies were exquisite and highly acclaimed in the music press. In 1968, he met Crosby through friend Mama Cass and things just snowballed from here. Nash moved to the States, hooked up with C, S and sometime Y, and Wild Tales then tells the up and downs of being in the group. As you probably know, Nash and Crosby are the best of friends to this day, and they recorded together when Stills or Young were off doing other projects or simply wanted time out from being musicians. Nash talks about off nights from all members of the group for different reasons, as well as his solo recordings and why some fared better than others; he left CBS when Walter Yentikoff refused to take a UPC code masking the end of a rainbow on a solo album and then signed with Capitol only after they agreed to privately play him the original two-track master tapes of Gene Vincent’s “Be Bop A Lula” in the studio in Hollywood where they were originally recorded.
Before you ask, many lurid Crosby drug stories are here—well, not quite as many as in Croz’s own book, but Nash admits that he had to pay for Crosby’s rehab and even for his daughter to go to private school because he had plowed through the millions he made with CSN&Y in only a couple of years of hard drug use. Nash talks about how Crosby first blamed his scabby appearance on a viral infection, but after a while did not hide what he was doing anymore. One recording session came to an end when a glass crack pipe burst in two from sitting on top of a studio speaker. Crosby freaked out because he would not be able to get high that night. He also found interesting ways to get drugs delivered to the airport before they had dogs sniffing packages and suitcases, and sold off many of his possessions including guitars cheap to get his fixes. He even ran away from a rehab center within 24 hours of getting there. The fact that Nash had set up the intervention the previous day did not make him want to get clean. He paints Stills and Young as a bit moody and eccentric but you can see that his love for both of them runs deep until today.
All in all, Nash comes across as the English gentleman that he is in Wild Tales, even though he admits that he had many years of cocaine use that basically ended when he saw what a mess Croz had become circa 1984. (Nash seemed to have just “used” when he stumbled upon a supply rather than seeking out the drug.) He is very devoted to his wife Susan of 30-plus years as well as his sons, daughters and granddaughter. He is as much into photography and painting as he is into music these days, and always stands behind a good cause from anti-nukes to feeding the hungry to world peace in general.
Wild Tales is a “long time coming” and does not disappoint! Yes, there are indeed plenty of wild tales but the wildest are saved for “best mate” David Crosby (you couldn’t make some of this stuff up, even though many tales are sad and funny at the same time)!
By Anne M. Raso