By Mike Sembos
10:25 AM EDT, September 5, 2013
Graham Nash has an enviable life. Perhaps one of the most enviable lives there ever was. Pretty much any rock 'n' roll fantasy you can dream up, he's been through it, and he's come out largely unscathed on the other side. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: once with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY) and once with the Hollies. His autobiography, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life comes out Sept. 17, and unlike other rock memoirs that skirt the juicy stuff (say, Bob Dylan's Chronicles: Volume 1), Nash has no wish to hide anything.
"It was kind of an interesting experience for me, because I've never been one to look back," he says, on the phone from sunny Los Angeles. "I don't particularly care what I did last year. What can you do about it? Nothing, right? You hope you did your best and get on with life. But in writing Wild Tales, I was forced to look back at my life. And the overwhelming feeling when I got to the end of the manuscript — I looked down at the pages, and I said, 'Wow. I wish I was him.' I mean, it's been an incredible life. And it shows no sign of slowing down or getting less interesting."
Nash's close friend and bandmate David Crosby hit rock bottom in the mid-1980s with drug addiction, weapons charges and jail time, but he wasn't spared in the book.
"I tried to be as honest as possible," says Nash. "My main concern, of course, was Crosby. Obviously if you've read the book, I was pretty brutal about what was going on in our lives. But Crosby called me the other day, and he said, 'You know what? It's all true. I did screw up. I did put you guys through hell, and everything's OK with your book. And that was a big relief for me."
Nash will play the Ridgefield Playhouse on Sept. 11, without Crosby or Stills (though Stills will be at the Playhouse on Sept. 5 with his band the Rides), just keyboard player James Raymond, and guitarist Shane Fontayne. Both musicians back up CSN on tour, and they'll both add their harmonies to fill out the vocally-driven tunes.
"I want small audiences. I want to be able to look into their eyes. I want to feel I'm communicating with them," says Nash. "It's going to be the opening night of the tour, and that's always a little fragile, but I'm sure it's going to go well because our audience has always, always enjoyed us screwing up. They kind of like that, because we're human beings, you know? We screw up. So, it's going to be a very intimate night."
Intimacy was not an option during the height of CSNY's fame in 1974. The venues were stadiums and the average audience size was somewhere around 70,000. Nash has been working on a new live album culled from that tour, due out next March with an accompanying 126-page book.
"Crosby called it, 'The Doom Tour,'" says Nash. "It's so hard when there's 100,000 people out there, trying to play 'Guinnevere' with one guitar and two voices. You don't know whether you're reaching them. I didn't know at all whether we were affecting their hearts or their minds... I guess so because they all stayed there."
In hindsight, we view Nash's day-to-day experiences from the '60s and '70s as lofty, legendary chapters from the annals of rock 'n' roll, but he and his friends were regular people doing regular things much of the time. Sort of. Even if his friends happened to be folks like Jerry Garcia and Jimi Hendrix.
"No one ever beat Jimi Hendrix at Risk," says Nash (who admits Hendrix was under the influence of LSD during the games). "No one. He was astoundingly focused. I played Risk with Jimi Hendrix probably half a dozen times and I never saw anyone beat him."
While recording in San Francisco in 1969-70, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane happened to be recording at the same studio complex. That's how Jerry Garcia ended up playing pedal steel on Nash's "Teach Your Children," for one.
"We were all in bands and we were all trying to escape from having to do what our dads did," says Nash. "We all found music and we all found a way to express ourselves... It was just musicians getting together and saying, 'Hey, I've got this song, what do you think?'... When we finished tracking a song, we'd wander over to Garcia's studio and see what they were doing. And they came to us one day and asked us, 'How do you get these harmonies like this? How do you do this?' and we showed them how we do it — you put a microphone in the middle, and open it up all the way around."
Nash still keeps in touch with his former lover Joni Mitchell (the song "Our House" was written during their time living together).
"We've remained friends all these years," he says. "She's obviously a brilliant, brilliant writer and artist, and I loved her dearly and love her to this day. My relationship with Joni is a very friendly one right now."
Nash has found it increasingly easy to let go of past drama and arguments.
"I think as you get older and as you get more mature, all the stuff that used to upset you becomes meaningless... I'll be 72 next birthday. And I don't want to let silly, non-important things spoil what we do best, which is create music."
Wed., Sept. 11, 8 p.m. Ridgefield Playhouse, 80 East Ridge Rd., Ridgefield. (203) 438-5795. $76. ridgefieldplayhouse.org
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