Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I can’t really say that Graham Nash is one of my musical heroes. Yet his high voice was a perfect partner for the tones and timbres of his bandmates, C & S, and a number of his contributions to the CS&N songbook are among my favorites. Looking back at the catalogue, though, I realized I don’t know much of his/their stuff after ’77’s CSN. I loved that one – so many of its numbers sticking with me over the years.
I didn’t even know that Nash had written a memoir, but when I stumbled on it at the library I decided to give it a go.
The earlier sections read like boilerplate British Invasion bios, Graham’s working class upbringing and fascination with the guitar and American rock and R&B artists fully accounted for. When he and his childhood mate, Allan Clarke, start The Hollies together, they’re off and running. I never thought much of The Hollies, other than “Bus Stop,” and that turns out to be a tune they didn’t write. Still, it’s their signature song, but other than that they’re a lot like a lot of other Brit bands of the era.
Once Nash meets the other guys, it gets familiar and interesting. Who knew that Neil Young was with them at Woodstock but wouldn’t let himself be photographed or recorded? Who knew that Derek and the Dominoes swiped the piano part in “Layla” from Rita Coolidge? Who knew that at every recording session (and performance) the guys were super high on pot and cocaine? There’s a lot of nitty-gritty details for the aficionado.
Soon enough, though, it becomes clear that Nash might have “written” the book by talking into a tape recorder, with some repetition here and there and way too many tip-of-the-tongue clichés that an editor should have altered. Yet, the tone is conversational and pleasant, and Nash comes off as a decent bloke.
Which is more than can be said for his famous collaborators in CSN&Y. Each of them seems to send the band careering off the tracks in their turn, yet never once does Graham do something destructive like that. He can handle the drugs. He shows up on time for sessions and gigs. His biggest problem seems to be uncontrollable womanizing, which, hell, this is rock n’ roll, right? Still, he lived with Joni Mitchell for godssakes, but only for a year or two. He dated Rita Coolidge. Definitely a quantity-over-quality man.
Now, thanks to a recent interview on YouTube Nash did with Coolidge, we learn that he has divorced his wife of 38 years at the age of 75. (“She is the love of my life,” he writes of her in the book.) Who knows what the story is about that? I wouldn’t want to speculate, but the general thrust of Wild Tales gives me a pretty good idea. In that same interview I learned that he did in fact dictate the memoir, which explains a lot. Then again, Rita admitted dictating her book, Delta Lady, as well. In rock n’ roll, there’s no time to sit down and write a memoir!
Ironically, Nash is probably most relatable and admirable when talking about David Crosby’s problems, particularly his health issues after getting out of prison in the ’80s. He describes the moments before Crosby goes in for a liver transplant, and it’s easy to tear up at the image of these two friends laughing in the face of death. Yet now Crosby and Nash aren’t talking. The baggage finally got too heavy.
When I listen to Nash’s music, especially the material from the ’60s and ’70s, I hear a voice that draws poetry from everything from personal relationships to world events. Paradoxically, when I read his book I hear a voice that’s remarkably superficial and self-absorbed. Maybe that’s the nature of a rock memoir. The most honest title of any book in the genre might be You Really Had to Be There.
I think I’ll put Wild Tales out of my mind now by listening to CSN: “Carried Away,” “Cathedral,” “Just a Song Before I Go,” and “Cold Rain.”
That’s the Graham Nash I want to remember …