Return with us now to those thrilling days of yester year when the only thing better than the sex and drugs was the rock and roll. Graham Nash was present for the creation of much of it and he survived to tell all in a fascinating memoir, Wild Tales.
He opens with a turning point scene in Los Angeles in 1968 at Joni Mitchell’s house with David Crosby and Stephen Stills singing, “In the morning, when you rise/ do you think of me and how you left me crying.” After getting them to run through “You Don’t Have to Cry” again, he joined them, adding a third harmony part that cemented their futures together.
Creating CSN was not easy for him because it meant leaving behind Allan Clarke and their chart topping group famous for its own harmonizing, The Hollies. Nash and Clarke met in the sixth grade in a poor suburb of Manchester, skipped school to buy tickets for Bill Haley and The Comets and waited in the rain outside a hotel to meet The Everly Brothers.
But Nash knew it was time to move (as Crosby did when he left The Byrds and Stills, The Buffalo Springfield) because he wanted to do his own songs and tackle bigger challenges than the Hollies, who were planning an album of Dylan covers.
What follows is an endless series of recording sessions, tours, song writing, benefit concerts, breakups and reunions all told with remarkable insights at a brisk pace in a self-effacing style.
Nash wrestles with a lot of demons from his past (leaving his first wife for Joni, leaving her, a brief fling with Rita Coolidge) and that of his band mates. David Crosby’s now legendary drug taking starts as comic relief and relentlessly spirals into an abyss that is marked by a jail term and liver failure. Nash’s grim tale is relieved only by his unflagging friendship for the man he calls “my partner and great friend.”
He describes the arrival of Neil Young, at Ahmet Ertegun’s suggestion, as “tossing a live grenade into a vacuum.” And Crosby notes, “Juggling four bottles of nitroglycerine is fine until you drop one.” The bottles got dropped more than once but there was usually someone one around to clean up the debris and CSNY’s unusual legal structure that allowed solo work at any time provided a safety valve.
And when one guy called to say “I’ve got some new songs,” the others jumped on the next plane to hear them. As Nash’s first and last lines of the book read: “It always comes down to the music.”
There are lots of rich details here that put you on board the helicopter going to Woodstock or sailing the Caribbean aboard Crosby’s yacht, The Mayan and there is a who’s who of rock stars that Nash sang with or shared concert bills. He offers insights into his song writing process and demonstrates his passion for liberal causes from The No Nukes Concert to a spontaneous trip to Berlin where he sang “Chippin’ Away” as the wall came down.
Nash’s narrative captures the history of his musical era (one that fortunately is still going strong) but his lyrics have always given us the spirit of our times. Like this from “Wasted on the Way.”
And there’s so much time to make up everywhere you turn
Time we have wasted on the way
So much water moving underneath the bridge
Let the water come and carry us away