Graham Nash on Trump, Clinton, the Beatles, and More
Graham Nash says people need to speak out more today than ever before. With Election Day approaching, he’s not holding back. “I think Donald Trump is an incredibly dangerous man,” he tells me from his new home in New York City. “He has brought a sense of politics that is awful. I don’t think the Republican Party will ever recover for decades from this man. They created this monster, and they can’t control it. They are going crazy right now trying to figure it out, because he will affect all the down-ballot Republicans too, and, hopefully, the Democrats will take back the Senate and the House.”
Nash, who recently completed an April-October US and European tour promoting his acclaimed new album, This Path Tonight, says that, onstage during his performances, he urged people to vote and to be very careful what they are voting for.
“I have a feeling it’s going to be a landslide in Hillary [Clinton]’s favor, but it seems too close for comfort for me,” Nash says. “I have no idea how this man [Trump] got this far. I mean I do: He appealed to divisiveness, his war on women, the way he treats women, the way he treats people, the way he doesn’t pay his contractors, complaining about China while using China deals to build his buildings. The man is a fucking nightmare.”
Nash, who gleefully announced in August 1974 at a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert in New Jersey that President Richard Nixon had resigned, says he was originally a supporter of Bernie Sanders. “But he is not the nominee, so I will support Hillary completely and vote for her.”
Another upcoming vote has also been on Nash’s mind. He tells me that a day before we spoke in late October he learned This Path Tonight is “in the running” for about seven Grammy nominations, including record of the year, best vocal performance, and producer of the year. The record was produced by Shane Fontayne, a great guitarist who toured with Nash in a duo throughout the US and Europe.
This Path Tonight was released in April after Nash divorced his wife, Susan Sennett, after 38 years of marriage and a life in paradise on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Nash, 74, moved to New York City to be with his girlfriend, 37-year-old filmmaker and photographer Amy Grantham.
“This Path Tonight is a reflection of my emotional journey, happening right now in my life,” he says.
I ask him if This Path Tonight might be akin to Songs for Beginners, his debut solo album in 1971 that was recorded after a traumatic breakup with Joni Mitchell. “Yeah,” he responds. “I tried to simplify my life as much as possible. Songs for Beginners was five or six people in the studio at the same time recording, and This Path Tonight was exactly the same.”
Songs for Beginners featured many great songs, including “Simple Man,” “Military Madness,” “Chicago,” and “I Used to Be a King,” and could be considered Nash’s landmark solo album. A feisty Nash, though, doesn’t place landmark status on a past album and says his next album will be his best.
At least seven songs for that album are already in the can. He and Fontayne recorded 20 songs in eight days before This Path Tonight, but used only 13 for the album and bonus tracks. On Nov. 16, Nash will discuss the album in Los Angeles at the Grammy Museum’s Clive Davis Theater and then give an acoustic performance with Fontayne.
Nash, a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee with Crosby, Stills and Nash and the Hollies, won a Grammy in 1970 when CSN beat out four other nominees: Led Zeppelin, Chicago, Oliver, and the Neon Philharmonic.
Nash returns to New York for his final performance this year on Dec. 5 at Town Hall. It’s a benefit for children with autism, headlined by Steve Earle and the Dukes and also featuring Shawn Colvin.
I ask Nash which concert was the best he attended as a spectator, and he quickly responds, “The Beatles at the Cavern Club. It was fantastic.”
The show was one of many the Beatles performed at the legendary venue in their hometown of Liverpool, England, in the early 1960s. Nash says Ringo Starr had not yet joined the Beatles, and Pete Best was the drummer.
What did he get out of that early Beatles show? He laughs and provides a one-word answer: “Life.” I prod him to elaborate, and he says, “The world opened up. They opened up a door in the universe and everyone ran screaming through it.”
Nash — who says he formed the Hollies with Allan Clarke a few months after seeing the Beatles at the Cavern Club — also saw an earlier version of the Beatles, Johnny & the Moondogs, on Nov. 19, 1959, in Manchester, England. For a brief time, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison used that name for their group instead of the Quarrymen, their original name.
“Johnny & the Moondogs were in Manchester at a local cinema,” Nash says. “It was a talent show. A promoter got local artists together, had them perform a song and come out at the end. The promoter put his hands above each artist’s head, and, if the audience clapped really loud, they were the winner.”
Nash also raves about a Bruce Springsteen show he saw during the Jersey rocker’s 1984-1985 Born in the USA tour. “I realized how committed he was in making the world a better place.”
The 1974 tour of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was one of the best tours in rock music history, and Nash spent a lot of time sorting through concert tapes to compile the 2014 multi-disc box set, CSNY 1974.
I recall seeing the group at Denver’s Mile High Stadium and Chicago Stadium that year and was completely blown away by the three-hour-plus shows. The most vivid memories are all four members huddled together, wailing on their electric guitars during long jams, and Neil Young debuting his brilliant album On the Beach. Nash says he remembers the Mile High Stadium show, because Crosby fell while running toward the stage across the baseball field before the show. That show and others on the tour, Nash says, were the zenith of CSNY live.
“Mile High Stadium was a great show, and that tour was full of wonderful music,” he says. “That’s one of the reasons why I did the CSNY box set. I wanted to show historically that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were a fabulous rock and roll band. If anybody in the future wants to know who the fuck CSNY were, that box set will give them a good idea.”
He says that chapter of his life — compiling CSN or CSNY material — is over, and his multi-decade stint with Crosby, Stills and Nash is “done.”
Nash has feuded with David Crosby for a few years, and the former long-time buddies are not speaking to one another. Crosby charged that information about himself was inaccurate and fabricated in Nash’s 2013 memoir, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life. Nash has blamed their split on a series of problems dating to 2010 when CSN failed to complete an album of covers produced by Rick Rubin.
Though I consider CSN one of my favorite bands, I have been somewhat disappointed by their live shows for many years. They have played too many of the same songs — and too often without doing much to change the arrangements. Even the once-welcomed cover songs — the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” and the Beatles’ “Blackbird” — had become too repetitive.
I longed for Stills to take his great talents in other directions like he did with Chris Hillman in Manassas, his own bands and his current group, the Rides, with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Barry Goldberg. I’ve also enjoyed solo tours of Nash and Crosby and their interactions with other musicians. So I suggest to Nash that maybe it’s better creatively for the members of CSN to go their own ways.
“You are absolutely right,” he says. “It’s good for us to take a break. The truth is: If fucking Crosby walked into my room right now and played me four fucking songs that knocked me on my ass, I would have to reconsider everything, because I am a musician.”
Nash says he has heard Crosby’s new album, Lighthouse, that was released Oct. 21, and it doesn’t contain four songs that knocked him on his ass. But, he adds, it’s “a very clever album.”
For now, life in New York City apart from his CSN mates is good for Nash. “New York is one of my favorite cities in the world,” he says. “Having lived relatively in the jungle in Hawaii for all those years, it is paradise, but it doesn’t have a lot of the culture that I want. I need museums, I need galleries, I need swap meets, I need to hear 12 languages on the way to Starbucks. I need people, I need life. I am absolutely getting that in spades in New York.”
Nash says his future is open to more albums, other projects and even writing another book. “Nothing is closed for me except working with Crosby right now. I am not limiting myself in any way.”
The future, he adds, means “more breathing, more music, more beauty, more creation.”