When: 8 p.m. Wednesday, November 13, 2013
Tickets: $89; call 510-238-9200 or visit www.yoshis.com
Where: Yoshi's San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, California
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, November 14, 2013
Tickets: $89; call 415-655-5600 or visit www.yoshis.com
Artist website: www.grahamnash.com
For more of Paul Freeman's interviews, visit popcultureclassics.com.
Read the Graham Nash interview in its entirety here at popcultureclassics.com/
An angel's voice. The ear of genius. And an artist's eye, able to capture a person's spirit, the essence, through the camera lens.
These are but a few of the gifts with which Graham Nash was born. Fortunately, this impassioned activist has shared them with the world, creating glorious sounds, with The Hollies; Crosby, Stills Nash & Young; and in his solo works. But the award-winning photographer has also displayed an intense and intriguing visual sense.
Nash generously took time to talk with us prior to the opening of an impressive exhibition, "This Could Be You: Photographs & Paintings By Graham Nash," at San Francisco Art Exchange.
Twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Nash continues to make magical music. A master of harmony and vocal arranging, he wrote or co-wrote such enduring hits as "Carrie Anne," "King Midas In Reverse," "On A Carousel," "Stop Stop Stop," "Marrakesh Express," "Our House" and the iconic "Teach Your Children."
Somehow, he finds time to tirelessly work for an array of worthy causes, championing peace, human rights and environmental sanity.
It's been a remarkable ride for Nash, who has made every breath, every moment count. And you can now fully experience it through his autobiography, "Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life." It's a terrific read and an exciting, adventurous, inspiring life.
Following recent Crosby Stills and Nash dates in the United Kingdomw (and CSN & Young sets for the Bridge School benefit at Shoreline Amphitheatre), Nash is embarking on a solo concert tour, including a November 13 date at Yoshi's, Oakland and November 14, 2013, at Yoshi's San Francisco.
A rock superstar for half a century, Nash remains unassuming, disarming, genuine and friendly. Conversation with him flows naturally and amiably.
Freeman: It wasn't until Joni Mitchell suggested it that you thought about photographing other rock musicians?
Nash: That was absolutely the point. I'd been shooting for a while, of course, But I never shared any of my stuff. It was just my life, pictures and stuff. But I never shared them. And then Joni, one day, she'd just had a show of her paintings in Tokyo. This was 20 years ago. And had been treated with respect. And decent sales. And she said, 'Why don't you think about doing a show?' I said, 'I don't know.' She said, 'Come on. These are pretty decent pictures. Why don't you send him a dozen shots and see what he says?' So I sent this guy in Tokyo a dozen shots and he wrote back and said, 'Fantastic! Let's do it.'
Freeman: What had been your reluctance?
Nash: I've been painting for the last two or three years and I think it's the same thing. It's a different world. And, to a certain extent, I'm kind of on top of my musical life, Right? And why would I want to go out into another art form and be criticized? 'The guy doesn't know what he's doing. They're all awful.' You know, I just wanted to keep my pictures for myself. But when I saw the show in Tokyo, they looked pretty damned good. And I began to realize ...
[Momentarily distracted, he rises and moves to the gallery wall.]
I just have to straighten this picture. I can't stand it. [Adjusts the slightly askew framed print into perfect alignment.] My entire universe is 14 degrees off.
Freeman: Your artistic life has always embraced risk.
Nash: Yes, that is true. It's just that they were so private to me, because, one of the things I like to do is be invisible. I don't want anybody knowing that I'm taking their picture, because I've had so many pictures taken of myself, I know when a camera's pointing and I always turn and give them like [flashes a debonair smile] a Tony Curtis look. But I hate those moments, because they're not real. So I like to take pictures, when people have no idea that I'm there. And that way, I can get a certain amount of realism in my images, because when people don't know they're being photographed, they're real.
Freeman: Besides the candor, what's your process in terms of capturing the subject's inner self, making a statement? Is that more intuitive or analytical for you?
Nash: Whether it's with a song or a photograph or a painting, I'm saying, 'Hey look, what do you think? What do you think about this?' The thing is, time is really precious. And I don't want to waste your time. So I don't want to show you an image that doesn't have anything. I want to move you. I want to wake you up. I want to make you feel good about being a human being, good about being friends. I want you to have a reason to exist, as they say in French, raison d'etre. So I don't want to waste your time. And, most importantly, I don't want to waste my time. I'm 72 next birthday. How much longer can this go on?
My point is, I want to show you an image or play you a song that will enrich your life, rather than just be meaningless. And like I said, we don't have much time. We better get on with it. We better have the best time we can. We better love our family and our friends, because, what else do we have, but time and family? What else is there? Nothing.
Freeman: Speaking of family, whenever you're involved in photography, is there still a feeling of connection with your Dad?
Nash: Absolutely. Every image that I take. I think about my father constantly. He was dead at 46. So he didn't have much of a life, really. And, in a really strange way, I'm living his life and mine, at the same time. I don't really know what I mean by that, but you can get a sense of what I mean, because you can't live anybody else's life, of course.
I'm just insanely lucky to be here. I mean, you have no idea where I grew up and where I came from. After World War II, in northern England, it was dreadful. It was awful. Food was hard to get. Butter and milk and sugar were all hard to get. You had to have a little book of tickets that you could only tear one off and get butter once a week. It was insane. And, all of a sudden, here I am, staying in a suite in this hotel across the street, my art is all over the place. I'm a reasonably successful man in a lot of areas. I'm just a very lucky guy. And I'm just trying to have the best time I can. Period.
Freeman: Coming from that background, is that the root of your desire to make the world a better place?
Nash: Absolutely. I want a better world, not only for me and my kids, but for you and your kids. Why not? This world is a fantastic place. Why can't it be great? Why all this insane quest for money and more money and yet more money, no matter how many buildings you have? I mean, how much is enough? Why can't we all have a little ... and live in peace?
My worldly experience is that most people want their kids to have a better life than they did. They want their kids to be well fed and well educated and have a better life. And that's the same story all over the world. But then these businessmen come and they figure out what they can sell you and how they can control you to be able to sell you stuff and they keep building these incredible fortunes. And for what?
I think about the Koch brothers, for instance [David and Charles Koch, who have fed more than $100 million into right-wing causes]. I mean, there must have been a thousand people telling them, 'Look, you can't pollute the planet and rip it off like this. You can't keep doing this!' Don't they have kids? Do they have grandchildren? Don't they think about their future? And I ask this question a lot. People say, 'It's because they don't care.' How can you not care about the future?
Freeman: All the caring that came out of the '60s, everything we were fighting for and against, how have you been able to surge forward and maintain optimism, fending off disillusionment and frustration?
Nash: I do get frustrated. But I constantly move forward. And I look at the world through the eyes of my children. What am I leaving for my children? What did their Dad teach them? I have to remain optimistic and I have to remain positive, because, I'm a positive person.
Freeman: How did you avoid falling into that trap of forgetting who you were originally and buying into a star image?
Nash: Because I've done it all before. Don't forget, I was in a hit band with all these screaming teenagers and people ripping your clothes off for seven years [with The Hollies] before I ever met David Crosby. I'd already done it all. I'd already been on the best television shows and played the Royal Albert Hall and done all this stuff. I'd already done all that and it didn't mean anything to me. And I know David [Crosby] was in The Byrds and Stephen [Stills] was in the Springfield, etc. And they'd had their own success level. But I'd been through it all and it didn't mean anything. The only thing that ever meant anything to me was the music.
Freeman: And in the music, when the CSN harmony first clicked, what was that rush like for you?
Nash: I had some serious thinking to do ... for about a microsecond. And the thinking was, 'Holy shit! If I really go into this deeply, I'm going to have to leave England. I'm going to have to leave my band. I'm going to have to leave my bank account and all my friends and just come here.' And it sounded like a ridiculous thing. All my friends said, 'Are you fucking crazy? Leaving The Hollies? For what? Honor? Fame? Money? Girls? What are you doing?' But they hadn't heard what I'd heard. They hadn't heard me and David and Stephen sing. They hadn't heard what it did to people, how it made people feel. They hadn't heard any of it. So that's why they were amazed that I would just get up and leave.
It was a rational decision I made. But one that I made instantly, because, I mean, listen to what we do. How could I not want that?
Freeman: But you had also had that magic with Allan [Clarke, Hollies vocalist]. The fact that you found it again with David and Stephen, does that seem like destiny? Is it like finding a musical soulmate?
Nash: It's just me. Here's what goes on. I don't think the universe is out to fuck me. I think the universe is out to support me. And every morning, I get up and go, 'OK, I'm still alive, let's go and see what the fuck is this day going to show me?' And I expect the universe to show me fantastic stuff every day. I do. I've always been a very positive person.
You must understand that Europe was devastated by war twice in 80 years. And, when I was a kid, you really didn't know whether your fuckin' house was going be there tomorrow. Or whether your friends were going to still be alive. I mean, seriously. On a very serious level. Look what happened to London and Manchester and Liverpool at the end of World War II. You didn't know.
So, my point is, the English way of dealing with all that is, 'Oh, it'll be OK tomorrow. It'll be all right tomorrow. Things'll be fine.' There was always this positive outlook, because that's all you really had. Because the other end of it was 'Ah, fuck, the bombs are dropping again. We can't eat. There's no food.' But you've got to get beyond that ... to be able to survive.
Freeman: And what do you see as art's role in helping the world to survive and thrive?
Nash: I think that the job of art is to move the soul. It's to teach yourself about your fellow human being. It's to give you better information about how to deal with the world. It's to make you chuckle. It's to make you think.
You've got to learn from everything. There's so much to learn, even at this point in my life, I want to learn every second of my life. And you'll never know anywhere close to it all. But what can you do? You've got to keep going.
Freeman: There are artists who seem to have a selfish or cloistered existence. Do you feel that an artist has a social responsibility?
Nash: I think it's more than a social responsibility. I think it's a human responsibility. We have to make this place a better place for us, particularly in this country. You've got to understand, I see America very differently than you do, because I'm not from here. I'm from a completely different country. So I see the beauty in the countryside. I see the beauty in the people that want the same thing that we want a better life for their kids, leave me in peace, let me have a pint and watch TV, everything's fine. I see America very differently than Americans do.
Freeman: Is that an advantage, to have that sort of outsider's perspective?
Nash: I think so. I'm an observer. Every so often, I feel like I'm just this brain on a stick that's traveling through the universe. And I'm watching everything. And I'm experiencing the dance of life and realizing what an incredible dance this is. And you can either make it fun and rewarding or you can be the other way and think that everything's out to get you and nothing's ever right. But I'm not that person. I escaped from World War II. I'm lucky to be here.
Freeman: Is there a guiding force that's led you through?
Nash: I think it's my mother and my father. They were incredibly positive people. That's who I am. That's what happened to me. My mother and father never let me fall for, 'You're supposed to do what your Dad did and if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for you. And your Granddad was down in the mines, also ... ' I was never asked to follow that silly gold watch route. And that was an incredible break for me.
Freeman: They had faith in you.
Nash: They did have faith in me. Follow your heart, think about your two choices is this a good thing or a bad thing? There's two things to do and I always go for what I consider to be the good path.
Freeman: The process of writing the autobiography, did that give you a different perspective on your life?
Nash: I have tell you that, when I got to the end of the manuscript, I looked down at the page and I said, 'Fuck! I wish I was him!' I don't look back. There's nothing you can do about yesterday. I'm always interested in the song that's driving me crazy as we're speaking right now ... I'm still trying to figure out what the last line's going to be in my new song. I don't look back, right? But in writing the book, I was forced to look back. And my overwhelming feeling right now is, 'Thank God! It's down. There it is. Now I can live my life.' And I'm ready for the next 30, 40 years ... or 30, 40 minutes, because you never know, right?
Freeman: You've accomplished so much in so many areas. Are there still goals you're burning to achieve?
Nash: Of course. Are you kidding? There's a million things to do.
Freeman: What sorts of things?
Nash: Well, it's usually artistic. And it's usually saying something. It's usually trying to support something. I'm always for the underdog. I'm not a football fan. I'm mean, I'm a soccer fan, but I'm not a football fan. But I'll look at the TV and go, 'Oh, they're down by 10. Oh, I'm going for them.' I'm always for the underdog for some reason. I don't know why that is.
Freeman: The most rewarding aspect of your multifaceted life?
Nash: My marriage and my children. By far. All this other stuff is just shit. It's just a game. This is all a game. And I want to play it the best way I can. But I love being alive. It's going to be very boring, when I'm dead.
Freeman: [Laughs] Well, we don't know.
Nash: No, we don't, do we. We don't know. If there is a God up there, the first thing I'm going to ask is, 'What the fuck was the plan?' What is the plan? What are you supposed to do with your life? I guess I'm happy that I can sleep. Very simple I can sleep. Because I torment myself constantly. I'm not a good sleeper.
When everything's done and I get into bed, then I'm going, 'OK, what am I going to do tomorrow?' Then I'm rehearsing this line. Then I wonder if I should call so-and-so. And what about this record I've got to make? My brain does that all the time. But at least I can sleep, knowing that I've done my best. I'm trying to be the best at everything I do. And I'll never make it. But I'm trying.