The universe keeps smiling

The many charmed lives of Graham Nash

0
Graham Nash
Eleanor Stills

It’s hardly an exaggeration to say that in his 75 years on this mortal coil, Graham Nash has lived the equivalent of multiple lifetimes. As a musician, he’s made his mark as a founding member of The Hollies, Crosby, Stills and Nash and its various permutations, in addition to having a respectable solo career.

The native of Blackpool, Lancashire, has also indulged his creative impulses via a lesser-known, but equally lauded foray into photography. All this on top of being a proudly liberal social activist who has penned songs that railed against everything from nuclear waste dumping (“Barrel of Pain”) and what happened at the 1968 Democratic National Convention (“Chicago”) to overly-aggressive defense policies (“Military Madness,” “Soldiers of Peace”) and injustices within the justice system (“Prison Song”). And given what’s currently going on in our nation’s capital, Nash is just as outspoken as ever.

“I think this administration is setting America back at least 50 years. I think they are incredibly stupid. I don’t see how you get a head of the EPA that doesn’t believe in climate change. That’s insane. We deserve better than this,” he angrily points out. “What are we teaching our children about this? That you can [sexually assault women] and think it’s alright and kiss them whether they like it or not? You can’t normalize this presidency. A lot of people won’t even call him president and that’s a good but small way to resist and we must resist.”

On the personal front, the last few years have been ones of change. A public falling-out with David Crosby has essentially signaled the end of Crosby, Stills and Nash reuniting, with or without Neil Young.

Nash’s 38-year marriage to Susan Sennett ended in a split in 2015, on the heels of his 2013 memoir Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life. It also spurred his return to the studio for 2016’s This Path Tonight, his first solo studio outing since 2002’s Songs For Survivors.

Like much of his music, the songs on This Path Tonight are primarily acoustic and seamlessly blended folk and pop. Some, like “Myself At Last,” “Back Home” and “Target,” are near solo, while others, such as “This Path Tonight,” “Another Broken Heart” and “Cracks in the City,” feature judicious full-band backing that adds color to the songs without sacrificing the intimacy that characterizes the album. The closest it comes to rocking is on “Fire Down Below,” a moody mid-tempo track accented by some sharp electric guitar.

Many of the songs on the album, such as “Myself At Last,” “Fire Down Below,” and the title track, find Nash taking stock of his past, pondering the decisions he’s made and trying to figure out where his life is going. The closing song, “Encore,” puts his future into musical terms, asking “What’re you gonna do when the last show is over?”

Nash is clear about the impetus behind this latest collection of songs.

“I was married for 38 years and was not in love the last decade or so of that marriage, and realized at 75 I need to be as happy as can be for what is the rest of my life,” he explains. “And the universe continues to smile on me, and when my marriage broke up, I fell in love with this beautiful, talented, spiritually, wonderfully educated bright woman here in New York City. Her name is Amy Grantham and she’s a fabulous artist.”

Nash says he was introduced to Grantham, a photographer, at a Crosby, Stills and Nash concert through the personal assistant/road manager for Stephen Stills, and the attraction was immediate. The relationship, Nash says, has energized him not only personally, but creatively.

At the three-quarter century mark, Nash has no intention of slowing down. With former Bruce Springsteen sideman Shayne Fontayne (who produced the latest album) as his creative partner for the last handful of years, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer is intent on looking forward — although in June he released a two-disc anthology, Over The Years…, which features some of his best known songs and more than a dozen unreleased demos and mixes.

Nash is currently on tour, playing theaters and auditoriums with Fontayne and former Crosby, Stills and Nash keyboardist/vocalist Todd Caldwell. Nash perks up when asked what fans can expect when they come to see him at an intimate space.

“The truth is, with these smaller theaters, I can see the audience. I can look in their eyes and know if I’m making a connection. It’s important,” he says. “I don’t want to be some performing puppet up there. I want to interact with the audience and let them know how I want to be there and how great this moment is tonight. I’m tired of seeing people where it’s obvious they don’t want to be there. I saw The Police on their last big tour, about five years ago, and it was obvious that they didn’t even like each other, and you can’t fool an audience, they’ll pick up on that immediately.”

On the Bill: An intimate evening of songs and stories with Graham Nash. 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, Chautauqua Auditorium, 900 Baseline Road, Boulder.