Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Graham Nash - Wild Tales (2013)

In short, Graham Nash's Wild Tales is one of the best musical autobiographies I ever read. To his credit the singer-songwriter used a lot less ink than Keith Richards needed to tell his tale while offering us many riveting details about his personal life and solo career, as well as the careers and lives of The Hollies, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Mama Cass Elliott, Joni Mitchell, and a whole lot more.

Nash grew up very poor in Manchester, England but unlike a lot of kids in his situation his home life was relatively stable with two parents who loved him even though his father was eventually imprisoned for theft (unfortunately it appears he was innocent).

An interesting pre-Hollies anecdote is about a 1959 battle of the bands that featured a lot of up and coming British rockers including Nash and his best friend from childhood, Allan Clarke, with whom he would eventually form The Hollies. This is where the two teenagers first encountered three Liverpool kids who at the time were calling themselves Johnny and The Moondogs. Unfortunately, The Moondogs had to leave the competition early to catch the last train out of town to return home. He wrote that if the trio had stayed for their second set John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison were already good enough to win the event.

Nash's writings about The Hollies are probably the most detailed and best account of the outfit ever set in print. He's honest about their place in history and gives Clarke much of the credit for the group's success.

The Hollies' popularity eventually led Nash to America. He fell in love with the USA and eventually became a citizen of his adopted homeland. By 1967 his American experiences contributed to his growing disenchantment with The Hollies. He longed for a new musical direction that was much more intellectual, artistic, and mature but The Hollies were happy being an excellent, hitmaking, pop machine who were justifiably proud of their accomplishments. Unfortunately for Nash they expressed no interest in expanding their musical horizons but he soon found what he was looking for in America after meeting Crosby (soon to be his new best friend) who introduced him to Stills.

At least half of the book revolves around how easy and rewarding it was to make music with Crosby, Stills, and Young and how miserable life could be dealing with them on a personal basis. Despite it all the rocker's narrative reveals that the four were like an explosive, dysfunctional family who were intent on destroying each other when together yet they couldn't stay away from each other for too long. Through it all the quartet really cared about the music they made and somehow they remain friends today.

Problems within the ranks were everywhere. Stills and Young wiped Crosby and Nash's vocals and other contributions off an album and released Long May You Run on their own. Stills stole Rita Coolidge from the author by telling the singer that Nash couldn't keep a date he made with her and then the guitarist took her out himself. Young was often late for gigs or missed them entirely.

Crosby's cocaine addiction nearly killed him, brought him a prison term, a liver transplant, and financial ruin. Nash's life became so intertwined with his friend's that the latter's troubles almost turn the last third of the book into a sad biography about the former Byrd.

It's not that Nash was an innocent bystander. He freely states that he was a hippie with a rock and roll lifestyle. He admitted to using "enormous" amounts of cocaine himself before he finally decided he had done enough and he's now been off of the drug for thirty years.

There are other highlights including lengthy sections devoted to Nash's volatile relationship with Young and a torrid love affair with Joni Mitchell about whom he wrote, "Meeting Joni did a number on my head that reverberated through my entire life." (Their relationship spawned the song "Our House.") He calls Young "the strangest of my friends" in the closing acknowledgements.

Nash also tells us about the No Nukes concerts, movie, and album that he and Jackson Browne organized. It became a prime example of CSN&Y's continuing social conscience.

There is a lot to like about Wild Tales but I have to admit I was biased before I ever read a page because I'm such a big fan of his famous group, the British Invasion, and The Laurel Canyon sound. However, the book is a worthy read for anyone who loves rock music because Nash is truly an icon. It also helps that he is quite adept at telling a story.

Buy Wild Tales From Amazon.

Check out the all of the following websites below.
Graham Nash
The Hollies
Crosby, Stills, & Nash
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

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