Graham Nash came to town recently to promote the paperback of his incredibly well-named memoir, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life—a book that, when it focuses on David Crosby, makes Keith Richards’s autobiography read like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm—and the terrific three-CD/one-DVD CSNY 1974 box set I reviewed a few months ago on “Altercation.” Even if you don’t make it to the end of the below interview, which reflects my interests as much as Graham’s, I strongly recommend Wild Tales, if only for its detailed descriptions of some incredible feats of human (and musical) endurance. And thanks to the terrific taping and transcription talents of Ted Hart, below is an edited transcript of our talk.
Eric Alterman: Well, this is The Nation, so let’s start by talking a little bit about politics, if that’s okay? What would you say is the most animating cause for you right now? What gets your blood boiling? What do you want to put your energy?
Graham Nash: Well, you know very well that we have to prioritize our time. We get asked to do a lot of benefits, as you probably realize. So you have to figure out what’s most important to you that you can hopefully affect and help. The overwhelming, overriding problem with humanity today that I see is climate change. I think that all these people that are paid to deny that it’s going on are bought and sold by the corporations that continue to pour carbon into the atmosphere. I think that we should have the smarts to listen to the 97, 90 percent of scientists that say—
EA: Ninety-seven, you were right the first time.
GN: Is it 97?
GN: Fantastic. Of the scientists that say, “Look, it is real, and humanity is causing it.” I think climate change is the biggest problem that we’re facing because—I mean, I’m 72 right now. How long is this going to go on? I mean, really: ten minutes? Ten years? Thirty years, maybe? Forty, if I’m lucky? Right, how long is this going on really? But my children and my grandchildren will be here way after I’m dead, and we’re leaving them a pile of shit. And I don’t want any of my grandchildren to be able to look at me and say their grandfather did nothing.
EA: I often wonder about the Koch brothers’ grandchildren.
GN: I talked about that yesterday in many interviews. And I said to them, I said, “Don’t the Koch brothers have kids and grandchildren? Don’t they know what they’re doing in this quest for money? They’re already one of the richest families in the world, you know, apart from Walmart people, and don’t they understand what’s going on?” I had a meeting yesterday with the Rockefeller Foundation. I don’t know whether you know it, but three months ago, they decided that they would divest all the money that they have in fossil fuels. Now this is the fucking family that started this shit. And they know it, and they realize it. But their grandchildren now are going, “You know what? No more. Let’s divest all our money in that. Let’s reinvest in alternative energies.” And one of the biggest items on their agenda right now is climate change. They are crazy about what’s going to happen. And they’re also smart business-wise because they’re beginning to realize that maybe they can make as much money as they did in oil in alternative energies. You know, the sun ain’t going away. The wind’s not going to stop blowing. Oil, gas, coal, it’s history in the long view. So I think that one of the things that I’m going to do in 2015 is try and bring together the 1,100 groups that are dealing with climate change that are all hurting for funding, that are all not under the same umbrella—you know the people that want to save the bald eagle and the people that want to save the whales and the people that want to get ride of nukes—We all need to be on the same page because the overriding problem is climate change because it will kill every fucking one of us. And we know it. And the scientists know it. And all these people like the Koch brothers and all these climate change deniers and all these people that think that Jesus rode on the back of a dinosaur and that the fucking world was created in seven days are fucked. And they need to be told that. And they need to come over to the side of sanity.
EA: That’s quite ambitious. Do you think there’s something special about the relationship between rock and roll and politics? Or is it just that you have people’s attention already? Like the song “Chicago” or “Immigration Man” or, I mean, you’ve written a lot of songs about politics—
GN: But is it politics? Is it politics, Eric? When you write fucking “Ohio”—
EA: Well, collective action. It’s not “I love you. I miss you.” It’s about a “We the people” kind of thing.
GN: Right, but is that politics? My point is when you write “Ohio” about four fucking students with their God-given right to protest what-the-fuck their government is doing and you slaughter them at school, is that politics? Or is that humanity? When you write a song like I did in “Chicago”?
EA: “Won’t you please come to Ohio” is politics. I agree the shooting is humanity, but “Won’t you please, just for change,” that’s politics.
GN: Ah, good point. I’ll remember that. Thank you.
EA: No, but seriously I’ve been to a lot of these concerts. I think about this a lot. I was at that fantastic “No Nukes” rally in ’82 where I thought the whole world was going to change the next day.
GN: And that’s our problem. We need patience.
EA: Well, they come back the next day, and we go home. It’s one problem we have. But I’m wondering if there’s something about rock and roll because it’s so physical and so exciting and it gets your adrenaline running. It is what you do, but you’ve been doing this for a long time. You’ve been motivating people through music, “Find the Cost of Freedom.” I mean, I don’t need to tell you your own songs. And I’m wondering if you think it’s a problematic vehicle for this or it’s a great vehicle for this or it’s somewhere in between.
GN: I have to take the positive side. I have to think that it’s great. I mean, no one has to listen to us. No one has to agree with us. But it was very obvious on the 2006 tour when we got down South, and 10 percent, 15 percent of the audience would fucking storm out of there giving us the finger and threatening to fucking kill us because of what we were saying about the Bush administration, especially when we got to Neil’s song “Let’s Impeach the President.” And you know what I’d like to do? I’d like to talk to every fucking one of those people who walked out and say two things. One, you buy a ticket to a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert, what the fuck are you going to expect? And two, what do you think of the Bush administration now?
EA: I saw that at Jones Beach. Great show. It convinced me that I better start seeing CSN shows again, which I hadn’t been doing.
GN: My point is we have a voice. And goddammit if I’m not going to use it. I became an American citizen over thirty years ago to be able to use my voice, and half the shit that me and Stephen and Neil and David get up to, we couldn’t do in another country. We’d either have been killed or jailed. We’d have been silenced for sure. But in this country, you can speak your mind.
EA: Looking back, there’s no politics in the Hollies, so it began with Crosby, Stills & Nash. And you were how old when the band formed?
EA: Okay, so that’s a long time ago. What do you think you today, 72-year-old Graham, would tell 28-year-old Graham about this? Are you disappointed? Are you pleased?
GN: I would say to me that I thought I was on the right path. I wish I’d have done more of it. I wish I would’ve gotten more involved in politics before I did, even though I was writing about the problems that we have.
EA: It’s interesting to me because you’re as involved as anyone. I interviewed Jackson Browne a couple weeks ago, and he brought up you guys as one of the only other people that he feels this sense of kinship—
GN: You have to put Bonnie in there—
EA: And Bonnie Raitt, yeah. We mentioned Bonnie, too.
GN: Yeah, I wish we’d have been more outspoken. I mean, we did some incredibly good things. I thought the “No Nukes” movement here at Madison Square Garden and that movement of mass people—there hasn’t been a nuclear power plant built since. That’s got to stand for something. And you look at Fukushima, and you know damn well that it’s all going on. You know damn well that they’re pouring irradiated water in the fucking ocean by the millions of gallon every fucking day. You know that you’re never going to find out what really happened. You know that the powers that be are going to stop the real news from coming out, period. But it doesn’t stop the poisoning.
EA: Do you think “No Nukes” is the highlight of your political involvement?
GN: Not at all.
EA: Is there one?
GN: I think the highlight is that I was able to move people’s hearts and minds a little throughout my life.
EA: I was just talking about the political side.
GN: I think this climate change series of concerts we’re going to put on is going to be bigger than anything.
EA: Oh really?
GN: I do. Because, you know, with the “No Nukes” concerts, you didn’t see 300,000 people in the fucking street like you did a couple months ago here in New York and in every major city throughout the world.
EA: I went to the “No Nukes” shows. I missed Yom Kippur. My parents are still angry about that. And I blame my friend Danny Goldberg [who helped put the show on and produced the film] for it because he should’ve known.
GN: I love Danny. What’s going on with Danny now?
EA: We went to the Allman Brothers final show two nights ago.
GN: Oh, yeah? When they played until 4 in the morning?
EA: But they played three sets. It was magnificent. It was really sad because those two guitarists are as good as—I mean, you had a couple good guitarists in your band, too. But Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks—Have you ever seen them?
GN: I have.
EA: Derek is amazing.
GN: You know what I want to do?
GN: I own Duane Allman’s guitar that he played “Layla” on.
EA: Oh really? I thought Derek was playing that the other night. You own it? I guess I heard wrong.
GN: You did.
GN: And what I would like to do is get them back to the Beacon for one more show for a charity show, maybe later next year, and have either Derek or the other guy play Duane’s guitar and auction it off for a fucking fortune to be split between whatever I want and Gregg Allman—
EA: And get Derek—
GN: Yeah. And do “Layla” and let them play as a finale. I mean, come on. I’ve already seen the fucking show in my head. Get the fuck out of my way.
EA: Anyway, let’s slide over a little bit to music. I’ve always felt that, in addition to writing wonderful songs and having a beautiful voice, etcetera, there would be no band without you because you’re the glue of the band. They’re always fighting and being crazy and you’re like the mother and the father in the band.
GN: It’s the music. I want it. I’m a selfish motherfucker. I’ve heard that music. I’ve heard it be great.
EA: No, but when they were going crazy, you were not going crazy.
GN: That’s right. I’d already been crazy.
EA: When was that?
GN: Don’t forget I did seven years with the fucking Hollies. I’d already been through the screaming girls and—
EA: But the Hollies were never anywhere as big as what you were dealing with.
GN: Of course not, but the physics of it—playing so that you can’t be heard because of the screaming fans, people tearing your clothes off—I’d been through all that. Who gives a fuck about Woodstock? Half a million people? Fine, bring them on. I’d already been through it. I’d already been through it enough times.
EA: So they were going through it the first time? Because they’d been in Buffalo Springfield. And David Crosby was in the Byrds.
GN: It wasn’t quite the same.
EA: So you think the fact that you had experienced with the Hollies what they hadn’t experienced—
GN: Here’s what’s basically going on. When you fucking grow up in a country where you don’t know whether your fucking house is going to be there tonight or your friends are going to be alive like happened to me at the end of World War II, it gives you a certain perspective. Everything else is fucking meaningless. The fact that your coffee is only two degrees and you bark at somebody and you make them feel pissed off all day when they tried to give you a fucking coffee and you barked at them because it wasn’t the right temperature? Meaningless. Gives you a certain perspective on the world. I want to get the job done. You can’t be great like this and not expect me to expect that every single fucking show. Let’s get the job done. That’s what we’re going to do. Let’s do it to the best of our ability.
EA: Did you guys, given all the drugs and the women and the money, did you guys always manage to get the job done, do you think? Or were there times when it didn’t happen?
GN: No, there were times when it didn’t happen. And unfortunately one of those times was on the live TV thing that we did when David was at one of his lowest points, and I had to, as one of the directors, not cut to his face because it looked awful. It looked like Dracula.
EA: What period was this?
EA: Because I remember feeling sad about you guys seeing that Live Aid show. And seeing you again I flashed back. I thought, “Wow, this is a completely different thing.”
GN: These guys—I never had brothers, so I don’t know that competitive, you know, “I’m older than you so do what I say,” you know, bully-ish thing. I don’t know that. But these guys are my brothers, and we fight. And we agree. And we’re great. And we’re fucking awful. And everything in between.
EA: But it sounds like all three of these guys are really difficult and you’re not difficult.
GN: I wanted to get the job done.
EA: By the way, when I got the galleys of the book two years, I really loved it. It’s an incredible story, and it’s very well told. So let’s roll back the clock.
EA: So you met David and Stephen Stills at Mama Cass or at Joni Mitchell’s?
GN: Only David first.
EA: And when you were living with Joni, were you guys already together as a band?
EA: Okay, so tell me about Joni.
GN: And I wasn’t living with Joni at that point. She was just a girlfriend of mine that I’d met in Canada and I loved her instantly.
EA: Alright, tell us about Joni Mitchell. I’m teaching her this semester, by the way, in my English class.
GN: Is that right?
EA: Well, it’s three poets: Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Joni.
EA: And I saw in an interview recently that Joni said, “The only people I would compare myself to are Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.” Isn’t that funny?
GN: And she’s right. I think that in a hundred years time, if anyone’s looking back at these ’60s that didn’t finish until ’74 when Nixon fucking got out of here, I think the only people they’re going to remember are Bob and John and Paul and Joni. I’m not even sure I would put Leonard in there.
EA: I would. And Bruce Springsteen, of course. But anyway, tell us about Joni.
GN: An unbelievably simple, complicated woman. Dedicated to the muse of music. Dedicated to the art form of painting with words. Makes a great cheese sandwich.
EA: Where were you? Were you still in the Hollies when you met here, or had you left the Hollies?
GN: I was still in the Hollies.
EA: So tell us about meeting Joni and falling in love.
GN: Okay: Ottawa, 1967. The Hollies are playing a show. There’s a schmooze afterwards when you’ve got a glass of cheap wine in a plastic glass and you’re trying to remember the name of the fucking promoter’s wife. Same shit that you go through. Our manager comes in. He’s talking in my ear, and I think he’s telling me about, you know, you got to meet this guy over here, and he’s talking to me and talking to me. And I said, “Shut the fuck up. I’m trying to catch the eye of this beautiful fucking woman in the corner. Fuck off.” And he said, “Well, if you’d only listen to what-the-fuck I’m saying, I’m telling you that her name is Joni Mitchell, and David Crosby has told her about you. And she wants to meet you. How does that sound?” And I said, “I’m sorry. I should’ve been listening to you.” Anyway, so I go over to this beautiful woman, and she’s in a pale gray satin dress, short skirt. And on her knee is a giant Bible. And that’s enticing.
Anyway, and she’s utterly beautiful, of course. So I go over, and I introduce myself. And I said, “We have a mutual friend, David Crosby.” And she said, “Yeah, David’s told me about you, that if I ever cross paths that we should meet.” We bullshit for a while. We laugh about—It’s actually a music box that’s on her knee, and one of the notes is missing, and it keeps doing [mimics noise]. And we start laughing about that. And I’m in love immediately, right? So she was playing in Ottawa and staying in a hotel called the Chateau Laurier. Nice classic old hotel. And she takes me home to the hotel. And she plays me probably fifteen of the most amazing songs I’d ever heard in my life at that point. Everything from her first album and some new things, too. And I’m gone. I’m fucking history. I love this woman to death. I want to be with this woman. The next day the Hollies were going to Winnipeg, and we had an early flight. So I put in an early alarm with the fucking phone, and in my stupidity and my desire for this woman, I forget to put the phone back on the thing correctly, and I never got the wake-up call. So now we wake up late. The Hollies were gone. I have no idea where the fuck they’re going. I have no idea how to get there, you know? I’m English. Do I go to the airport and get a ticket to Winnipeg? Where’s Winnipeg? I was fucked, you know. So anyway, Joni was kind enough to come with me. And I loved her ever since.
In early ’68, in December of ’68, I leave the Hollies on December 8th, and December the 10th, I’m at David’s house in Laurel Canyon—Beverly Glen, rather. David is throwing a party, as he usually does. There are lots of beautiful women all over the place. Lots of drugs and stuff. And Joni’s there. I wasn’t feeling that great. I’d had jet lag and a head cold and stuff. So, she invited me back to her house in Laurel Canyon, and I never left for two years.
EA: And there was a very interesting article about Joni because there’s a new book published of interviews with her.
GN: Oh really?
EA: Yeah, and she’s been written about a bit.
GN: Oh by that lady?
EA: Yeah, and there’s a good article in The Guardian this week about her, actually, which actually agrees with you that Joni is as high on the pantheon as anyone.
EA: And it says that she said that she—that you two couldn’t be together because she didn’t want to be a wife and a housewife, that the music was too important to her. Is that consistent with your memory?
GN: And the sad thing is, I never asked her to be a wife. I never asked her to give up anything. How the fuck can you ask Joni Mitchell to give up anything? Are you kidding me? I never did that. What happened is that I’d just gotten divorced from my first wife. It was an ugly affair. I was hesitant to commit again, even though I would’ve lived with her for the rest of my life. I was just questioning my own ability to give up all my bad feelings about my past and move forward. And when you combine that with the fact that Joan didn’t want to be a wife, even though she would’ve married me and I would’ve married her in a second, that she didn’t want to be a wife that cooked meals and waited for her husband to come home from the studio—and unfortunately it faded away.
EA: That’s hard.
GN: But I love her to this day.
EA: You still talk to her?
GN: I contacted Joan about two weeks ago.
EA: People worry about her because you hear weird reports and you know—
GN: Well, that’s because she’s loved. For the last four or five years, she’s had this strange disease where she feels that there are things under her skin. But she’s coming out of it. She hasn’t written a song in a while. She hasn’t painted in a while. But she’s getting back to it. In the back of my book, I say, “This is the way I remember it, all the previous however many pages it was.” And we all have our truths. Now David and Stephen and I completely disagree about the very first time we ever sang together.
GN: And me and David know what it was exactly. And I asked Joni, I said, “What is your remembrance of that night?” And I had come from London to Los Angeles to be with Joan. I get to the parking lot in front of her house in Laurel Canyon, and there’s obviously merriment going on and there’s obviously other people there. And I’m kind of pissed because I just wanted to be with Joni. But it happened to be David and Stephen. And that’s when we sang together for the first time, “You Don’t Have to Cry,” that was written by Stephen. So I asked Joan, I said, “What was your memory of that night?” And she said, “Well, you know we had dinner. You guys smoked a big one. And David asked Stephen to play you this tune, and you asked him to do it again, and you asked him to do it a third time. And by the third time you had your harmony down, and everybody gasped.” And that’s exactly what happened.
EA: Yeah. That’s how you tell it. Then you guys recorded the first album in Sag Harbor? Or you rehearsed it?
GN: No. We rehearsed the first in Sag—
EA: How did you end up in Sag Harbor?
GN: Because of John Sebastian. John Sebastian—
EA: Where in Sag Harbor were you? Do you remember?
GN: I don’t. It was on a lake. And it was like a timber house, and it had a lot of great firewood outside because there was snow on the ground. But it was gotten for us by John Sebastian. And I’d really like to ask John where it was, you know, because I’d like to go back to that house. I think that’d be a fun thing to do. Is there only one lake in Sag Harbor?
EA: There’s really only one big lake, I think.
GN: I’d like to find out what it was. I wonder if John remembers.
EA: So you rehearsed in the house?
EA: And when you guys made that album, were there any albums in your mind that were anything like it?
EA: You thought it was something new?
GN: Brand new.
EA: So that must have been inspiring and scary?
GN: We knew what we had. We were full of piss and vinegar. We had the songs. We had the harmony blend. We had the musicianship. We had the personalities. We knew what the fuck we were doing. We knew that in this—at the time there was a lot of pre-heavy metal, there was a lot of Led Zeppelin, there were Jimi Hendrixes with big amps, big sound. And we knew that we made this kind of acoustic-y kind of album, even though there’s some good rock and roll on there. And we knew that people would love it.
EA: You knew it?
GN: We knew it. Especially when Stephen played “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” to open the fucking album. I said who the fuck is going to take this album off after the first track? I said, not a fucking person in history.
EA: And then, tell me about your feelings—I know they were conflicted—about bringing Neil Young into the band.
GN: Well, I didn’t want to disturb what we’d already created. I mean, why? We had a great vocal blend. We knew how to write. We knew how to sing. We knew how to play. Well, the problem was that on that first record Stephen played almost every instrument apart from drums. Me and David played rhythm guitar on our stuff, on “Long Time Gone” and “Lady of the Island” and “Marrakesh Express,” but Stephen played lead guitar. He played some rhythm guitar. He played bass. He played piano. He played B3. So when you know that you’ve made a hit record, you know you’re going to have to go out and tour. What the fuck are you going to do? He can’t play it all? You need to get a band, right? And you need input, and you need help, right? David and Stephen were having a dinner here in New York with [Atlantic Records co-founder] Ahmet Ertegün, and the problem came up: What the fuck are we going to do when we go live on the road? I wasn’t there. I was in Los Angeles with Joan. And Ahmet said, “Yeah, you got to get Neil, man.” And Stephen said, “Are you fucking kidding me? I just did two years with this maniac, you know? He left the band twice. He left us in the lurch a lot. You want met to go back there?”
EA: So it was the mercurialness of Neil that—
GN: It was more than that. It was what Ahmet perceived to be the musical advantage of adding someone to our sound that would add an edge and maybe—darken us is not quite the right word.
EA: Well, there’s certainly a harshness to his sound, his guitar that wasn’t there before.
GN: Right. Don’t forget CSN never did a solo concert until 1977.
EA: Really? So Woodstock really was the first time you played in front of people?
GN: Second. The second time.
EA: And so Neil played with you the first time, too, then? I didn’t realize that.
GN: Yeah. And Joni opened for us in Chicago at the Auditorium Theatre on August—I think it was just before David’s birthday, like the 13th of August. The second gig was Woodstock with all four of us. And a lot of people don’t know that Neil was at Woodstock because he told everybody, “You have one fucking frame of me on the movie, and you’re dead.”
EA: Right. But “Sea of Madness,” wasn’t that on the album? I feel like I’ve had that.
GN: It was.
EA: Alright, so tell us a little bit about the dynamics of the band with everybody in it then.
GN: I think Crosby put it best. He said CSNY was like juggling four bottles of nitroglycerin. And everything’s fine as long as they’re all in the air. But drop one? Boom. I think that’s the best description of CSNY I’ve ever heard. Because he’s right. It’s volatile. It’s unexpected. It makes left turns every fucking second. We are great. We are shitty. We are real. That’s one of the things our audiences love about us: we’re fucking four human beings up there with weaknesses and strengths, and we’re them. And they know it.
EA: One has the impression that, of all the excesses—there’s a period, which I find kind of curious, where you decided you were going to be, I think you said, even more excessive than David, which I can’t imagine what that could mean. I mean, David makes Keith Richards look like a nun.
GN: That’s right. But I tried to—
EA: Weren’t you putting your life in danger?
GN: I never thought I—I never even thought David put his life in danger.
GN: I never thought he would die. I never thought. You know, you’ve got to understand this fucker’s a Leo. He’s supposed to have nine lives, right? But he’s already on his fifteenth. You know, so if hasn’t killed himself yet, he’s never going to fucking die from a self-induced coma.
EA: Was he angry at you about the book? About all the detail, the two blowjobs, etc.?
EA: So, did you talk to him about it before you published and—
GN: I sent every one of them the galleys months before publication. I never heard a word back. So from that I take it that I have approval. And from that I have to figure out that maybe they never even read it. But, you know, to be angry with me a year later, that’s fucked.
EA: Well, he couldn’t have been that angry because he toured right away
GN: No, David’s angry with me right now.
EA: Right now, still?
GN: And it’s okay. Yeah.
EA: Well, it had to have been very embarrassing for him.
GN: You know, the truth is, there’s only one story that I told about David that’s not in any of his books or anyone that reads Rolling Stone or anyone that’s been—
EA: The one about two girls?
GN: Everything’s been in print before I put it in there.
EA: No, Neil mentioned the freebasing and stuff in his book, which came out before your book.
GN: Right. So a lot of that is gone. The only thing that legal at Crown and at Random House wanted to really know was true was my story of that David told me about him selling his Mercedes for crack and the dealer OD’ing and being dead in a bed and David breaking into his house and stealing his pink slip back and then reselling the fucking Mercedes for coke. That was the only one that they said, “Yeah, please. This story is so fucking wild. Make sure that this is true.” So I call David, and I go, “Remember when you told me this?” And he goes, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, it’s in the book.” He goes, “Yeah, well, so?” I said, “So, that’s okay?” He said, “Yeah, and you got to remember, I resold the car for coke.” So what am I going to do? Not put it in? I take that as tacit approval. And once again, to be angry at me after I sent him the galleys before publication and the fucking book’s been out a year and a half? What the fuck?
EA: So, one has the impression that Neil never really was in the band the way the rest of you guys were.
GN: No, he wasn’t
EA: And how did—that must have made you kind of resentful, or everyone kind of resentful?
GN: No. Not really. Because we always knew who Neil was.
EA: Can you describe that?
GN: Neil is a complete individual. And let me tell you a quick aside. We’ll give you a good example of who Neil is. We all loved A Hard Day’s Night. Neil didn’t watch A Hard Day’s Night. He watched Don’t Look Back.
GN: That tells you a lot right there. Neil has always been a very strong individual. Once again, as I talked about with Joni, he’s a complete slave to the muse of music. He wants it real: “Did you believe it? Was your heart pounding when you sang that? That’s what I want.” And I agree with him. And he also likes to get you as close to the frame as possible, in terms of a technical sense of the highest res possible. I mean, I had already, on this ’74 box set, I was twelve tracks into it at 98, right? [Mimics Neil on phone] “Hey, well are we using the highest res?” “Well, not quite, Neil, because some of the software that we’re using can’t handle the bigger files when you go to 190. You know, the files get bigger. It’s longer, and it takes longer to load, and the software can’t handle it.” “Hey, man, we need to do it at 190, 24-whatever.” “Okay.” Out of respect for Neil, I threw those twelve out. That was three months work right there. I didn’t give a shit.
EA: And that’s probably happened in a lot of ways, a lot of times.
GN: That’s right. And when someone’s right, they’re right. And I’ll admit it and deal with it. When they’re wrong, I’ll tell them.
EA: One thing I’ve always felt about the band is that Stephen doesn’t get—I mean, in Stephen’s mind I think he probably does. But in the rest of the world, he doesn’t get the credit for being the guitarist that he is. People don’t talk about Stephen Stills the way they talk about Eric Clapton—
GN: And they should—
EA: Or even Neil. And he’s great. Do you think he’s as great as—do you think he’s at his best with Neil?
GN: He goes to a different place with Neil. He goes to a more conversational place with Neil. He goes to a more call-and-response place with Neil. When he’s in our band, he’s singing Stephen Stills’ melodies on his guitar. When he’s with Neil, he’s got to listen to what-the-fuck Neil’s playing and he’s got to answer. Or he’s got to join him when they hit a certain melody, and now they’ve got harmony going. I’ve stood—You know how many times I’ve stood in the middle of these fuckers playing guitar. It’s been an insanity for me. I love it to death. Some of those conversations that they had were fucking amazing to me. I mean, I’m a good musician, but I’m not anywhere close to either of those three partners in terms of my ability. I can play simple chords. I can write my songs. I’m fine. But I’m not anywhere close to them, and to be able to stand in the middle of that shit night after night after night and hear what they talk about between themselves musically was a thrill for me. You got to understand that they’re on another planet.
EA: Yeah, I know. But I think because of the harmonies and because Neil is Neil that your guys’s musicianship is somewhat undersold.
GN: Maybe so. And so what?
EA: No, I’m just saying. I mean because the ’74 box is out, and your legacy is something now that’s looming.
GN: That’s why I did it. I did it for history. I didn’t do it for Stephen, David, Me or Neil. I wanted everyone to shine. I did this for fucking history. I wanted fans of CSNY to realize we were a great fucking band.
EA: Given what one hears about that tour, was it hard to pull this box set out?
GN: Well, that’s why it took me four years. But I knew it was there. I knew. What happened was this. The last show was at Wembley Stadium in London. I went with Neil in his old Rolls Royce in London called Wembley, and we toured Europe for a little. When we finally got back to America and we reconvened, we watched the Wembley show. And we thought it was awful. We thought we were too coked out of our minds. We played too fast. It was like whatever, right? So we kind of nixed the idea. And we recorded, I think, nine shows multitrack, so we knew that we were going to make an album, but when we got back and saw the Wembley show, we thought, “Fuck, it’s awful.” And the idea collapsed. But I always knew that we had played brilliantly sometimes. And if I only did my excavation. The biggest technical problem was that the nine multitracks were done in different places, different sizes, indoors, outdoors, different echoes, different ambiences. And the technical achievement to try and put you on the twelfth row in the middle and think that you were in one place was the most technically difficult thing I did.
EA: You told me earlier that when you were recording Crosby, Stills & Nash, you didn’t think there was anybody like you. Is there—do you feel like you have—do you feel like people are doing anything comparable? Are there people out there you feel a sense kinship with musically, artistically?
GN: The truth is, for the last ten years, I’ve been knee-deep in CSNY music. And it goes like this, when Atlantic paid us a million dollars for that first record, they own it. When they gave us a million for Déjà Vu, they own it. No problem. All the albums that we delivered, they own. They paid us. They made a lot of money. God bless you, right? But I’ve been recording us for the last forty years. Warner Brothers and Rhino tried to claim ownership of all those recordings. I looked at the contract and realized that all they owned was the masters that we delivered and that were paid for. It mentioned no private recordings, no bla bla bla bla bla. So our managers, Cree and Buddha, who have managed Jackson for forty years, went to—not war—but they took it on themselves to sort it out. And we sorted it out, and they finally relinquished ownership of any of that stuff. My point is that I’ve been involved in CSNY music for that last ten years. Now, then, I realize that stuff, cream rises to the top, and good stuff will always find its way to me. A friend goes, “Hey, you got to listen to this Jason Mraz thing. Hey, you got to listen to this.” So I do get other music, of course, but I don’t listen to other people’s music, frankly.
EA: That’s fascinating. Because when I saw you guys at the Garden with Jackson, I felt like you could’ve been in the same band that whole time, like you worked so well.
GN: Yeah. I love Jackson. I’ll work with him any time he wants.
EA: His last album. I mean, I saw him two nights. I went back the second night because it was so good the first night and the album was very good, too. He’s got a great band with him right now.
GN: “Standing in the Breach,” man. You got to love him. He’s a dedicated musician. He’s somebody I respect, probably most of anybody in this business.
EA: What about your artwork, your photography, what’s—do you see it as a continuum with your music?
GN: Of course. It’s not different. It’s just energy. Where do I want to fucking plug in today? It’s just this column of energy. Where do you want to plug in: Music? Photography? Painting? Collecting? Sculpting? Linocuts? Where do I want to fucking go? I never had one of, you know—
EA: Yeah, but in one of them you’re like a professional. And another one you’re not. And it’s got to be more. I mean, I am taking guitar lessons now, and I’m terrible, and it’s frustrating. It’s not fun. It’s hard.
GN: You’ll get better.
EA: It’s work. Whereas if I were great, it would be fun.
GN: No. You don’t get great until you go through the bleeding fingers.
EA: I understand, but what I’m saying is it’s something very different. For you to be a musician is something very different than for you to start out painting for fun.
GN: No it’s not.
EA: That’s what I’m asking.
GN: No, it’s just me shooting off my mouth.
EA: But you have a whole different vocabulary at your hands.
GN: That’s what comes out of my mouth. I can speak several languages.
EA: Okay. Well, I wanted to ask you about other artists, but if you don’t listen to other music that would be pointless.
GN: Well, you can talk about them. I’ll tell you if I listen to them.
EA: Well, I always ask people about Bruce—
GN: How can you not like—you got to listen to Bruce. Of course. He’s somebody I admire a great deal.
EA: So, did you meet him for the first time at “No Nukes” or before that?
GN: No, that was the first time I met him, yeah.
EA: Okay, so Bruce then and like now-Bruce, Mr. America? Is that? Did that arc surprise you?
GN: He had the energy. I was very depressed, and then I went to see the Born in the USA Tour at, I think it was some outdoor gig. And I was standing on the side of the stage watching the entire show, and he revitalized me to no end. When I saw the energy that he put into his show and the commitment and the dedication to music, I said “Fuck, okay. I’m coming off my fucked trip, and I’m getting back into it big-time.”
EA: Well, isn’t that nice. Yeah. I guess, the other person I wanted to ask you about is Jerry Garcia. You worked with Jerry, and he seems like a kind of Buddha-like figure.
GN: Very much so. A very, very smart man with a great big heart. Very, very bright. Great musician, too.
EA: Did the Dead influence you guys at all?
GN: Not really. This is probably sacrilege, but I never thought that the Dead swung at all. I admire their musicianship, but I couldn’t find the groove in a lot of their stuff. I know they’re great players, and I know that they’ve got great big hearts and they love their fans and all that stuff. But I could never find the fucking heartbeat in it all.
EA: Have somebody get you “Help on the Way” into “Slipknot!” into “Franklin’s Tower,” which they always play that way. And see if that works. That’s the Dead swinging. If that doesn’t swing, it doesn’t swing.
EA: So, this will be my last question: What influences do you carry around with you, you think?
GN: I try and wake up every morning to absolute beauty. And the first thing that hits my eye when I open my eyes in my house is a mother-of-pearl nautilus shell that I’ve had for years. And it’s absolute fucking perfection. And I start my day looking at that and realizing that I have to get on with it. That I have to create every single day or else I can’t fucking sleep. And I’m not a great sleeper anyway. When everyone’s brain starts to kind of quieten down, that’s when mine wakes up and I’m trying to figure out this line to that piece of melody and that thing and da da da and that thing I’m rehearsing for the interview tomorrow and oh fuck I remember. That’s when I wake up. So my point is, I don’t sleep very well. But I need to constantly encourage the universe to show me great beauty and really weird shit in my life. And it happens constantly.
EA: Well, you’re a lucky man.
GN: Yes, I am. And I know it. And I’m very grateful.
EA: Well, I’m grateful to you for, first of all for your music, but also for keeping that band together for all of that music.
GN: I’m the glue that keeps me together. And I’m doing a very bad job of that sometimes.
EA: Okay, well, thank you very much.
GN: You’re welcome, Eric. Thank you.