Interview. Graham Nash has been making music and touring the world for almost 60 years, and he’s not planning to stop. We spoke with him about music, politics and aliens.

Graham Nash: ‘I still believe music can change the world’

It’s 75 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun is out in New York on the day Graham Nash answers his phone from his Manhattan Beach home. It’s been some years since he left Hawaii and California, where he had lived for decades with his wife and three children. Then, after 35 years of marriage, divorce came, and he began a new relationship with photographer Amy Grantham. One of her photographs is on the cover of This Path Tonight, his 2016 album, and another is on the cover of his new anthology Over The Years.

If one looks at them side by side, the two covers could not be more symbolic. The first one shows Nash from behind, all muffled up, walking through a patch of woods near Woodstock: an elderly man in the middle of a dark forest. The second shows a child with binoculars, gazing at a striking landscape of mountains, lakes and clouds—a rebirth, as one might call it: a new love, a new city, a new life and a new tour, which will take him to Italy as well: on June 30 in Val di Fassa (TN) for the I suoni delle Dolomiti festival (Sounds of the Dolomites), on July 1 in Recanati (MC), on July 2 at the Casa del Jazz in Rome, on July 4 at the Pistoia Blues Festival and on July 5 at the Villa Arconati in Milan.

After a career spanning almost 60 years, his inexhaustible passion for music is something astounding, starting with the fact that he is still going on tour and giving interviews. His explanation is straightforward: “My secret is that I am a human being with feelings who wants to express them through art, and for me this mainly means music.”

The anthology Over the Years includes tracks from his whole discography, both with Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and as a solo act, from his magnificent album Songs For Beginners (“Military Madness,” “Simple Man,” “Better Days,” “I Used To Be King”) up until his latest album This Path Tonight, from which we find the song “Myself At Last,” a sort of musical manifesto of the late Nash in light of the recent events in his personal life.

It also includes, of course, songs from the albums he did together with David Crosby, to whom Nash devotes many heartfelt pages in his autobiography Wild Tales, which goes into everything from sexual exploits to acts of generosity and the devastating effects of drug addiction, but above all the magic of their musical collaboration: “I have a north of England voice, very simple and uncomplicated, perhaps with greater range than [Crosby’s],” Nash writes, “which makes our voices a little like oil and vinegar. That combination is not supposed to work, but, you know, if you shake it up, you get great vinaigrette.”

How did you select the songs for your new anthology Over The Years?

I realized that even though I wrote most of our singles, there was no greatest hits album of my songs. So I’ve put together 15 of my most successful songs, to which I added 15 demo versions that the public will find fascinating.

Wild Tales is a gripping read, which keeps the promise it makes in the title, unlike the autobiographies of some of your fellow musicians. I confess that I haven’t been able to finish Neil Young’s.

Me neither.

How did you decide it was time to put pen to paper about your life?

I realized that my children know who I am, as they have accompanied me around the world during my tours, but my grandchildren don’t know anything about me. The oldest is only 6 years old. Thanks to this book, perhaps they will understand who their grandfather is. I rarely think of the past, because there is very little one can do to change it. I’m much more interested in the concert I will play tomorrow, or the song I’m writing right now—I still have a great passion for music. I’m coming to Italy with my guitarist Shane Fontayne and keyboardist Todd Caldwell, and some of the songs we’ll be playing were written 50 years ago. It will be a nice, intimate evening.

In Chicago you sang, “We can change the world, rearrange the world.” Do you still believe this?

Yes, I still believe music can change the world. I am convinced that even the smallest gesture could do it. I think music can make us think of things that would otherwise go unnoticed in everyday life. Musicians must do two things: speak the truth as much as possible, and think about the times we are living in—especially now with the Trump administration in the US, very similar to the Nixon years and Watergate. But I am certain that this great country, of which I’ve been a citizen for over 30 years, deserves better than Donald Trump, and personally I can’t wait for him to go away. I still have a great desire to say what I think, and in the United States I can do that. Of course, people have the right not to listen to me; and I don’t have answers to give, but I certainly have many questions.

One thing that is striking in your book is the fluidity of the romantic relationships. Today, sexual mores have become more restrictive.

The Trump administration is turning back the clock 50 years on the condition of women. Women have the right to do what they want with their own bodies.

As an expat, what do you think about the situation in the UK?

I have to confess I’m not very interested in the political situation in Europe, because I’ve been living in the US for about 50 years. I don’t think it’s a smart move to abandon the European Union. I never liked borders, flags, states. We live on the same planet and we’re one and the same people. The sooner we realize this, the better.

Do you listen to a lot of new music?

Since we got back ownership of our catalog after the dispute with Warner Music, I’ve had access to the archives of 45 years of work, which is why I haven’t been listening to a lot of new music recently. But if there’s something good going around, it always ends up in my computer. For example, “This is America” by Childish Gambino: a great song and a great video!

Perhaps the most recurring notion in your book is harmony, even more than all the sex and drugs. How would you describe to an alien what harmony is?

Wow! That’s a question nobody has asked me before. If an alien manages to get to Earth, they must have very sophisticated technology, and I’d imagine music would be part of their knowledge. If David, Stephen and I had sung three-part harmonies to an alien, I’m sure the alien would have liked it!

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