PUBLICATIONS > Articles > 1970s > Return of the Manchester mind wrestler
Return of the Manchester mind wrestler
April 20, 1974
Considering the wastage rate in the higher echelons of rock ‘n’ roll, it’s not difficult to accept as the norm a situation in which an averagely healthy musician can be suddenly and eerily transformed into a rakish, semi-demised being — usually with the help of a little white powder and the banzai trek from, one town to the next.
Even so, the photograph of Graham Nash that Rolling Stone carried a few weeks ago took more than a little getting used to. What the hell had Nash been up to since he cut “Better Days” and “We Can Change The World”?
The face looked like it had been dredged round-the-clock for all signs of living tissue; the arms and body were just hanging there in a benign state of barely-conscious repose. Who was this guy?
Wasn’t Nash supposed to be the sensible kid from Manchester who wrote sensibly beautiful Songs like “Marrakesh Express” and “Our House” and had a talent for projecting an unfuzzy brand of Northern calm suitable for straightening out enraged warhorses like Crosby, Stills and Young?
And if our Graham has caught fire, what hope is there for the New Jerusalem? Come to think of it, what hope is there for the reactivation of Marin County’s own Fab Four ?
STILLS HAD told NME (march 16) that it was definitely on, starting with a concert in Tampa, Florida, July 4. And although Nash had a marginally different story to tell in London last week, he was just as positive as Stills.
Twelve concerts are already vaguely arranged, he says — only now the starting date has been shifted forward to June 29 and the opening locale has moved west to Phoenix, Arizona.
At this point it must be stated that Nash, in person, is not the wasted wreck so adamantly portrayed in Rolling Stone. True, there’s hardly a ripple of flesh to spare anywhere, but it truns out that the quasi mortified look had little to do with Nash and a lot to do with the photographer’s use of lights an his eager straight-up-the-nose sense of direction.
Nash says he actually feeling strong and wonders how he looks.
“I feel excellent. . .don’t I look it ?!”
“No, I meant that seriously. You can tell when some people are wasted or they’re down.”
Well, be honest I saw that photograph in Rolling Stone and you looked kind of…
“Let me tell you what happened man, It was the worst, man…”
He jabs the tape recorder shut to cut out the bad words and tells the whole thing into photographer Pennie Smith’s ear, returning with “. . . so I feel excellent. I’ve gotten a lot out of me this last year and I’ve come a long way from where I used to be.”
NASH, BY ALL appearances, has just completed another approximately infinite revolution of his style of doing things. There’s the move to a house on the edge of Haight Ashbury with all those Return To The Beginning connotations; a reunion with former clubmate and dancing partner Joni Mitchell (strictly aesthetic): and a strengthened bond with Hollie Allan Clarke.
Then, of course, there’s the re-cycling of CSNY — an enterprise that promises to be the season’s most precarious, next to Dylan’s farewell/comeback/rebirth American tour.
Nash senses all kinds of expectations in people’s minds and can guess at the kind of elaborate inventions that’ll be going on as to the band’s motives for getting back together.
The correct answer, he says, is that all four of them have gone through a period of intense ego-kill, personal, maturation and so on; and no, they’re not likely to be doing all the old material again since each Initial has been constantly writing; especially Neil Young, who Nash personally witnessed compiling seven songs in the space of two days.
“And they’ve all been monsters, man. I can’t believe how much Neil writes.
“We’d been meaning to get together before but for some reason it just never happened. Whether it was the four of us doing individual trips that wouldn’t finish in time for the four of us to get together, I don’t know. But we’ve always known we have this beautiful music we could make – if we could ever get ourselves together in our heads.
“What happened this year is that the same sort of changes I’ve been going through, the others had been going through too, and now some of the ego conflicts that slopped the music before aren’t going down anymore.
“There are subtle versions of them but they’re much more controllable now, and I think we all realise that the most important thing is the music. We always did, but we always somehow got sucked into the other side of things, management and that whole bit.”
We’re at a low-lying hideaway-hotel in Kensington, called Blakes, staffed by inconspicuous Nordic women. Nash’s room juts out onto a balcony with just enough space for a couple of overworked chairs. We’re lounging cross-legged in the centre of the room with his newly-acquired manager, a drawler homesteading type with receding yellow hair.
Nash says he’s known Leo MacKota for years but only just launched him into the corporate end of things. His new ladyfriend is flopped on the bed, observing the day’s media business and chatting with the record company’s Official Representative. It a refined afternoon all round, and Nash has declared open-house to all parts of his psychic whereabouts.
He’s been going through those Id-contracting West Coast changes, tapping and tapering and filing away at what he sees to be personality disorders. Like how he used to expect people to be what he expected people to be instead of having them be au naturale and “loving them through it.”
He’s pretty hard on himself — and applies the rigourous thumbscrews to his CSNY stablemates who’ve gone through a parallel psychic excursions Now they can all afford to relax and cut back on the mind wrestling for a while. The purge has worked its tricks and cleaned away most of those unsightly blemishes.
“We got together last summer. We tried a few things and it turned out interesting. But it wasn’t as exciting as we wanted. That is why we didn’t come out. And Neil and Stephen came to play on me and David’s concerts in San Francisco and in Denver’ and stuff. So we’ve all remained in musical contact with each other.
“Neil has 20 new songs, 20 fine new songs. Stephen has got some and I’ve got some and David has got some and now we’ve got enough to do it and make it really different.
“We can’t go out and do ‘Southern Man for 18 minutes — or ‘Our House’ again. We’ve got to go out and say something we mean now. Not what we meant then. And it’s gonna be difficult but I think we can pull it off ‘cos I’ve heard the new music and I’ve heard where we are now.”
They were just an Initial short of a full reunion when, prior to Nash’s departure for Britain, he and Crosb gathered together in L.A. with Levon Helm, Tim Drummond and Ben Keith at a session for Neil Young’s follow-up album to “Time- Fades Away’.
PRIORITIES FOR the current British visit are various promo activities plus an informal glance at the newest British raveoids and, in particular, a close-up examination of the curious baubled phenomena of Glitter and Stardust — a success story Nash finds so baffling that he keeps asking, “What’s all this Glitter business, then” and, “Is that really what’s happening here?”
Ever since he landed, people have been pleading, “When’re you guys going to play Britain?’. So this morning he called Los Angeles and passed on the word.
“Everyone is saying, ‘remember us over here?’ And I’m gonna have to take that message back.”
He was impressed to discover the Hollies were still putting together chart topping singles 10 years after their opening salvos, and that morning he had been trying to contact Allan Clarke.
“Allan came to Los Angeles to hang out recently when we were playing. It’s really strange. Allan and I are the same person in a lot of ways, but he’s the me that didn’t leave for the States, and I’m me that did. But our musical relationship has been going on ever since we were five years old, so he’s like a thermometer to me.
“I go and find out where he’s at and then I can sort of judge where I’m at. It was really interesting. When I met him in the States he was confused a little as to what he wanted to do, where he was going and about his acceptance. He’s a little insecure, I think.
“But it was interesting meeting because there’s no bullshit with me and Allan. We’ve known each other for 30 years almost, and how much bullshit can there be between people who’ve known each other that long,”
Nash still carries brittle memories of his last days with the Hollies and talks edgily about how the band shut out all his best ideas and turned down songs like’ “Lady Of The Island”, “Marrakesh Express” and “Right Between The Eyes”; how they finally slinked off into a laundered prinkishness and recorded that Best Of Dylan album that spiralled to the top of the British charts and confounded all reasonable assumptions on good taste.
“I gave it everything I could. I really tried to move that band in a direction I thought we should be going and with the ‘Evolution’ album we started going in a direction that was really neat. Then they got bombarded with commerciality and wanted to do the greatest rock ‘n’ roll hits of Bob Dylan and that was so awful.
“They made that record in white suits and everything. I just couldn’t do it.
“That, compounded with not wanting to do my tunes, which was my self-expression, and troubles with my old lady, made me just give the whole scene up. It was all feeling really bad.
“I think they were sorry to see me go, because I was a good energy in that band.”
ANOTHER SUBDUED voice from the past is LA songstress and bird on the wire Joni Mitchell, who showed up briefly for Nash’s latest album, “Wild Tales”, and, by coincidence, is over for concerts here in Britain.
Nash says he might or might not go to them depending on how convenient it all turns out.
“I like ‘Joan’s concerts,” he confirms. “She’s real good. Her new album’s real good and her music’s constantly evolving. She blows my mind with the way she constantly keeps growing.”
The romancing side of the partnership is all through, he says.
“The romance between us finished long ago and right now it took a couple of years before I could even be her friend because we both hurt each other a lot. But now we’re getting to be friends without either of us wondering whether we want it to get heavy. “She’s with somebody else. She’s with other people and so am I and she’s a friend of mine. That’s what’s happening.
It took me a long time to get to there, but past relationships are always a bit, you know.
Yeah. It’s kinda the same on a musical level, we discovered, and musicans like CSNY, the Beatles and Zimmerman can soar away into their private amped-up visions of multiple child-rearing and organic record farms, but when the time comes to put on another show for the people who’re you supposed to listen to?
Nash says if Dylan wants to sing about his wife having great tits and how the fish don’t bite no more instead of how we’re all gonna catch it in the end inside a big mushroom cloud, that suits him. Dylan owes nothing to nobody. The Beatles owe nothing to nobody and likewise CSNY.
“It’s strange, I personally can’t get into what the people are going to feel, and I’m sure it’s the same for the four Beatles.
“They probably don’t care what people think. The important thing is how they think and inter-react themselves. And once they’re together and people hear it they’re going to think whatever they’re going to think anyway.”
Sure. But that still doesn’t explain why heavy musical persons like yourselves should be chancing it the second time around if the audience is that close to being dispensible. I mean, if it’s all down to what Graham and Steve and Neil and David feel why don’t the four of you play for the goblins and your old ladies?
(But I never did ask him that one.)
Do you feel the Beatles have been kind of drifting since the split, and that if they did get together there would be a level of desperation involved, and couldn’t the same apply to yourselves. (That’s what I actually asked him.)
“What happens is you get four people, CSNY or the Beatles say. . .and I can’t equate CSNY with the Beatles because, frankly, I think the Beatles are the best rock ‘n’ roll band that ever existed when they were together and playing it.
Those early albums like Pepper, I mean, they were classic rock ‘n’ roll music you know and. . .what was the question. I’ve forgotten the question.”
Drifting and the like.
“Yeah. What happens is you have four people who are playing music but it doesn’t add up to four. It’s like one plus one plus one plus one equals 28, you know, because of the combination of the four. When you all separate and go your separate ways it’s only one of you and it’s only quarter as effective.
“I can see what you mean by drifting around doing solo albums and stuff. I think we’re stronger as a band. . I think CSNY is stronger than Neil is stronger than Stephen is stronger than David is stronger than me.”
And no-one’s going to pull that ego horseradish anymore, he says, because three years have already been wasted. And no more of that see-what-you-can-get-up-your-nose-in-a-single-night frolicking (well, not very much of it, anyway.)
‘I’ve been very private these last couple of years, just building a new start whatever it is. Sometimes you have to do that. You just have to do that. It just feels good to have a really solid base that isn’t crazy, where there aren’t a million people around, where there aren’t rock‘n’ rollers shoving coke up their noses till all hours in the morning.
There’s no freakout. It’s a very quiet, solid, substantial happening.”
He wasn’t quite ready for L.A.’s new, golfing fraternity, featuring Lennon, Nilsson, Alice and Johnny Mathis, although he plays a lot of ping pong and once went skin diving with David Crosby off the coast of Hawaii.
He’s not interested in the fat-boy guru or other alarming manifestations of the First Executive. In fact he’s content with his ping pong and cameras and linoleum art collages while Crosby sails off to Hawaii to keep away the crazies, Stills skis or shoots in Colorado and Neil Young writes songs. Neil Young is always writing songs.
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