PUBLICATIONS > Articles > 1970s > Wild Tales – Graham Nash
Graham Nash: Tales Behind ‘Wild Tales’
Author: Loraine Alterman
Journal: Rolling Stone
Date: March 28th 1974
NEW YORK – In the living room of a moss-green suite at the Plaza Hotel, Graham Nash sits at the piano with an harmonica braced around his neck, working on a new song that he can’t get out of his head. It’s a busman’s holiday for Graham who has come from his home in San Francisco to see old friend Joni Mitchell’s two New York concerts and visit a few art galleries.
Coincidentally, Stephen Stills was in New York for his own concert and Nash planned to stick around for that. Graham is getting his own band together for a major solo tour in April that includes a performance at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. Though Nash and David Crosby have been gigging around together, Graham feels ready now to do his own concerts. “I always dig singing with David,” Graham explained in his still very north-of-England accent. “There’s something about David’s music and about the man that I truly love and I will always sing with him. This time, however, the next tour I’m doing is going to be a Graham Nash tour. I need to take a step into who it is that I am or who it is that I’m going to be because ever since the Hollies and then Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, I’ve always been with a band. I never really knew whether they were coming to see me or the others. Recently I went out with my acoustic guitar totally alone and was able to move the people. It was thrilling for me to realize that, and it fills a space in me that has made me much more reasonable to deal with. I have a much calmer outlook on things because now I don’t have that insecurity.” And with the honesty that seems to be a Nash characteristic, he added: “The insecurity has probably moved to another area.”
Inevitably there was that question about whether CSNY will be getting together again. “The only thing that I can say,” Graham reported, “is that we’re still talking about it and at least we’re not killing each other. What broke CSNY up was totally stupid, infantile, ego problems. And what’ll bring it together is good music. A couple of times last year we tried it and it nearly worked. A couple of times that fuckin’ spark was there. ‘Oh boy! Here it is! I can feel it coming! Everybody playing together.’ And then it sort of fell apart a little because four people have different commitments …
“There was a time last summer when we had an album that was so good. We hadn’t been in the studio. We’d only rehearsed the tunes. But dig this – the last five minutes of sunlight in Hawaii at the end of the time the four of us were there together, I got a Hasselblad, stuck it in the sand, guessed the exposure, composed it and ran into the picture. That was the cover – fucking beautiful! When all those magic things around fall right into place, then you know what the music’s going to be like. The music is great. But it got dissipated, fractionated. It fell apart; it flew apart.”
Graham, whose blue eyes flashed with intensity when he spoke, sounded sorry about the failure. In fact, several of the songs on Wild Tales, his latest LP recorded in the 16-track studio he built in his house, were intended for the group’s album. He pointed out: “It was horrible knowing that you had 20 gigantically beautiful poems and no one wanted to publish them publish them. I wanted to communicate, so when it wasn’t happening with the other four, I went right down into my basement and made my album.”
Nowadays protesting the sorry state of society in songs isn’t necessarily a strong selling point. But as an artist Graham feels obligated to express things that perhaps his audience would like to say, but can’t. On Wild Tales, “Oh! Camil (The Winter Soldier)” tells the story of Scott Camil, an American gung-ho soldier, a Vietnam War hero, who eventually became a leader in the Vietnam Vets Against the War. Graham had done a benefit in Detroit for the VVAW which raised money to make the film “Winter Soldier,” in which Graham saw the story of Scott Camil.
“Prison Song,” Graham said, “could only have been in a minor key so I bought a C-minor harmonica and just started playing. That’s how it started, and then I had the first verse about my father who went to jail for a bullshit reason way back in England. He bought a camera from a friend of his at work and used it for amateur photography to take zoo shots – giraffes and all that. The police came to where he worked and said, ‘We know the camera’s been stolen. Who sold it to you?’ My father said, ‘I’m not going to tell you’ and so he went to jail for a year for a $50 camera.
“Now to a man who is totally straight from the north of England, a man who’s worked hard all of his life to bring up his kids, it killed him. Literally – he died. He couldn’t live with himself, with the fact that maybe the neighbors would be looking at him weird. His honor and dignity would have been broken. What I know now when I see fucking Agnew, who you could buy for $5000, the vice president of the US, and my father fucking died because some bullshit judge tried to make an example of him. That was the first verse and I wrote that four years ago and I couldn’t finish the rest of the song. I had no data or information for the second half until a friend was busted for dope and that gave me the rest of it.”
Often Nash’s songs contain sharp visual images and he calls himself a “seeer” who expresses what he observes in photography and drawing as well as songs. The involvement in making a print and writing a song is the same to him. “If you’re working on a print, spending three hours on it, nothing else exists except the image that you’re working with,” he pointed out. “It’s the same with a song. I’m writing a song about my mother now and there’s nothing else in my head except my mother. Mothers are the best people in the world sometimes and sometimes they’re not. There’s the pain of trying to communicate and realizing that I live in a totally different world than she does.”
Graham’s mother, who rarely leaves her native Manchester, had just spent three months with Graham in San Francisco. “My mother was saying, ‘You’re always talking about the government. You’re always talking about Nixon. You’re always the first to the TV to turn the news on.’ She doesn’t understand that. She says that I can’t change anything.
“And,” he emphasized, “that was my main theme – I was trying to explain to her that it didn’t really matter if I could change anything. I’m changing it in me. That’s where it all starts from – changes in me. If anybody else wants to get changed by it, that’s up to them.”
Next to a vase of red roses on the piano was a sheet of paper with “Broken Rose” written on it. Graham smiled when asked what it meant. He explained: “It’s a note for myself. Just before I came to New York I had a monster fight with David Crosby – a musical fight, a musical question. I mean we fight all the time. If you love someone, how can you not fight with them occasionally and it was nothing important, nothing that would stop our musical relationship. But it got me pissed at him and I had been going through these changes for about a week since this argument went down. I sat at the piano yesterday just spacing out, playing a little melody, thinking about it. It’s like you go into it. You just put yourself into a place where it comes in. I mean I swear to God it’s not me that’s writing them sometimes because sometimes I can’t remember after it happens. It’s like you get into a meditational state and before you know it, it’s over and all of a sudden you’ve got words on paper and melody in your head.
“So that’s what I was doing. I was in that state and my friend Bob Sterne, who is our soundman, sent me some roses. I mean that’s the sort of crew we have. They sent me a bunch of roses saying welcome to New York and this other friend of mine said, ‘Oh, look at this, a broken rose.’ And it was just the essence of what I was feeling about David and I said, ‘That’s it.- And I just wrote it down and put it on the piano. That is just that simple. But that is how simply it happens. There may never be a song called ‘Broken Rose’. I don’t know. But if there ever is, you’ll know where it came from.”
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