“It’s very weird,” said Graham Nash, reminded that he and David Crosby have been cross-pollinating harmonies and songs for 43 years. Calling from Los Angeles, where he and Crosby are rehearsing for the show that brings them to the Arlington this Sunday night, Nash was in a decidedly meditative mood. “Weird because on my next birthday, I’ll be 70. I don’t want to be the one that’s home watching the telly. I want to be out there, going to openings, shows, doing things like I always did.”
Apparently, another odd aspect of aging is how celebrated he’s become. “I mean people are just slapping down awards now. They keep flinging statuettes, just for being here I guess.” Nash, inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, doesn’t seem too wrapped up in any of it, though, even when you point out his fine record of humanitarian work. “Well, you know, you’ve got to give back,” he explains simply. And he even seems slightly dismissive of his own great songs, particularly the anthem-like work from the early 1970s: beautiful songs like “Just a Song Before I Go” and tunes that sang themselves deep into the culture, such as “Teach Your Children” and “Our House.” Though he is a tad proud of his accomplishments: “You know, it wasn’t profound. I mean I was writing about something that everybody has—well, I guess not everybody, but a lot of people have a house. I guess it’s just nice, though, when you realize that you’ve left something behind. Something that will last when this flesh is gone.”
Nash was born in Blackpool, Lancashire, in February 1942, and made his first great leap into the cauldron of pop with The Hollies (named after Buddy) as part of the early British Invasion. The band had an unmistakable sound: multi-tracked walls of voice ringing in a keen blend of folk, rock, and pop, which got its perfect expression in songs like “Bus Stop.” Nash was not The Hollies’ lead singer, nor even their chief composer, but he did create some of the band’s most haunting songs, like “Carrie Anne” and “On a Carousel.” According to some biographers, Nash grew impatient with The Hollies’ reluctance to go psychedelic in the late 1960s and left the band after meeting David Crosby, who was a much easier companion in heady compositions. Surprisingly, though, Crosby, Stills and Nash (CS&N), the first bona fide hippie-era supergroup, became a hallmark of mellow musical excursions. Meanwhile, as CS&N continued to split and reform, Nash and Crosby maintained a lifelong bond, touring and recording together throughout the years. Nash agrees that they’re getting pretty good at it by now. “I mean, if I had been a plumber for 43 years, I would probably be good at that, too,” he joked.
It’s too early to tell exactly how Sunday’s show will go, since the duo was literally in their first hours of plunking and playlist plotting when Nash and I spoke. “We’re going through a lot of stuff that people want to hear. We know that we have to make the people who are spending their egg money on going to these concerts—you know it’s hard to earn a dollar nowadays—we have to make them happy. And maybe that’s why they’ve liked us for all these years. But we are doing a few things people don’t expect. Like the song ‘Camera,’ which is on David’s most recent CD.”
Nash’s most celebrated wax is likely 1971’s Songs for Beginners, which was released the same year as Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name. Both records have become recently reevaluated by the younger, so-called indie freak-folk set. Nash’s daughter just released Be Yourself, which is a track-by-track tribute to Beginners that features guest spots by Fleet Foxes, Vetiver, and Bonny “Prince” Billy. Nash is proud of the intergenerational lift. “You ought to pick it up. But you know, at our shows, it’s always been a range of fans, from age 15 to age, oh, 60.”
Meanwhile, Nash is maniacally busy by his own admission: “Making music, painting, photography, all that shit,” he said. He’s simultaneously working on a three-CD collection of Stephen Stills songs, another triad omnibus of CS&N, and an acoustic CD version of a concert he and Crosby performed in the ’90s. “I’m very happy to keep busy,” he said, adding that the laurel-resting fame-and-glory aspect was not his pot of tea. “I don’t like to rest on my laurels. I change my appearance constantly so I can avoid all the stuff that comes with fame.” He’s also working on books: photography (he was a pioneer of digital printing), self-portraits, and more. He might be driven by the thought of years rolling by, as much as anything, though. “I much prefer the work. I like the creative processes more than all the rest of it. But everything considered, I’m just happy to be breathing and getting on with the rest of my life.”
David Crosby and Graham Nash play the Arlington Theatre this Sunday, March 27, at 8 p.m. For tickets and info, call 963-4408 or visit thearlingtontheatre.com.