December 13, 2007
Crosby, Stills and Nash still tour. They just don't always make it to
Australia, writes Bruce Elder.
It is January 2007, and Graham Nash is on the phone from the US eager
to talk about the upcoming Crosby, Stills and Nash tour. We talk for
20 minutes, ranging over a wide variety of subjects (loves, concert
tours, the unreliability of David Crosby, etc, etc) and I am ready to
tap out my impressions on Nash and the trio when news comes through
that Crosby is unwell - very unwell. The concert tour has been
postponed. (The band will play their rescheduled Sydney concert tomorrow.)
The ailment was never revealed. It was suspected by some to be
pneumonia but Crosby, never a healthy man, has had a liver
replacement and has battled hepatitis C.
Let's be honest: David Crosby really is a living, breathing disaster
zone. The last time I saw Crosby, Stills and Nash, at the State
Theatre years ago, Crosby performed the entire set sitting on a
chair. The reason: he had broken his foot, his leg or some part of
his lower anatomy and couldn't stand. He could barely hobble onto the
stage. It made for a run of good jokes, a lot of wry bonhomie and,
amazingly, did not for one moment distract from the trio's remarkable
harmonising and glorious acoustic guitar playing. But Suite: Judy
Blue Eyes would sound amazing even if Crosby was in traction. Oh,
yes, and some years ago Rolling Stone, which calls its gossip section
Random Notes, named Crosby as its Random Man of the Year after he had
appeared on the page regularly over the previous 12 months. Nash
claims he has never heard of this particular piece of infamy and
promises to relay it to Crosby. He feels Crosby will be suitably amused.
But it is Nash who is the subject of the interview.
Having recently seen the exceptional biographical documentary on Joni
Mitchell Woman Of Heart And Mind, in which Nash, her one-time lover,
recalls so vividly the time when they first met, I ask him whether
Mitchell was his great love. He answers with affecting honesty: "Oh
yes. I adored her. She was the great love of my life."
He goes on to recall how, upon their first meeting, she invited him
to her hotel room and played him some of her early songs. It was, he
says, a life-changing experience. He had never heard songs like these
before. It was also an event that was to irrevocably change Nash's
life because it was around this time, in 1968, that he met Crosby and
Stephen Stills at Mitchell's house in Laurel Canyon.
It was an unforgettable moment. It was in that house, which was to
become the subject of that oh-so-sweet and idyllic Crosby, Stills and
Nash hit Our House, that one of the great supergroups of the era was
formed. Crosby had been with the Byrds, Stills had been the
wunderkind guitarist with Buffalo Springfield and Nash had been with
the Hollies. They had met the year before. Now, as they sat around at
Mitchell's house, Crosby and Stills began playing and singing You
Don't Have To Cry and Nash, quite spontaneously and naturally,
started adding a high, third harmony part.
"Nothing had ever been so right, musically, in my life," he explains.
"I can remember that everybody in the room froze. Something very
special was happening. From that moment onwards I became physically,
musically and psychically linked with David and Stephen."
I point out that he can say that but we don't often see them in
Australia. Do they still tour? And to my surprise he points out that
they have never stopped touring. It is another example of the huge
hegemony that Europe and America have over popular music culture. The
band regularly play on both continents. They appear at festivals.
Nash lists several recent festivals and important gigs and says they
still genuinely enjoy performing live. Check their website and you'll
find they shared the stage with Jackson Browne and Keb' Mo' at the
Pray for Peace Concert in Washington in October. In August Crosby and
Nash toured as a duo.
And that, in part, is the point. Nash is openly political. He
explains that last year the trio, with Neil Young, played a 33-date
US tour under the banner Freedom Of Speech '06 and advertisements
which said simply: "War. A stuttering economy. Rising unemployment.
An embattled president. A deep ideological divide in the country." It
was not surprising. When Nash begins to list the trio's
anti-establishment, and particularly their anti-war, songs they add
up to an impressive body of political work. They include Military
Madness (they added a special reference to George Bush for the tour),
the hard-hitting Ohio, Chicago and Immigration Man. Young contributed
a whole body of work on his most recent album, Living With War.
In January they were looking forward to returning to Australia and
Nash, with his distinctly English politeness, was happy to announce
they would be playing many of their old hits - of course! And if
their recent tours are any indication there will be more than a hint
of the anti-war and anti-Bush in their performance, although, always
remember, they are not polemicists. Like their generation, they are
humanitarians who emphasise the insanity of all wars and, as Crosby
sings in his What Are Their Names, that "peace is not an awful lot to ask".