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Revising the Rock 

An interview with the underrated Graham Nash.

David Crosby and Graham Nash: Still riding those wooden  ships. - WALTER NOVAK
  • Walter Novak
  • David Crosby and Graham Nash: Still riding those wooden ships.

David Crosby and Graham Nash have been cock-teasing Cleveland for most of 2007. The duo was originally scheduled to appear at the Allen Theatre last March. But they had to cancel. While en route, Crosby ate a KFC Famous Bowl (chicken and biscuit, I believe) and was rushed to the ER for a colonoscopy.

Just joking. He actually underwent surgery for a torn rotator cuff and, according to Nash, feels great these days. "He's been doing rehab since the operation," says Nash. "I haven't noticed him registering any pain when playing his guitar. So he's fine. We're ready to go."

The duo is on the third day of rehearsals for its 28-date fall tour, which will arrive at the Palace Theatre on October 7.

Not to sound totally bush-league, but rapping with a Woodstock icon like Nash is a trip. First off, he calls me. "Hello, Graham Nash here," he says in a raspy British accent, as if I've never heard of the guy.

Secondly, Nash isn't the laid-back hippie you'd expect; he's more like a veteran television personality. Every line uttered is a perfectly sculpted sound bite for an A&E documentary on '60s pop. "With the Hollies," he says, referring to his original band, a legend in its own right, "we were just five kids from the North of England who escaped having to do what our fathers did: work in the mill or work down in the mines."

In all honesty, I originally asked for an interview with Crosby. Not only did he recently release Voyage, a career-spanning boxed set; he also gave fans an overdue remastering of If I Could Only Remember My Name, his solo debut from 1971. The record sounds unlike anything else in Crosby's discography. It flopped upon release, but has gone on to become a cult classic of the psychedelic era. Drifting through stoned disillusionment and hazy folk rock, it's every bit as harrowing as Neil Young's On the Beach, one of rock's classic downer records. What's more, Crosby has said very little about this mysterious album in the last 36 years (and we all know how the ex-Byrd loves talking about himself).

Unfortunately, Crosby must've won a coin toss or a game of rock-paper-scissors, because Nash is the official spokesman for their fall tour. This was a bummer at first. Like a lot of rock fans throughout the years, I've always dismissed Nash as the resident soft-rock sap in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Sure, the lucky bastard earns serious cred for bagging a goddess like Joni Mitchell in 1969. But he also penned "Our House" and "Teach Your Children," the kind of sentimental pap that makes us feel dirty for humming along (which we always do).

Nevertheless, I boned up for our interview by dusting off a few of Nash's old records, and believe it or not, they're far better than anything he ever contributed to CSN&Y. His first two LPs, 1971's Songs for Beginners (remastered in 2001) and Wild Tales (released two years later) sound totally modern. Both records are self-produced and boast a hook-laden fusion of shimmering Brit-pop and pastoral folk rock, recalling indie bands like Vetiver, Dr. Dog, Blur, the M's, and Guided by Voices.

These discs, interestingly enough, met cool receptions in the early '70s. They were too uncomplicated at a time when critics demanded bloated epics like Stephen Stills' Manassas (which nowadays moves like a lumbering dinosaur). "I try to keep things as simple as possible," says Nash. He nails why his solo work has aged so well: Timelessness is found in simplicity.

On 2004's Crosby Nash, only the duo's fourth studio album since 1972, Nash basically props up his good buddy with a set of well-crafted pop tunes, many of which he captured with a smart, retro-styled production.

Nash is currently working on his own boxed set, a treatment I now believe his solo career clearly demands. While he never made a record quite as visionary as If I Could Only Remember My Name, he has proved the most consistent member of CSN&Y not named Neil Young. And that says a lot.

More by Justin F. Farrar

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