If I am being honest, I am just as guilty as anyone—maybe more so. I see “legacy” acts touring and think, “Why bother? They can’t be as good as in their prime.” Sometimes I’ve been proven right when a band that hasn’t spoken in 20 years gets together for a tour only to realize they stopped speaking for a reason and should leave us all out if it. But sometimes I am proven wrong; gloriously wrong.
Graham Nash has always been the secret ingredient. His harmonies are unmatched, and that’s evident in the work he’s done from The Hollies, to CSN(Y), and anything else he’s lent that magical voice to. It’s a high harmony, which is a big responsibility to hold in a singing group because those are the notes everyone really hears. Guys like David Crosby and Chris Hillman have a special gift for the harder to find middle parts, but they can also hide a little easier. With Nash, it’s right out there hovering over the entire song. That means his voice needs to be in top form, lest we all walk away just a little disappointed.
We were not disappointed when Graham Nash guided us through his 50+ years of music. That voice? It is astonishingly good. In all those years of touring and recording (each with its own set of vices), Graham Nash has somehow retained the range, clarity and power of his voice. Believe me, I was skeptical walking into this show, but it’s true. Whether singing solos on his own tunes or adding harmonies to The Beatles “Blackbird” with his guitarist and collaborator, Shane Fontaine, that voice…that secret ingredient…it shone through.
Fan-shot Video of Graham Nash “Used To Be a King” in Beverly Hills, CA
Of course, Graham Nash is more than just another pretty voice. Routinely referred to by his bandmates and collaborators as “The Gentleman,” Nash provided the calm temperament and gentile balance to Still’s agro-Americanism, Young’s hyper-kineticism, and Crosby’s…well…Crosby-ism (because let’s face it, David Crosby is a category unto himself). All of this was on subtle display as Nash told stories of his life and career. He avoided most of the lurid details and notorious inter-band drama, while giving peaks into his songwriting approach and the inspirations behind those songs you’ve heard 1 million times on classic rock stations, which gave them some shine. It was intimate, and not just because it was in a small theater. We got a small peak into his life.
For example, we ALL know the CSNY staple, “Our House.” If you’re even a casual fan, you know that it was inspired by an antique store stop with Nash’s then girlfriend, Joni Mitchell. What you may not know, and what Nash shared with us before launching into a pristine two-man version of the song, is what that day felt like. What the weather was (rainy, cold, miserable LA winter), and what the house felt like after Graham started a fire while Joni “put the flowers in the vase that [she] bought” that day. Knowing how Mitchell has been struggling with some health issues, Graham Nash was visibly moved to tears a couple times discussing her as a friend and former lover. That’s intimate.
This has been a lesson to me, and one I shouldn’t have had to learn as I am also an aging musician who still loves to play music and tell stories. But it’s a lesson just the same. We can learn so much from these guys that goes beyond how they struck it rich back when that was still possible in music. They got to the top of the heap because they were good—some of them even great. As George Burns once said, “We can’t help getting older, but we can help getting OLD.” Graham Nash has the experience of 74 years behind him, 50+ of those years in the music business. But he’s not old, and he’s certainly not irrelevant. He’s a teacher, if only we’re willing to learn.