Graham Nash of the rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young spoke candidly to about 20 students and 450 community members about his childhood, experiences with the band, and his friends Thursday night in Lisner Auditorium.
Interviewed by Cerph Colwell, a classic rock disc jockey from WARW 94.7 FM, Nash talked to the disc jockey, sang four of his songs and answered questions from the audience at the two and a half hour event, co-sponsored by the Lisner Auditorium and the Smithsonian Associates.
Nash casually discussed how his parents encouraged his interest in music. Growing up in a poor family in Manchester, England, he would fall asleep every night, listening the radio from the room below. His mother wanted to be on stage, but never had the chance. Nash said that in being a musician, he was “living her dream.”
During the show, Nash expressed his love for America. He said when he first came to New York City he was especially surprised by the checker cabs and the way the phone rang, remarking that it was “just like the movies.”
Nash confessed that ever since he came here in 1968, he has never gone back to live in England or anywhere else. He became an American citizen so he could vote.
Audience questions focused on his relationship with fellow band mates and some of his other friends in the music business including Mama Cass Elliot, Neil Young, Nicolette Larson, Buffy Sainte-Marie and the “completely unique” Jerry Garcia.
“We were never lovers, but she was one of the most important women in my life,” Nash said of Mama Cass, who originally introduced him to David Crosby.
One story Nash told took place at Neil Young’s ranch in San Francisco, refereeing to him as “without a question is one of my strangest friends.”
Nash was fist noticed as a singer in the British group, the Hollies in the 1960s. He compares his transition from the Hollies to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to the difference between drinking pints and smoking joints. In CSNY “songs were about something,” Nash said, rather than the “screwed in the back of the car kind of songs” that were more typical of the Hollies.
Nash sang “Dirty Little Secret,” a song about 300 people who were killed in what he called a “race riot of a black wall street” in the mid-west in 1921 during the performance.
Nash used the forum to recommends a few books that represent his opinion on American culture and current events. One book called Culture Jam: How to Reverse America’s Suicidal Consumer Binge-And Why We Must by Kalle Lasn is about how everything is commercialized in American society, the other is called Weapons in Space..
“It was excellent,” community member Michael Mercicky said of the show, “I liked his honesty the fact that he was so candid and sincere.
Nash said he tries to “keep a dividing lone between how much people want to know and how much you let them know,” in telling his stories.
Some audience members were surprised by how much information he shared with the crowd.
“It was like sitting in your living room and having him talk to you,” community member Nancy Matzka said.
“He shared a lot more than I expected him to,” senior Amy Gabel said, “I thought it was awesome.” Gabel’s favorite part was a story Nash told about how Jimmy Hendrix always beat all of his competitors at Risk on LSD.
In the interview, Nash told the audience that he does not measure his success by what the critics say about the performance.
“The only critic is how the people leave. If you’re smiling, then we have done our job.”
“I’m very happy I went,” said freshman Anolt Sherman, who learned about CSNY from his parents and from singing a capella in high school. “Hearing all of the stuff behind the songs once you hear this it takes you to a whole new level.”
“It gave us insight into Graham Nash as a person. I have never realized how much of himself that he puts into his songs,” community member Michelle Defeo said.
After the show, Nash signed copies of his new book Off the Record, which includes a CD collection, manuscript originals, and stories behind 25 of his songs including “Our House” “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” and “Puff the Magic Dragon.”
Currently, Nash is on a solo tour, just recently having returned from the second reunion tour of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, the second highest grossing tour in the world.
Smithsonian Associates Public Affairs Specialist Marni Tamayo said the event was “offered as one of the varieties of programs the Smithsonian Associates presents our members and to the community.”