Wow. Hey, if you’re gonna title your memoir Wild Tales (Crown), and you’ve been a rock star as long as Graham Nash, you better come through with the goods. Maybe they didn’t trash as many hotel rooms, throw as many TVs out of windows, carry whips in guitar cases or do something with a groupie and a live fish, but damn if Nash doesn’t come through wildly on this eminently readable and totally fascinating account of his life with Neil Young (batshit crazy), Stephen Stills (unpredictable and prone to gargantuan leaps of excess), David Crosby (not enough room here to recount all his demons), Joni Mitchell (his first true love), Mama Cass (the glue who held the whole scene together at first) and others, many others. The stories fly by fast. The music is magic even after egos and drugs start getting in the way. Two out of three CSNers fall in love with Rita Coolidge and battle ferociously for her favors. I couldn’t put it down. Nash feuds with George Harrison. He befriends Paul Simon. CSN get turned down at Apple Records. Cocaine becomes all-important. Miles Davis, Eric Burdon, Jimi Hendrix, Barack Obama, Jimmy Page and about a dozen other legends pop up, but the crux of the matter is this…
Nash is already a rock star with The Hollies, yet feels stifled when they refuse to break formula. Meanwhile, he goes to California, falls in love with the state, with Joni, and through Mama Cass meets Stills and Crosby. They’re smokin’ some good weed and workin’ on a song that captivates Nash so much he asks them to sing it again…and again. Then, one more time but this time he adds a third harmony part that he makes up on the spur of the moment. That’s when they knew. Right there. That exact moment. Of course, that means Nash would have to leave his band, country, responsibilities, friends and family…but he does.
What follows is, indeed, a wild ride of musicbiz craziness with a cast of colorful characters, great music, politics, drugs, more drugs and even more drugs. After the spectacularly successful debut album, Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun suggests a fourth musician would add something to the band. Stills had played bass and keyboards on the debut as well as being the lead guitarist. They had to tour but how? Stevie Winwood of Traffic was available but turns ‘em down. Al Kooper had been kicked out of Blood, Sweat & Tears. He turns ‘em down. They think maybe John Sebastian, George Harrison or Eric Clapton, who all had left their bands. “You know who you guys need?” asks Ahmet. “Neil Young!” “Are you fucking kidding me?” says Stills. “I just spent two years with the guy [in Buffalo Springfield]. He’s disruptive, [and] doesn’t [show] up [half the time]. You want me to go back there?”
It’s pretty clear Neil Young is not a team player. Yet the tide turns when Crosby is hanging out at Joni Mitchell’s house and Neil casually says, “Hey, I wrote some new songs. Wanna hear ‘em?” After he whips out his guitar and lays “Country Girl” and “Helpless” on him, Crosby thinks to himself, “We’ve gotta have him.” Nash, though, wants no part of him. “We created this beautiful fun sound,” he argues. “Why fuck with it?” When Stephen gives in, Graham has no recourse. So he sets up a meet with Neil and Neil totally wins him over.
The 1970 CSNY debut, Déjà Vu, is one of the most anticipated albums in rock history and proves to be everything everybody thought it would be. The four reach new levels of super-duper-stardom and the excess balloons into the stratosphere with even more drugs, more inter-band battles and violence…which includes Stills taking a razor blade to some precious Nash masters on tape.
The years fly by in a rock star haze until Crosby is free-basing crack cocaine (on stage even), becomes a gun nut and lands in prison. Nash spares no gruesome story, lays it all out there and the drama escalates in cinematic fashion until the reader is totally caught up in the music and the madness.
Nash has no ax to grind, admits to his own failings (“I could never keep it in my pants”) and remains loyal to Stills and Crosby, if not Young. Yet if Young should call him tomorrow and say, “Hey, I just wrote some new tunes,” he’d be there with him in a heartbeat. He’s just not going to hold his breath waiting.