Graham Nash on Contentment, New Albums + Major Life Changes
April 3, 2023 @ 12:00pm
Graham Nash discusses his career in music before heading to The Birchmere for a career-culminating show.
As a singer and songwriter, Graham Nash has always found a way to comment on the current state of his personal life and the world at large.
Nash’s upcoming release “Now” — his first album in seven years — balances love and turmoil, something he has done for the past 60 years as a solo artist, and as a member of The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Nash will also bring “Sixty Years of Songs and Stories” to the Birchmere on April 18 and 19.
Speaking from his home in New York City, Nash sounds ridiculously content. There could be a variety of reasons for this: the life he shares with his wife of nearly four years, Amy Grantham; his practice of transcendental meditation (a gift from his friend David Lynch); or the realization that, at 81, he’s still got it musically. Whatever the reason, he’s looking forward and back simultaneously.
“It’s a very reflective album,” Nash says. “I think that’s a pretty good word for it.”
A significant portion of the album focuses on Nash’s relationship with Grantham. In these songs, Nash isn’t exactly giddy as a schoolboy on a first date (he is 81, after all). What does come through, however, is the complete love, gratitude and appreciation Nash has for Grantham — to the point that he bookends the album with love songs to her.
“I think this is my most personal album,” Nash says. “The first words on the album are ‘I used to think that I would never love again.’ There are four or five songs written about my wife, Amy: ‘Follow Your Heart,’ ‘Love of Mine,’ the last song on the album, ‘When It Comes to You.’”
In “When It Comes to You,” Nash wears his heart on his sleeve, opening with the lyrics “When it comes to you/I have to tell the truth/You’re the very best thing that’s happened to me.”
Reading these lyrics about love, one might think Nash has abandoned his protesting ways, content to think he’s earned the right to sit this one out. Hardly.
This is the man who gave us “Chicago,” a 1971 protest song whose two-chord transition from A minor to G has found multiple second lives, having been sampled by everyone from Beanie Sigel to Leela James.
“I’m very happy about that,” Nash says. “A lot of people might be unhappy that someone sampled a song, but I do believe that those two chords are incredibly powerful.”
Now, some artists have found themselves self-censoring their material in order to keep their fortunes going. But for Nash, singing about injustices in the world is as routine as breathing.
“I wake up every morning and I get on with my life,” Nash says. “Obviously check the news — lots of news sites — and I keep in touch with what’s going on. That ends up in songs like ‘Stars and Stripes’ and ‘Golden Idols.’”
“Golden Idols” directly addresses the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Nash doesn’t mince words.
“They’re trying to re-write recent history/When the MAGA tourists took the hill/They will not stand up, ’cause they’re bought and paid for/Golden Idols control them still,” he sings.
His stature as a protest artist isn’t lost on Nash. If anything, he feels an obligation to speak up.
“A lot of my fans love me talking about what’s going on in my life,” Nash says. “Whether it’s hating Trump or hating the Republican administration, I think my songwriting has remained true to what I want to do. I want to make songs that enable you to shake your ass and also shake your mind up. To think about things you may not be aware of. And that’s what I’ve done with my life and I’m continuing to do it, and I’m proud of that.”
Changes in life are inevitable. The passing of David Crosby, one of Nash’s on-again, off-again musical partners for more than 50 years (who died on January 18) sent Nash reeling. This is the only time in our conversation where the contentment fades and it’s clear Nash is still dealing with the sudden loss.
“Well, you know, my life changed desperately when David passed away,” Nash says. “It’s like an 8.5 earthquake. It happens and then there’s these aftershocks when you go back and you think, ‘Holy shit! He really is gone. Holy shit! He really is dead.’ But I’m getting better at only remembering the good times and the good music we made together.”
In this moment of reflection, Nash sounds wistful. He does find hope in a few core beliefs he holds steadfast: the power of music and his ability to carry on.
“I do believe that the simplest song can change the world,” says Nash. “I absolutely believe it. I think music is a medium to exchange ideas, to talk about things, and I must tell you that being 81 years old, I am singing as good as I ever did. I think better, myself.”
Graham Nash plays at the Birchmere on April 18 and 19 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $99.50. “Now” is set to drop on May 19.
The Birchmere: 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave. Alexandria, VA; birchmere.com // @thebirchmere
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