A Life in Focus: A Conversation with Graham Nash
Within his iconic melodies that have serenaded our hearts and minds for over a half-century, singer-songwriter Graham Nash is able to capture these vivid snapshots of a time and place, of people and things, these images we've hung up on the walls of our collective memory — the embedded signature of songs immortal.
In his new book, “A Life in Focus: The Photography of Graham Nash,” the musical legend looks in the rearview mirror at the road to the here and now, and also at eyes looking right back at him. It’s a rollicking, more so astonishing, collection of faces, and of rock royalty, some of which long gone from this earth.
Images of his whirlwind time in folk-rock juggernaut Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Intimate moments of his true romance with songbird Joni Mitchell. Backstage with Bonnie Raitt or Dennis Hopper. In a car with Jackson Browne. Standing side stage in awe of Jerry Garcia or David Gilmour. And also, the simple daily meanderings of a curious soul that remains in continual motion.
Each page of the book is a day in the life of Nash, who recently turned 80 — a kind soul and kindred spirit in constant examination of his life, always running towards the unknown horizon in the name of cosmic self-discovery and genuine human connection.
But, in conversation, Nash is far from nostalgic. The urgency of action and activism he harbored in his budding youth amid the social upheaval and politically turbulent 1960s and 1970s remains intact. If anything, that deep sense of compassion and social responsibility is as honed and keenly aware as ever of the world around him.
Smoky Mountain News: You’ve been a photographer your whole life, since you were a little kid. What is it about that medium that really speak to you?
Graham Nash: [I’ve been a photographer] longer than I've been a musician. It's the same energy. It’s the same, creatively. I've always done it. So, some of my photographs make people smile. Some of the photographs make people think. And I'm glad about both of those things.
SMN: And one of the things I love about those two mediums is that each is a time capsule.
GN: Yes, absolutely. A time capsule, indeed. And you know, now that I'm almost 80 years old, I can see my life through my pictures — where I was, who I met, what moments were interesting to me. It’s been a wild ride and I'm still here. I'm still creating and I'm not letting go yet. Obviously, I think about death every 10 minutes. I mean, I’m 80 and I know that we've lost many, many people that are much younger than me, you know? And I'm looking at my life and I'm realizing that it is on the downward slope. And I'm going to try and make as much music and take as many pictures and create as much as I possibly can before I die.
SMN: What’s that like for you now that you've gotten older, to see those photographs of those people that didn't make it as far?
GN: It's sad. But, I realize that life is life and I have to embrace the fact that death is a part of life. And I hope to face [death] with grace and dignity when [it’s my turn]. Time is the only currency we have that not even Bill Gates or [Mark] Zuckerberg can buy. I don’t give a damn how much [Jeff] Bezos has, he can't buy one second of time — it’s our only true currency
SMN: Where does that old soul nature within you come from? You've always seemed to radiate that.
GN: Because English people faced annihilation twice from the German folks. And when you make it past World War I and survive World War II, problems like your coffee not being warm enough are ridiculous, you know? Give me a real problem. I mean, if we can make it through World War II, we can make it through anything — and that's [always been] our attitude.
SMN: When you look through the book, what photo really stands out?
GN: One of them, I took a photograph of a [discarded] cigarette package [on the ground] and it said “Peace” [on the package]. The photograph was taken in Hiroshima, Japan.
SMN: What is the role of the songwriter these days? Because it feels like it's as important now as ever before.
GN: It is important — now more than ever before. And our responsibility is to reflect the life that we are living and reflect the times that we live in. We have to reflect the times and tell people what the hell is happening. Because, from most of the media, you not getting any of the truth. But, in certain songs, you’re getting a face full of truth.
SMN: As you’ve gotten older, how has the meaning of the word “love” changed or remained the same?
GN: I think it just broadens the acceptance of what love is. It’s not that you want to fuck this girl so bad, you know? It’s not that. It’s love for the world, for the planet, for the people. We have so many great things happening in this country. And so many fucked things happening in this country at the same time. I'm glad to be alive. I'm glad to be an artist. I'm glad to be able to express my opinions in a country that will allow that. I'm not so sure in many other countries that our music would even be played, nevermind allowed.
SMN: You've been on this earth 80 years, and you've had this incredible life that is still moving forward, still bountiful, and still creative. And with all those experiences, moments and people — onstage and off — what has culmination of that, thus far, taught you about what it means to be a human being?
GN: I think we have to try and make our best life — personally, and then for other people, too. We have to live our best life. Many people are alive. [But], not a lot of people are living, meaning — working, looking to the future, making this place a better place. You know, I'm lucky to be who I am. I look at my life and I kind of shake my head and I wonder — why me?
Want to go?
Iconic singer-songwriter Graham Nash will hit the stage for a special performance, "An Intimate Evening of Songs & Stories," at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 16, at the Diana Wortham Theater in Asheville. For more information and/or to purchase tickets, go to theorangepeel.net and click on the "Shows" tab. For more on Nash, click on grahamnash.com.