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Graham Nash mines his catalog for some personal performances
Megan Thompson: Two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Graham Nash is famous for writing and performing classic rock staples like "Teach Your Children" and "Our House" with the band Crosby Stills, Nash & Young. But he recently played a set of shows centered around some music he's far less known for. NewsHour Weekend's Tom Casciato has more.
Tom Casciato: It's not just his fans who appreciate that Graham Nash is still going strong at 77.
Graham Nash: Nice to be back.
Tom Casciato: So does Graham Nash.
Graham Nash: At my age it's nice to be anywhere
Tom Casciato: But some of his recent shows might seem curious to those who know him only for his hits.
Hollies - "Carrie Anne"
People live and learn but you're still learning
Tom Casciato: He has decades' worth of chart-toppers to draw from.
CSN - "Just A Song Before I Go"
Driving me to the airport
Tom Casciato: But he recently did shows featuring his lesser known, first two solo albums in their entirety -- and you have to wonder why.
Tom Casciato: There are certainly artists of your generation who go back and revisit their finest commercial moment if not their finest artistic moment.
Graham Nash: I want to be as real as possible, I'm coming to the end of my life. I'm 77 years old right now. How much longer can this go on? I hope to be around for at least the next 30, 40 years. But I might drop dead in the middle of this conversation.
Tom Casciato: With no time like the present to do it, Nash kicks off the show with the opener from his first album, "Songs for Beginners."
In an upstairs room in Blackpool
Tom Casciato: It starts with his birth in the midst of World War II in Blackpool England.
The army had my father
And my mother was having me.
Tom Casciato: And what were you doing in Blackpool, which was not your hometown?
Graham Nash: No, I lived in Salford, which is a small part of Manchester in the North of England. And Manchester was being bombed heavily. And pregnant ladies were evacuated out of the bombing area.
Was killing my country
Tom Casciato: "Military Madness" was an anti-war anthem, with social protest rooted in childhood memories. But it had the kind of engaging melody Nash was known for and even a kind of singalong feel to it.
Tom Casciato: You and a lot of your peers of that era were anti-war. But not all of them came upon that having grown up around bomb craters.
Graham Nash: We were playing in buildings that could have collapsed on us at any moment. And if my parents would have found out, I woulda been in big trouble.
Tom Casciato: The album came out in 1971, Nash joining a list of confessional singer songwriters on the charts at the moment their genre hit the cover of time as the hot new thing. It followed the breakup of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and another breakup, with his live-in love Joni Mitchell. But on "Songs for Beginners," even lost love could ride along on a tuneful wave that took a bit of the sting out.
"I Used To Be A King"
And in my bed late at night
I miss you
Tom Casciato: Overall, the album came across as an affirmative, idealistic affair.
"We Can Change The World"
We can change the world
We can change
Tom Casciato: "Wild tales," released in early 1974, was something else again. It arrived at a moment when among Nash's peers, on the radio at least, confessional songwriting had given way to polished pop balladry.
"My Love" - Paul McCartney
And when I go away
I know my heart can stay with my love
Tom Casciato: "My love" by Paul McCartney, Barbra Streisand, "The Way We Were." You knew how to write love songs. And you knew how to write hits. And yet, with "Wild Tales," you didn't go in the direction of what was on the radio at the time. What was on your mind?
Graham Nash: All the stuff that's in "Wild Tales."
Tom Casciato: Nash wasn't going for the gloss of pop-friendly radio.
"On The Line"
Don't the wind blow cold when you're hanging your soul
On the line
Tom Casciato: Again he mined his childhood for inspiration, but the memories hurt this time.
Graham Nash: My father was an engineer. My mother had to look after three kids, of course. But she had to work also. We were very poor, but my father-- had bought a camera from a friend of his at work. One day the police came to our door. They wanted to know where my father had bought the camera, because they think that a camera had been stolen. Well, in the north of England at that point, and I'm sure it's the same all over the world, you didn't, you don't rat on your friends. And so my father would, wouldn't tell them. And he actually spent a year in jail.
Tom Casciato: And what did that do to your dad? And what did that do to you?
Graham Nash: I think it broke his heart. I think it was shameful -- he felt ashamed that the police had come to the door. And he died at 46.
One day a friend took me aside and said I'll have to leave you
For buying something from a friend they say I've done wrong.
Tom Casciato: Nash turned experience to a plea for prison reform, long before such sentiments hit the mainstream.
So now I'm bidding you farewell for much too long.
And here's a song to sing for every man inside.
Tom Casciato: Meanwhile, the troops had left Vietnam the year before, but that didn't stop Nash from writing a song called "Oh! Camil"
Graham Nash: Scott Camil was one of the most highly decorated soldiers in the Vietnam War, many, many medals for absolute bravery, gung-ho, into it. And then he had a, I guess a come-to-Jesus meeting with himself where he realized that what he had been doing all these years was wrong.
"Oh Camil! (The Winter Soldier)"
Will you tell all the people about the people you killed
Not for God but for country and war
Tom Casciato: Nash was inspired by Camil's having testified in a war crimes forum sponsored by the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War.
Scott Camil: And if people were in the villages yelling and screaming we didn't help them we just burned the houses as we went. It wasn't like they were humans. Like we were conditioned to believe that this was for the good of the nation, the good of our country, and that anything we did was ok.
Oh Camil! (The Winter Soldier)
Oh Camil tell me what did your mother say
When you left all those people out in the fields
Rotting along with the hay?
Tom Casciato: Unlike his earlier anti-war song, "Oh! Camil" was no singalong.
Did you show her your guns?
Did you show her the ears that you wore?
Tom Casciato: "Did you show them the ears that you wore" ... I didn't know what that meant when I first heard that song.
Graham Nash: Some American soldiers in the Vietnam War were gung-ho enough to when they killed their enemies that they would cut off their ears and make a bracelet of them to wear.
"Oh Camil! (The Winter Soldier)"
Will you tell all the people about the people that stand up for God
Not for country or war.
Tom Casciato: His lost love Joni Mitchell made an expressive painting of Nash for the album's back cover. And it was her haunting, wordless vocals that brought the record to a close on a tune called "Another Sleep Song."
Tom Casciato: It sounds like you're writing about being flat out depressed.
Graham Nash: Yes.
Tom Casciato: In that song.
Graham Nash: I am.
Graham Nash: I was avoiding the day. I was avoiding sunlight. I was almost, almost like a vampire.
"Another Sleep Song"
All I need is someone to awaken me
Much of me has gone to sleep
Tom Casciato: The melodies were there and the words were deeply felt. But "Wild Tales" was Graham Nash's first commercial -- though not artistic -- failure.
Tom Casciato: You made an album where you had sympathy for incarcerated people, where you wrote vividly about war crimes. And you ended the record with a song about being thoroughly and utterly depressed. Looking back, can you see why it might not have been one of your big hits?
Graham Nash: I do. I definitely understand. I was depressed, you know? And the music shows it. But that's all I've ever written about is what's happening to me. I've got money. And I've got fame. And I've got, all those other, you know, things, you know, that I never wanted in the first place. But I'm still this person that feels very deeply about many things.
"There's Only One"
We can heed the call
We can trip and fall
Tom Casciato: Which brings us back to why he's singing these songs at this moment. To be, in his words, as real as possible with no time like the present.
"There's Only One"
Let the ashes fall
Upon us all or not at all
It's in us all.