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Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life

Graham Nash

(Crown; US: Sep 2013)

Graham Nash has written some of the most memorable and best songs recorded by his two mainstay acts: Crosby, Stills & Nash and the same trio with Young added for good measure. He was also a member of the hit machine The Hollies long before he made his way to American shores to gain wider fame and acclaim with his two (and sometimes three) buddies. It’s that moment, when he’s coming to California to hang with girlfriend Joni Mitchell and leave behind a failing marriage and a band he was becoming increasingly indifferent to, that Wild Tales opens.


Alas, this is not one of those memoirs you’ve been waiting your whole life to read. Much of this has been well documented in interviews, liner notes, stage patter and even David Crosby’s first memoir, Long Time Gone. The real joy of reading Wild Tales should come from the apparent affability Nash has always displayed in his songs. But he doesn’t come across as the guy we’ve liked all these years. Instead, there’s a self-centeredness that comes to the fore. His humble Blackpool roots aside, Nash quickly becomes the pampered rock ‘n’ roller you can’t stand.


Sure, it’s touching to read about the relationship he had with his father, who died a broken man after being jailed for an extended period of time for protecting a loved one. Yes, it’s nifty to read about how Nash encountered Phil and Don Everly one night in his youth and then, later became involved with them professionally. You have to marvel at some of the stories behind songs you love (if you didn’t already know those stories) but the tales of arguments over mounds of cocaine, assistants sacked for scuffed luggage, catering bills larger than the GNP of many nations, fights over fluffed notes, and the various women shared by the boys in the band become tiresome by midway through the book.


These guys, Nash included, are the kind of entitled little jerks some readers will want to punch in the face; the kind of guys you are glad punk made redundant, “Our House” be damned.


Crosby, who was actually bearable in Long Time Gone makes Don Henley and Glenn Frey of the Eagles seem like guys you’d like to invite to your back yard BBQ by comparison. Personal tragedies and the misfortune of drug addiction aside, Croz might have benefited from a good paddling somewhere in his youth. And his presence is considerable enough here that you begin to wonder if Nash had anything better to do than play along with his friend’s whims and whines, if he shouldn’t have focused his attention on writing some songs that were great enough to outshine Stephen Stills.


Stills, who has long been something of an enigma, comes off as a decent chap, though, the kind of guy who might be a little mad, somewhat egocentric, and capable of doing his share of blow, but who you still kinda want to know. Neil Young, on the other hand, is portrayed a tyrant, someone who makes Axl Rose seem considerate.


The stuff we really want to read about, such as Nash’s talents for photography, the stories behind some of his best songs, and his relationship with Joni Mitchell aren’t dealt with in any way that’s revelatory and thus Wild Tales becomes just another rock book.


Sure, The Hollies years are somewhat interesting, though you get the feeling that Nash’s childhood friend and sometime bandmate Allan Clarke gets some shabby treatment. Even a late story about a gift Nash bestows upon his old chum comes off as belittling. It’s disappointing, sure, but maybe not all that surprising. The music doesn’t suffer any. You can still like “Immigration Man” and “Man in the Mirror” just fine even if the man who wrote them seems like a someone you probably wouldn’t want to engage with for very long on a personal level. But if you can forgive that and some daft attempts at dialogue (it’s most frequently used as a shoehorn for critical exposition and is about as believable as it is in most episodes of Yacht Rock) and intolerant behavior on the part of those three wildly gifted voices, then by all means delve headlong into Wild Tiles.


Otherwise? Buy a whole bunch of the records and pretend that Dave, Graham, Neil and Steve are as groovy as the songs they write.

Rating:

Jedd Beaudoin is an award-winning writer and broadcaster. He holds an MFA in creative writing (fiction) from Wichita State University and hosts Strange Currency six nights week for Wichita Public Radio. His writing has appeared in No Depression and The Crab Orchard Review as well as at websites such as Ytsejam.com and Amazon.com.


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