This path forward

Graham Nash isn’t resting on his laurels

From The Hollies to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, to just Graham Nash.

From The Hollies to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, to just Graham Nash.

Photo by Eleanor Stills

Chico Performances presents Graham Nash, Wednesday, March 22, 7:30 p.m., at Laxson Auditorium.
Tickets: $10-$54
Laxson AuditoriumChico State

After typing the last word of the first draft of Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, Graham Nash could hardly believe that it was his autobiography.

“I got to the end of the book, and I looked down and said, ‘Holy shit. I wish I was him.’ It sounded so incredible,” he said. “This one person went through all of these incredible changes and was present at the birth of rock ’n’ roll and the British invasion and all of that?”

Seeing the book published in 2013 was pivotal for Nash. Previously, he’d spent decades reliving—and dwelling on—his musical journey:

Forming seminal English pop band The Hollies in the mid-1960s. Leaving The Hollies and becoming one-third of Crobsy, Stills and Nash. Turning the group into a quartet with Neil Young. Fighting bitterly with his bandmates. Moving from England to Southern California and living with his girlfriend, Joni Mitchell. Playing Woodstock in 1969. Taking a leading role in the 1970s counterculture movement. Calling out President Richard Nixon in a song. Becoming an officer of the Order of the British Empire. Getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (twice).

All told, it was a lot to move on from. “It was an incredible release for me to realize that all happened in the past, and to get on with today,” he said.

Graham spoke to the CN&R by phone ahead of his show at Chico State’s Laxson Auditorium on Wednesday (March 22). He’s touring to promote his first solo album in 14 years, This Path Tonight, a record that’s informed by recent personal upheavals. Two years ago, he divorced his wife of nearly 40 years, Susan Sennett, and moved from Hawaii to New York City.

“My soul was washed clean, and I’m starting again at 75 years old,” he said. “It’s kind of crazy. Certainly, I’m smart enough to recognize that I’m on the back end of my life. I mean, how much longer can this go on? I’ve realized you’ve got to utilize every single second the best way you can. Life is very short.

“So, there’s a lot of that on the album,” he said. “A lot of walking out of my past and into my future.”

As one of rock’s senior statesmen, Nash easily could have banged out standards with some A-list guests and called it a record. He instead created something more personal; more vulnerable. This Path Tonight is somber, sweet and lonesome. On the title track, over minor-key acoustic guitar, Nash sings in his tenor, “I try my best to be myself/But wonder who’s behind this mask.”

The new songs have dark vibes, which Nash recognizes as a juxtaposition to the cheery peace-and-love songs that defined much of his early career. They reflect his view of the world today, and his feelings about turning on the TV and watching President Donald Trump push his ban on immigration, he said. “I’ve never seen it this crazy. It’s almost unspeakable, what’s going on now.” In that sense, he actually finds it disheartening that his 1972 song “Immigration Man”—written about a U.S. customs official who wouldn’t let him enter the country—is so relevant.

“On one hand, it’s wonderful that songs written 40 years ago still resonate with people,” he said. “But on the other, it’s awful that we still have this same madness.” With America at a similar cultural crossroads, Nash says this country needs protest music, but he’s not hearing anything like “Ohio”—the classic CSNY song that helped amplify sentiment against the Vietnam War.

“When you bring ideas to people, you’re changing the world slightly,” he said. “People listened to our music and got up and screamed about what happened to those four kids in Ohio.”