Thursday, March 13, 2014

Wild Tales: A Rock and Roll Life by Graham Nash

I admit I am slow on the uptake at times. I hadn't realized Graham Nash put out a memoir until I saw it listed on the front of my library's Overdrive page. I had intended to read first a Bob Dylan bio (second attempt, different book - it will happen one day), but since I go through eBooks rather quickly I snatched up Wild Tales before somebody else did. I do like The Hollies, and we enjoy CSN(Y). My husband can scratch out a nice rendition of "Southern Cross" on his guitar; I wish I could say we were able to nail down the harmonies as well.

Before Nash delves too deeply into his personal history, he opens Tales with the story of perhaps the most important point of his career, where he comes to a crossroads (by air, on the way to LA) and must decide to divorce not only The Hollies, but his estranged wife. Waiting for him in California are his new love, Joni Mitchell, and Stephen Stills and David Crosby. Yeah, no big deal - three major hitters of late 60s music are chillin' in the same space. What's even more amazing are the collective resumes of this cast: Crosby has left The Byrds, and Stills is recently out of Buffalo Springfield. One can argue that CSN are the original supergroup. Take that, Damn Yankees.

So, anyway, Wild Tales chugs along quite smoothly and you could probably get through it in a day or two. Books like that are either so compelling you can't stop, or lack substance so you kind of speed through it. Nash's story kind of teeters. He doesn't spend a lot of time on his youth, which seems to parallel a bit with that of John Lennon - young man grows up in an industrial English town, befriends a future music partner (in Nash's case it's former Hollie Allen Clarke), discovers American rock and roll, and takes up the guitar to escape an inevitable future in a mill or mine. It's interesting to read how Nash and the Beatles cross paths throughout their earlier careers, and Nash's eventual dissatisfaction with commercial pop, which brings him to Joni Mitchell's door as relayed in the beginning of the book.

The first few chapters pertaining to CSN(Y) read like a description of the longest dysfunctional yet most successful open marriage ever. Nash maintains the group remains active to this day, even if people don't speak to each other for years and tour with different bands and nah. It's a turbulent love story co-starring more than a few female lovers in common, money gone missing...all liberally dusted with enough blow to fill a canyon. You listen now to harmonious ditties like "Helpless" and "Long Time Gone" and wonder how they were able to keep the tempo slow when they were all jacked up.

The last quarter of the book summarizes Nash's activism and recent honors (HoF, OBE, etc.). If you're into the Tea Party, you probably will leave Wild Tales pissed off. As a memoir, though, Wild Tales lives up to the title. If you enjoy good dish and name-dropping, even if you're not into the music scene of this time, it's an entertaining read.

Rating: B-

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Kathryn Lively is the author of Killing the Kordovas and the Rock and Roll Mysteries, Rock Deadly and Rock Til You Drop.