Rocky Mountain News
Band of brothers
By Mark Brown, Rocky Mountain News
July 17, 2006
When Neil Young played his new album, Living With War, for his former band mates in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, they were floored.
Its Iraq-inspired songs ranged from heartfelt tributes to veterans to a flat-out call for the president’s impeachment.
“He called me and (David) Crosby to a hotel he was staying at in Los Angeles. We got in his car and went driving through the canyons blasting the record,” Graham Nash says.
“The first thing that I thought was that it was incredibly brave. The second thing I thought is, he has touched a nerve here. There are a lot of people who want to say what he’s saying and don’t have the ability to do it, which he does as a popular figure in this silly business of ours. I think a lot of people want to say what Neil is saying, but none more than me and David and Stephen (Stills). So we wanted to come and help him say this, and we’re doing it with bells on.”
In a way, it put Young in a hard spot. The CSNY summer tour had long been planned when Young suddenly put out Living With War in a recording frenzy a couple of months ago. A solo tour would make more sense, but they had a better idea: CSNY is not only doing its classic material but much of the new Young album as well.
“I think that Neil was very smart. He could have gone out with a band and done this on his own, but I think he realized that the four of us singing this is bigger, frankly,” Nash says from his hotel in Winnipeg, Manitoba, before a show there. CSNY’s tour starts its three-night stand at Red Rocks tonight.
So that no one feels cheated, the band is playing extra-long sets, with most shows clocking in at three hours and 20 minutes.
“We wanted to provide a balance, too. We didn’t wanna just be there as four raving madmen against this administration,” he says. “People come to see us because they fell in love to CSNY music. We didn’t want to make it just about how (screwed up) things appear to be in certain respects.”
Songs like Living With War sound entirely different with the trademark CSNY harmonies.
“We have to make it our own, don’t we?” Nash says. “It’s us. We’re human beings. We’re reacting to our environment. We’re reacting to the news around us. We’re reacting to what’s going on and here we are.”
Audiences are reacting as well, snapping up tickets for the tour. The first two nights at Red Rocks are sold out, but at press time a few seats remained for Thursday’s final show.”It can only be the music. Look at us! We’re not Brad Pitt here. It must be the music. As a performer and a composer, that’s the best thing for me, that the music will long outlive the other silly stuff that people write about us,” Nash says.
The tour was plotted in part because of Young’s health scare last year with a brain aneurysm. Any touring is grueling, but with CSNY he has three other frontmen to help carry the load.
“There was a little of that,” Nash says. “The overwhelming thing is wanting to play the music and talk to the people and provide a different point of view to the people. We do have a right to speak our minds, and we owe it as patriotic Americans to speak our minds.”
Throughout their careers, all four members have written songs reflecting what’s going on in society, be it Crosby’s Long Time Coming, Stills’ For What It’s Worth, Nash’s Chicago or far too many Young songs to count, including the epic Ohio.
Thirty-six years ago, CSNY were able to put out Ohio, about the Kent State killings, without being vilified. More recently, artists have been quickly dismissed or attacked when they speak up.
“That’s because . . . they’ve gotten much more clever at stabilizing the status quo. They don’t want to rock any boats. They don’t want people to know. They don’t want people up in arms. They don’t want people expressing their opinions,” Nash says. “They just want them to be sheep and just lie down and shut up and let good old Mommy President give you a little blankie and a glass of warm milk and tell you everything is fine. But that’s not the reality.”
The CSNY tour isn’t the only high-profile gig Nash has had of late. He and Crosby sang on Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour’s solo album and played a number of shows with him.
“I’ve known Gilmour for 20 years, I think,” Nash says. “Gilmour and Bette Midler one night helped me put plumbing in. The most expensive plumbing team in history.”
Gilmour popped in at a Royal Festival Hall show a couple of years back.
“He came backstage and said: ‘OK, two things. One, I’m stealing your drummer. And secondly, I have this song that I kind of hear you and David singing on. What do you think?’ We had a day off the next day, so we went to the studio, we put our voices on this beautiful song called On an Island. ”
It was just that simple.
“We’re doing what we always did,” Nash says. “We’re following our muse. We’re following whatever energy it was that brought us to this point.”
Mark Brown is the popular music critic.
Copyright 2006, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.