I woke up in Ballycastle, on my Monday day off, during my family’s Half Term break and I felt bereft! There are many things I love to do in Ballycastle, like running the hideous hills in the forest, walking the dog with my beloved wife at sunset or driving to remote beaches down the glens with my girls, are but three. A fourth and the one we are concentrating on in this blog is reading a good book. The reason I woke up so bereft this morning was that a break had just begun and a good book had just been finished! I know I have enjoyed a book when I miss the characters and the world of it, when that last page is read. I have experienced that empty emotion most with Brian Keenan’s brilliant Evil Cradling, Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible and Roddy Doyle’s Henry Smart Trilogy.
This time it was Graham Nash’s autobiography Wild Tales. I have been a fan of music biogs since I picked up a book on The Osmonds in Chester as an 11 year old in 1973! I spent the late 70’s through the 80s with books on The Beatles and Bob Dylan. I was becoming fascinated with lyrics and their meaning. It was inspiring me to dabble in rhyming couplets. Then the starts of the new millennium I found I was reading them for work. When I say work I am talking about my two books and MTh dissertation. My writing was on what has been labelled theo-musicology and therefore copious amounts of books were read across a few years. At the end of all of that I thought I had seen enough rock biogs to do one man for a lifetime.
Yet, this Nash book has given me a new reason for the reading the genre. In the madness of the life of congregational ministry, where you carry around all the planning, sermon preparation, pastoral worries and joys of a congregation as well as the criticisms and moaning, I have found that one way to distract my thoughts is a biography like this one of Graham Nash. The story takes you into someone else’s creativity and imagination which can spark your own. It is like relationships. All books don’t click. There is a chemistry that needs to click.
Wild Tales had that chemistry. Graham Nash took me back to a time in history that I simply love; the late 60s and early 70s. I was too young to live them at the time so to go back and hear stories of The Beatles, Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne was a treat. Then of course a songwriter will tell you about the songs he has written and how they came about. That is another avenue of escape. I found myself seeking out the songs, playing them, singing them and pondering them. So, when my wife and I were walking our dog in Lagan Meadows on our day off I would find that while Janice was still thinking Church, I was away in Graham Nash world. I had escaped.
A Nash autobiography was a particularly good read for me in that I came to Crosby, Stills and Nash late. It was actually reading a brilliant book by David Browne called Fire and Rain a couple of summers ago that made me reassess Crosby, Still and Nash. This year with a kind gift I was given for doing a wedding I downloaded the box sets of all three and was very taken by the Nash one, Reflections. Nash’s Wild Tales therefore was news to me. It is a great story when he joined Stills and Crosby in Joni Mitchell’s house in the legendary Laurel Canyon to add another harmony and have that eureka moment. I was aware of his romance with Mitchell but it was good to read his account and continued love. Even though he found his real true love in his wife of decades Susan. It was fascinating to read his accounts of writing songs like Marrakesh Express, Our House, Just A Song Before I Go and a host of others. I was interested in his political causes and his photography and his pioneering work in technology.
The intrigue of the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young soap opera always makes for a good story with so many self inflicted twists and turns. It was good to get an inside slant on their personalities and also by the end a realisation that they have never really broken up but have this open relationship that allows for all kinds of collaborations while always being drawn back to one another. Crosby’s drug addiction is the dark side of the story and it is sad and often bleak but there was a redemption of sorts! Most intriguing of all is one’s journey through life, struggling with life decisions, new starts, how to raise a family while a rock superstar and being a faithful friend to Crosby when he is way off the rails. That moment when he leaves The Hollies, his wife and England for that new start in 1969. You can feel the human struggle. My disappointment for awhile was that drugs seemed to be seen as the great inspiration of great music, songs, art and the meaning of life. By the end though Nash sees through the drugs and realises their down side, seeing the importance of coming off cocaine himself for the good of all around him and himself.
So much in a reasonably short book and the only disappointment like so many such rock biogs is that three quarters is taken up in the first few years of a career and two little said about recent records and life. Yet, there is a lot in this book. Enough to give me an escape and lead me off to find songs I knew nothing about or a deeper way into songs I that I thought I did. Nash writes with a very easy personal touch. I missed him on Monday morning. I need to find someone else to help me escape from now to Christmas!