Graham Nash says he and his longtime cohorts David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Neil Young “have always been smart enough to recognize an opportunity when we see it.”
And for a group of politically astute and activist singersongwriters like this, there couldn’t be a better time to go out and raise a rock ’n’ roll ruckus.
So we have Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunited for the third time in six years for Freedom of Speech ’06, a tour inspired by the tone of the times — war, gasoline prices, Hurricane Katrina, global warming, domestic surveillance and immigration issues — and by Young’s latest album, the politically charged “Living With War,” which includes the showstopping track “Let’s Impeach the President.”
“I think that with Neil’s new record,” Nash, 64, explains, “we see an opportunity to do what it is we do best, which is communicate ideas with people, communicate different points of view, communicate subjects that maybe other people don’t want to talk about. I think Neil has definitely touched a nerve there.”
And, Nash adds, it’s a perspective the other three singer-songwriters wholeheartedly endorse.
“Obviously Neil could’ve done (the tour) on his own and created a certain buzz, but it’s a different buzz with CSNY,” Nash says. “I think we just took advantage of the situation. What happens is if we have a bunch of songs we want to sing, that’s an excuse to tour.”
Political songs have been part of the CSNY landscape throughout the quartet’s turbulent history, since even before Crosby, Stills & Nash began working together in 1968 (Young joined the following year). Individually and collectively, they’ve created one of the most potent bodies of post-Dylan musical commentary, from Stills’ “For What It’s Worth” with Buffalo Springfield to CSN’s “Wooden Ships” and “Find the Cost of Freedom,” CNSY’s “Almost Cut My Hair,” Nash’s “Military Madness,” Crosby & Nash’s “Immigration Man” and Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World.”
Young also provided a catalyst after the student shootings at Kent State University in May 1970, calling the group together to record his quickly written protest anthem “Ohio.” And Nash has been performing a brand new song called “In Your Name,” which attacks religious justifications for war.
“All the songs we’ve been known for in terms of that side of our music, they’re coming to the front again,” Nash notes. “What a sad thing we’re still doing ‘Military Madness’ 35 years after I wrote it, and to still have it make sense. The same with ‘Immigration Man’ right now.”
And within that context, even the gentler side of the group’s repertoire — such as “Teach Your Children” and “Our House” — takes on new meanings.
“They’re colored by what goes on around them,” Nash agrees. “The general tenor of what it is we’re doing, it brings added color and new meaning to the other stuff.”
Nash finds parallels between today’s environment and the late ’60s/early ’70s counterculture that spawned CSNY. But the fact there isn’t a military draft, he feels, has muted a more outspoken popular resistance to the war. And, he says, “the leaders of the military industrial complex, commercial complex that are running this planet” have become more adept at controlling mass media treatment of the issues.
“It’s easy to be sheep, and the powers that be want us to be sheep,” he says. “They want us to lie down and say, ‘Oh, it’s OK. I’ll trust President George to give me my warm bottle of milk and my blanket. He’ll make it all right.’ ”
CSNY’s mission, Nash explains, is to shake their audience out of that reverie with a show that features liberal chunks of “Living With War” in addition to CSNY’s other songs in that vein.
“I think the majority of (the fans) are on our side of the fence,” Nash says. “They love this band. They love us being human beings. They love us being involved in life. They love us shooting off our mouths and providing another viewpoint.
“There are some people who might be put off by this music and choose not to go, and that’s entirely their right. So? They don’t get to see a great show.”
And, oh yeah, music is still at the heart of CSNY’s concerts, with the quartet abetted by to our thing, but when we start playing together, it’s just as cool as when I played with Jimi (Hendrix) and Eric (Clapton) and every other great guy.”
Having CSNY active in the present does bring up questions about the future, for which Nash has no answers. The group is working on some archival projects, including a Crosby box set that Nash is producing. But, he says, pulling anything together for the quartet remains a formidable task, and Nash freely admits that no individual member has full control.
“It’s very difficult with the four of us,” he says. “We’ve got our own minds and we speak our own minds and we have very definite ways we want to do things. But we’ve become a little more mature and a little more compassionate with each other.
“And we’re not getting any younger. Our energy level is pretty good, but it’s not like it was when we were in our 20s. So we do recognize the frailty of it all, and we do recognize that time is very precious. It’s really our only currency.
“So we just try to deal with it in the best way we can with the four of us.” five other players, including longtime Young cohorts Spooner Oldham and Ben Keith. Nash gushes that the ensemble sounds “fabulous ... the best we ever have,” while Stills is enjoying his renewed lead guitar dialogue with Young.
“Our chemistry is really deep respect,” Stills, 61, says. “When (Young) plays with me, he’s really after a balance. It takes us a few rehearsals to get back to our thing, but when we start playing together it's just as cool as when I played with Jimi (Hendrix) and Eric (Clapton) and every other great guy."
Having CSNY active in the present does bring up questions about the future -- for which Nash has no answers. The group is working on some archival projects, including a Crosby box set that Nash is producing. But, he says, pulling anything together for the quartet remains a formidable task, and Nash freely admits that no individual member has full control.
"It's very difficult with the four of us," he says. "We've got our own minds and we speak our own minds and we have very definite ways we want to do things. But we've become a little more mature and a little more compassionate with each other.
"And we're not getting any younger. Our energy level is pretty good, but it's not like it was when we were in our '20s. So we do recognize the frailty of it all, and we do recognize that time is very precious. It's really our only currency.
"So we just try to deal with it in the best way we can with the four of us."
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young perform at 8 p.m. Thursday (August 31st) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. sTickets are $128.50, $78.50 and $53. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit
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