The ongoing debate of who is your favorite Beatle is as old as, well, the Beatles. But there is the little known discussion, the poor man’s debate as you will, of who is your favorite Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Younger. Over the years, though I occasionally flirted, and flirted hard, with Neil Young, I always returned to Graham Nash. Imagine my delight when I saw he was touring and would make a stop at the Keswick Theater.
There is that initial fear of seeing a musician who was so important to you at one point during your life. For me, Graham Nash’s “Songs for Beginners” album was the soundtrack of my activism during the 80s. His songs spoke to me. They were political, personal, emotional, but also hopeful. Again and again, I truly believed him as he sang, “we can change the world.” So while I was excited, I was also hesitant in case he did not live up to my memories. Turns out, there was no reason to be worried.
He came out on a minimal stage with one other musician, Shane Fontayne (who is no slouch), and said, “this is it for tonight.” Believe me, it was more than enough. One of the treats of seeing an artist without a lot of bells and whistles is that it usually ends being a very intimate affair. And this sure was. He had recently published his autobiography, so he was not only playing his songs, but also sharing the back story of the songs with us. It was like an audiobook with a soundtrack. Throughout the evening, we learned the how song came to be, who he was hanging with, his anger, disappointment and hope about the world, what drugs he was taking, etc. He was absolutely charming.
Of course, all of this would have been for naught if his voice did not hold up. And there was the true delight of the evening. His voice has not only held up over the years, I actually prefer it. There is now a richness to his voice that is just not possible at 20 years old with minimal life experience. And it was one I prefer. With this voice, his songs did not seem dated nor out of touch, they seemed incredibly relevant.
I am looking forward to his upcoming solo album, because the songs he played seemed more personal than political. I think that, at 20, it is hard to share your emotions, but you can channel them through your political beliefs. At 70, there is no reason not to be vulnerable and I feel that he is writing and singing about emotions without the political as a cover. Don’t get me wrong, he sang a beautiful song written about Michael Brown on the year anniversary of Ferguson. But the majority of the new songs seem about him as a man with emotions, not as a man with political beliefs. Beautiful, just beautiful.
I went in wanting to see one of my past heroes and came out with a new appreciation for the man, his music and his life. What a wonderful surprise and treat. And, if you are wondering, I still strongly believe, as Graham does, that “we can change the world.”
34 shows to go, 297 days left…