Of all the hits that Graham Nash has written in his 50+ years as a professional musician (and there are a lot of hits), his defining and most popular one is likely “Teach Your Children.” Clocking in at just under three minutes, the gentle ode to intergenerational education and the passing on of life experiences from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 1969 album Déjà Vu is also a favorite audience singalong when performed live.
However, in a startling new animated video, the twice-inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer explicitly links the song’s words and meaning from the causes and struggles of the 1960s (civil rights, the Vietnam war, police abuse, government corruption, protesting the President) to those of today (March for Our Lives, Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March, immigration and protesting the President).
“I realize that a lot of my songs are still currently relevant today, even though I wrote them decades ago. Things like ‘Military Madness’ and ‘Immigration Man’ and ‘Chicago/We Can Change the World,’” Nash offers. “And I was thinking about the Parkland students in Florida who were victims of that shooting, and how they’re realizing at an early age how politicians are running their lives. They have really created a power. And if they can keep that energy and passion up, they can put an ending to this gun violence and the NRA and politicians that support it. We can learn from what they’re doing.”
So it appears that the “teach your parents well” line is more than just another lyric in the song these days. The video is made up of more than 2,000 individual drawings by artist Jeff Scher, based on actual photos and video, and switch from black and white to represent the 1960s to color renditions for today.
When I tell Nash that my 18-year-old daughter saw the video and made the connections instantly, the 76-year-old Nash is elated. “That’s fantastic! That’s exactly what I want it to do! It actually makes me angry those songs of mine are still relevant. It’s like we haven’t learned anything.”
“Teach Your Children” – along with raft of Graham Nash songs recorded with CSN, Crosby/Nash, CSNY, and solo – are featured on the new anthology Over the Years. But it’s the bonus disc of the original demos of many of those songs and other different ones that has caught the attention of listeners.
Spare, and often just featuring Nash’s voice with elegant piano or acoustic guitar accompaniment, some of them differ in lyrics and tempo from the final versions that have been implanted in the brains of classic rock fans for decades. In fact, it’s jarring to hear Nash announce something like “This is called ‘Marrakesh Express’” –a reminder that there was once a time that this song was new, and that the only person who had even heard it...was Graham Nash himself.
“I wanted to include something interesting for people who already had a lot of the [officially-released] versions. And people are really responding to them,” he says. “And you can see the transition from the original ideas I put on tape to the actual record that came out.”
In fact, Nash and Joel Bernstein are also the archivists of the output of CSN and CSNY. And the duo have produced numerous records and box sets over the years both of the two groups and the players individually. Given the fractured relationships among the quartet (especially in modern times), one might wonder if it’s a pain in the ass for Nash to get the other three to sign off on anything.
“With the CSNY 1974 live box set, the boys trusted me. They knew it was going to be a big job, but I kept them in the loop constantly,” Nash says. “And we had to go through a lot of technological challenges since most of that was recorded on two tracks or in different environments. Our job was to put you on the tenth row in the middle and have you believe that you were listening to one show.”
This differs, of course, from the recent Neil Young-helmed Buffalo Springfield box set, which Neil apparently neglected to inform bandmates Stephen Stills and Richie Furay was even coming out — until it did!
Nash is also hitting the road, with guitarist/vocalist Shane Fontayne and keyboardist/vocalist Todd Caldwell in tow. He says that this means they’ll change up the set list from his last stop in Houston two years ago, and can now sing with three-part harmony. And it won’t be the same tunes from night to night. “The truth is, I’ve written a lot of songs!” he laughs.
He is also working on the follow-up studio album to 2016’s This Path Tonight, with songs both leftover from those sessions and new material. He says he and Fontayne will “work it out” on the back of the bus while on the current jaunt.
Still unreleased to date, unfortunately, is video of a concert that marked the 50th anniversary of the last show that Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson played at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Shortly after that February 2, 1959 show wrapped up, all three artists – along with the pilot – were killed in an airplane crash, the event immortalized in Don McLean’s “American Pie” as “The Day the Music Died.”
Nash was part of an all-star lineup that played a tribute show 50 years to the day of that earlier one at the same venue. And, of course, the very name of his first successful group, the Hollies ("Bus Stop," "Carrie-Anne," "Stop, Stop Stop," "On a Carousel"), was a tribute to the bespectacled Texan singer/songwriter/guitarist.
“I remember I was on the street corner with my friend, Allan Clarke [Hollies’ vocalist] when we found out that Buddy was killed, and we were just crying our eyes out. To then forward to 50 years later and I’m playing the [tribute show] and looking at the phone that Buddy called his wife Maria Elena on and sitting in the bloody dressing room where he was! It was incredibly emotional for me. And then later I went to the crash site.”
But while he does often look back in his life and music, Graham Nash is also very much about today. In fact, he’s raving about a book he’s almost done with called Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids—And How to Break the Trance by Nicholas Kardaras.
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“I see them walking around with their faces glued to their screens, not looking up and not communicating with anyone. It’s alarming! And it’s not just kids,” Nash offers. “Today’s technology is connecting people, but it’s also keeping us very much apart.”
Sounds like today’s parents still need to teach their children well when it comes to a lot of things. And vice versa.
Graham Nash plays September 20, 8:30 p.m., at the Dosey Doe Big Barn, 25911 I-45 North. Dinner is served 6-7:30 p.m. For information, call 281-367-3774 or visit DoseyDoe.com. $158-$238.
For information on Graham Nash, visit GrahamNash.com