Q&A: Graham Nash Talks Obama, Your Camera at His Show, and Saying No to Pictures of Kittens With Wool

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JCash_Silhouette_(c)GrahamNash.jpg
Graham Nash
Johnny Cash in 1969. This photo --and many more -- are part of EMP's "Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock 'n' Roll Photographs" , opening

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Q&A: Graham Nash Talks Obama, Your Camera at His Show, and Saying No to Pictures of Kittens With Wool

  • Q&A: Graham Nash Talks Obama, Your Camera at His Show, and Saying No to Pictures of Kittens With Wool

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    JCash_Silhouette_(c)GrahamNash.jpg
    Graham Nash
    Johnny Cash in 1969. This photo --and many more -- are part of EMP's "Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock 'n' Roll Photographs", opening February 6.
    Graham Nash is a Hollie, a member of CSNY, and voice in the mix of seminal anti-war tunes from "Military Madness" to "Ohio." But before he first picked up a guitar, the British kid was introduced to photography by his father. This month, he unveils Taking Aim: Unforgettable Rock 'n' Roll Photographs at EMP, an exhibit he curated that features the likes of Neko Case, Elvis Presley, Janis Joplin, and a few pictures he took himself.

    Have you been shooting anything in particular lately?

    I never shoot anything in particular. I just shoot whatever appeals to me through the viewfinder. If I see a moment that I need to capture, I'll capture it. I tell you what I don't shoot, and that's kittens with balls of wool, images that match my couch. I don't do that.

    But kittens with balls of wool are so popular on the internet these days.

    I know, I know. But it's not popular with me. I like completely surreal, insane moments that disappear instantly.

    Is that what you were looking for when you were picking photos for "Taking Aim"?

    I did. I wanted energy. I wanted to be able to show the energy of rock and roll in all its forms, be it very still or incredibly chaotic.

    Elton-John-1973_(c)BarrieWentzell.jpg
    Barrie Wentzell
    Elton John, 1973
    Does rock photography have a tendency to perpetuate any misconceptions about rock and roll?

    Good question. I think rock and roll's funkier than some of these photographs would make it seem. But it always has been very funky, ever since the day I started when I was 13 years old it was funky. (We were) rehearsing in garages and rehearsing in places that didn't have electricity and didn't have heat. Rock and roll's funky, but I wanted to glorify it.

    What do you look for in a photographer when you're hiring somebody to shoot your band?

    Somebody that's invisible.

    I hear artists talk sometimes about trusting a photographer. What does it mean to trust a photographer, to produce flattering images?

    Not necessarily, but to produce real images. Real images, "Oh, that was a moment when they hit that high note," CLICK. Got it.

    Do you think concert photography is improving in the iPhone/cell camera era?

    No.

    The fact that everybody's bringing a camera to the show, is that improving concert photography?

    I guess you could call that concert photography. But they're using that as a memory, and I don't do that. I don't use my camera as my memory. I use my brain as my memory. I don't want to have a picture of me by the Eiffel tower, just because I was by the Eiffel tower, it doesn't make sense to me. And that's what people are doing now. "Oh, I want to take a picture of my friend next to this pig." Well, just remember your friend next to that pig. Why do you have to take a picture of it?

    How do you feel about people bringing cameras to shows?

    It's disturbing to me, because they're not concentrating on the music. They're concentrating on the happening, the event of it, rather than the music.

    Mark Seliger
    Ice-T, 1993
    The standard first three songs to shoot and then out, I'm assuming is the Crosby, Stills, and Nash photo policy.

    It is. And the reason to that is that people don't want pictures of themselves sweaty, and disruptive during a two-hour show.

    Some of these pictures in your show -- like Hendrix burning his axe-- are these things that didn't take place during the first three songs. Are we missing out on moments like that?

    Yes, absolutely.

    When was the last time you performed "Military Madness"?

    Oh, month and a half ago, on the end of the tour. It's disturbing as a writer to have a song that is so popular and at the same time the subject matter is so devastating. Shit, I wrote that about my father going off to World War II, for God's sake. Now look at where we are.

    It seems like almost every musician was writing an anti-war or an anti-Bush song over the last eight years. Is it easier for an artist to be anti-war in this era than it was during Vietnam?

    No. It's not easier. It's much more difficult. Since Vietnam, the nation's media, the world's media learned a big lesson: You cannot show American or European dead on television every night at six o'clock and expect no reaction from the American people. They learned. You never saw anything after Vietnam. Because they learned: Don't show the people what the fuck we're doing. They won't like it. They'll stop us doing it.

    How does that make it more difficult? It seems like people are so accommodating for artists demonstrating against the war?

    It's true, but it was easier then, because we were all against the war. I mean, don't forget on the CSNY 2008 Living With War, anti-Bush tour that we did, in Atlanta 10 percent of the audience booed and screamed and left. I was never on a tour with bomb-sniffing dogs before. It's a whole other game when you start really talking politics. And what the fuck do you expect if you come to a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young concert?

    Is it harder to be anti-war now that the candidate you had hoped for would be president is now sending more troops into war?

    I believe he's going to change things. I just think that it's going to be much more difficult and take much more time than he ever though. I mean, we handed him a pile of shit, and we're expecting to make biscuits from it, you know?

    neko_case_(c)AliceWheeler.jpg
    Alice Wheeler
    Neko Case and Her Boyfriends, in Tacoma, 2000

    What have you been up to today?

    Well, I'm about to start rehearsing again for the second half of the Crosby, Stills, and Nash, slash Rick Rubin record that we're doing. Columbia Records requested something strange of us. They didn't want any Crosby, Stills, and Nash songs.

    What did they want?

    They wanted our vocal sound on songs that we wished we'd written.

    What's that going to include?

    Well, you know, the list is not final. I'm kind of hesitant to name individual songs in case they're not there. But things like "Close Your Eyes" by James Taylor, "Midnight Rider," "Ruby Tuesday," "Norwegian Wood." We're doing a bunch of songs that we love.

    What kind of role does Rick Rubin play in the process?

    A very interesting one. He doesn't take part in any of the rehearsals, of course. He just makes suggestions and then we rehearse them and then we go and play them for him and he goes, "Oh, I love that one, let's do that."

    He seems at first to be, what's the word, a little distracted. He's working on three or four albums at the same time, he's talking to people constantly on his Blackberry, but the moment that you do something where he goes, "Can we try that a little slower," just out of the corner of the room. He's engaged. But he's multi-tasking for sure. He certainly knows what he wants.

    You mentioned you're in the studio right now with Stephen Still and David Crosby. Does Neil Young have a standing invitation to come back?

    Always. And he knows that. In fact, I'm expecting a call from him any minute.

    How is the band different when he's in the room?

    It's darker. It's edgier. It's more serious. I mean, we're always serious, but I mean, it's serious when Neil's there. He's serious as a fucking heart attack. You better be on your game when you play with Neil.

    NeilYoungDrivesHome_(c)GrahamNash.jpg
    Graham Nash
    Neil Young driving home to Broken Arrow Ranch in 1988.
     
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