That fantastic arc blooms in the pages of Nash’s new autobiography, “Wild Tales,” out Tuesday. “I’ve always known that I’ve had an interesting life,” he says backstage at the Birchmere, a few hours before his Sunday night concert. “I wanted the book to feel conversational. I wanted it to feel like I’m talking to you right now.”
Eyes shining a cool blue, the 71-year-old is clearly still savoring his odyssey. As a founder of the Hollies, he enjoyed the spoils of the British rock invasion. As a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, he helped forge the shape of American protest music. His life has been filled with a dazzling cast of lovers, collaborators, friends and rivals. But tonight, it’s just him. More than five decades into his career, Nash is on his third-ever solo tour. “I like being a team member,” he says, “but I can do anything I want here.”
Which means there’s room in Sunday night’s set for songs about Chelsea Manning (“Almost Gone”) and the scores of monks who have protested China’s occupation of Tibet through self-immolation (“Burning For the Buddha”). Nash says the urge to transpose his dissent into melody has always been a physical reflex: “I have to respond when my body says, ‘Hey, this is not right.’ ”
But over the decades, his songbook has struck a rare and brilliant balance between the personal and the political, each lending more gravity to the other. His voice — still an incredibly handsome instrument in 2013 — evoked both the horrors of Vietnam and the domestic bliss of being Joni Mitchell’s boyfriend in fine detail.
Simplicity has always been his goal. “If they’re thinking about the first line, they’re missing the second line,” Nash says of his lyrical approach. But harmony is something else entirely — a magical force he learned from the Everly Brothers, honed as a member of the Hollies and mastered while huddled around microphones with Stephen Stills, Neil Young and, especially, David Crosby.
“It’s the epitome of people coming together,” Nash says. “It’s the epitome of friendship. It’s the epitome of one human being affecting another human being and creating something bigger than both of them. That’s what harmony does for me. It’s very simple. My life is incredibly simple.”
Today, maybe. “Wild Tales” posits Nash’s nearly unbreakable optimism as the epoxy that held an infinitely complicated cluster of individuals together.
Like Mitchell, who broke Nash’s heart via telegram: “IF YOU HOLD SAND TOO TIGHTLY IN YOUR HAND, IT WILL RUN THROUGH YOUR FINGERS. LOVE, JOAN.”
Like Young, who mysteriously materialized at the recording session for 1977’s “CSN” album uninvited, urinating in the shrubbery outside the studio.