Some things never change … and Graham Nash isn’t necessarily happy about it.
"It’s time for us again," says the 70-year-old singer, who rejoins his singing partners of the past 43 years, David Crosby and Stephen Stills, for a summer tour that makes an early stop today at the Hard Rock Hotel.
But relevance can be bittersweet. " ‘Military Madness’ is a perfect example," Nash says of the tune that led off his first solo album, "Songs for Beginners," in 1971.
"I wrote it about my father going off to World War II, I wrote it over 40 years ago. But it still needs to be said. And that’s very sad to me."
He qualifies that to say, "I’m thrilled that a piece of my music has lasted this long, and people really like it and sing it and all that stuff. But it’s a drag to have to actually physically sing it because of what it’s about. We haven’t learned anything in the last 40 years?"
Saber-rattling with Iran would suggest not. "Of course we are," he says of keeping all options on the table. "Because the military industrial complex can’t afford not to have a war." Then he lightens the tone with a "Dr. Strangelove" quote: "You can’t fight in here, this is the war room."
Decades after Crosby, Stills & Nash became synonymous with the protest songs of the Vietnam era, the three still align themselves with activist causes. Last November, Crosby and Nash took their acoustic guitars to Zuccotti Park in New York to serenade protesters at the Occupy Wall Street encampment.
"It was incredible because we heard the voice of the people loud and clear," he says. "It’s getting wild out here in America. I’m not sure this is the country I wanted to join," says the British singer who became a U.S. citizen in 1978.
One of the reasons the trio wanted to tour again was to introduce some new songs. One of them is "Almost Gone," Nash’s song about Bradley Manning, the Army private accused of downloading a trove of classified documents and passing them to WikiLeaks.
Nash says his song is more about the length and conditions of Manning’s confinement. Some people are "coming around," and others "don’t like what I’m saying," he says.
"But I’m not talking about his guilt or his innocence. I’m not talking about whether he’s a hero or a villain. I’m talking about him as a human being. And under our laws you’re not allowed to punish someone so severely before a trial.
"They punished him so severely for 11 months before they even charged him. They tried to destroy this man’s mind." The song title, he says, refers to Manning’s lawyer saying his client’s mind was "almost gone" after extended solitary confinement.
"I certainly expect repercussions," Nash adds. "With all due respect, the powers that be that run this entire planet cannot afford Bradley Manning to prevail, and they cannot afford (WikiLeaks founder Julian) Assange to prevail and they can’t afford WikiLeaks to last. Because it just rips the curtain right off all the people that are working the behind-the-scenes moneymaking machine, especially the war-making machine."
If that sounds like the Crosby, Stills & Nash we all grew up with, what about the music itself? "It’s a fuller sound now, it’s more rocking," Nash says of rounding out the famous harmonies with a full band.
It’s been more of a long time gone since the three released a new album. In January they announced the plug had been pulled on a collaboration with superstar producer Rick Rubin on a collection of covers by their classic rock peers.
"We tried it and gave a real good shot at it, but it just didn’t work out," Nash says. "I guess part of it is Rick is absolutely used to being totally in charge. … That’s OK with a lot of the new guys," he adds, but "we’ve been making records since almost before he was born. He rubbed David the wrong way a couple of times and (the sessions) just got to be work … rather than a natural flow of energy."
The album concept is still "a great idea" that the three have since continued by recording in Jackson Browne’s studio.
In the meantime, time marches on with the three singers in various combinations of one, two and occasionally four, if you count their rare excursions with Neil Young. But three is usually the magic number, as it will be this summer.
"People want to hear (the hits) and we’re going to do all those, but we’re going to update them for ourselves, change the key, change the arrangement, change the tempo, that kind of stuff," Nash says.
After all these years, "We have to make it interesting for ourselves."
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.Preview
Crosby, Stills & Nash
8 p.m. today
The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel, 4455 Paradise Road