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Legendary Folk Duo Crosby & Nash on Soundtracking Movements from the 1960s to Occupy Wall Street

StoryNovember 10, 2011
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Just days after performing at the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Lower Manhattan, the legendary musicians David Crosby and Graham Nash join us live in our studio. For the duo, Occupy Wall Street is the latest in a number of causes they have supported in their historic careers stretching back nearly five decades. They are best known as founding members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, a supergroup that performed at Woodstock and sold millions of records. Both are two-time inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Throughout their careers, politics has played a central role in their music. About the Occupy Wall Street movement, Crosby says, “There’s an awful lot of people who feel that they are not represented in Congress, that Congress has been bought by the large corporations, and that they are powerless, and that they are getting the short end of the stick.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The legendary musicians David Crosby and Graham Nash at Occupy Wall Street, singing “Teach Your Children.” Crosby and Nash visited the protest encampment on Tuesday and performed four songs for a packed crowd. Today they join us here, David Crosby and Graham Nash. Occupy Wall Street is the latest in a number of causes the musicians have supported in their historic careers, stretching back nearly five decades. They’re best known as founding members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, a supergroup that performed at Woodstock and sold millions of records. Prior to that, David Crosby was a member of The Byrds, and Graham Nash was in The Hollies. Both are two-time inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Here’s a brief sampling of some of their most famous songs.

[excerpts of “Teach Your Children,” “Almost Cut My Hair,” “Our House,” “Marrakesh Express” and “Wooden Ships”]

JUAN GONZALEZ: Crosby and Nash recorded live this past summer. That was part of the trailer to a new DVD titled Crosby-Nash: In Concert.

Throughout their careers, politics has played a central role in their music. One of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s most famous songs may be the Neil Young classic “Ohio,” written in 1970, days after four students at Kent State were shot dead by the Ohio National Guard. Two years earlier, the band recorded the song “Chicago,” following the violent police crackdown in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention in 1968.

AMY GOODMAN: In the ’70s, Graham Nash helped form Musicians United for Safe Energy, which organized the historic “No Nukes” concert at Madison Square Garden in 1979. Just this past summer, Crosby, Stills & Nash played a No Nukes reunion show with Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne and others to raise money for relief efforts following the Japan nuclear meltdown.

David Crosby has been a longtime advocate of campaign finance reform, co-author of a book about music and activism called Stand and Be Counted: Making Music, Making History.

Well, David Crosby and Graham Nash, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

GRAHAM NASH: How are you both?

DAVID CROSBY: Great to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Very good. How was it going to Occupy Wall Street?

GRAHAM NASH: Phenomenal. It was an incredible experience. It really was. And what we were hearing down there, obviously, was the voice of the people.

AMY GOODMAN: What brought you there? How did this get organized?

DAVID CROSBY: Well, it’s sort of part of our job. You know, part of our job is just to make music that makes you feel good, but part of our job is to be the town crier, the troubadour carrying a message and stuff. And when we saw what was going on down there, we definitely wanted to be a part of it, and taste it and feel it and find out, you know, what it was and how it worked, and try to figure out what was going to happen.

GRAHAM NASH: We were in Europe for the last seven weeks, so we kind of missed a lot of it. But we talked about it at every single concert. And we thought, well, you know, maybe there’s a language barrier, maybe they’re not going to understand. Every time we mentioned OWS, they cheered.

AMY GOODMAN: And were they having those kind of Occupy movements around Europe?

GRAHAM NASH: Indeed, and as David points out, larger than Zuccotti Park.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the young people at Zuccotti Park, how many of them were familiar with your music?

GRAHAM NASH: A lot of them, because, as you can see from some of the video, they were singing like crazy. I mean, you know, all we had to do—

DAVID CROSBY: It seemed like all of them, because they sang with us. That was—really, for me, that was the best part.

AMY GOODMAN: It was like a variation on people’s mic, you know, because there isn’t an amplification system. You have to repeat what everyone says.

DAVID CROSBY: Yes, they—you know, when they started singing along with us, it was very inspiring. I felt like I was really doing my job. I felt like I was Woody Guthrie right there.

AMY GOODMAN: Hey, would you guys consider singing another of the songs that you sang at Occupy Wall Street, right here without your guitars, without all the accoutrements?


DAVID CROSBY: Yeah, sure.

GRAHAM NASH: Absolutely. This is a song that David wrote, called “What Are Their Names,” an incredibly pointed piece of poetry.

DAVID CROSBY: They’ve sort of taken this one to be their official song, or at least they told us that.

GRAHAM NASH: Do you want us to do it now?


DAVID CROSBY AND GRAHAM NASH: [singing] Who are the men
Who really run this land?
And why do they run it
With such a thoughtless hand?
What are their names?
And on what streets do they live?
I’d like to ride right over
This afternoon and give
Them a piece of my mind
About peace for mankind
Peace is not an awful lot to ask

AMY GOODMAN: Graham Nash and David Crosby, live in our New York studio, just a few days after singing at Occupy Wall Street. Talk a little about music, art and protest.

GRAHAM NASH: We’re human—basically, we’re human beings. We get up every morning the same as everybody else, take our first breath, thank God that we’re alive, and get on with life. We get affected by what’s going on around us. We’re human beings and very—even though we are, you know, “rock and roll stars,” whatever that means, our feet are firmly planted on the ground, and we get affected by what happens to us as people, and we have to say something about it.


DAVID CROSBY: Music is a terrific vehicle for ideas. It transmits ideas better than almost anything. And ideas are the most powerful stuff on the planet. And it’s been something that we felt was an obligation and part of our job the whole time.

GRAHAM NASH: People have always called us, you know, a political band, but when you shoot four students down, and they get slaughtered for their constitutional right to address their government’s failings, is that political, or is that a human story? When you bind and chain and gag Bobby Seale at the Democratic trial, is that political or is that a human story?

JUAN GONZALEZ: And what’s been, over the years, the reaction of the industry, of the music industry, to your continued consistency on raising so many of these issues?

GRAHAM NASH: We don’t—

DAVID CROSBY: Some of them just really laugh at us. I mean, if you—the industry is a broad spectrum thing. On one side, you’ve got the Disney pop tart factory, and on the other, you’ve got people who come up and are of the school that came from The Weavers and Josh White and—

GRAHAM NASH: Pete and Woody.

DAVID CROSBY: Pete and Woody, and there are people with consciences.

AMY GOODMAN: We put out on Facebook and Twitter that you guys were coming, and lots of people emailed us—


AMY GOODMAN: —tweeted us questions, posted them on Facebook. Leigh Kerr wrote in, asking, “How do today’s demonstrations feel different from the demonstrations of the 1960s?”

GRAHAM NASH: They don’t, to me.

DAVID CROSBY: Didn’t, to me.

GRAHAM NASH: They’re actually the same, same as Selma, same as women’s rights, same as—

DAVID CROSBY: Same kind of emotions, same kind of pride.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Except now they don’t have mimeograph machines. They have—

GRAHAM NASH: I know, but they have the internet.

JUAN GONZALEZ: —computers and phones.

DAVID CROSBY: Well, it’s much faster.

GRAHAM NASH: And that’s the secret.

DAVID CROSBY: The spread of a movement—look, this thing is like a solution that’s reaching saturation. And at the right point, all of a sudden, the crystal forms. And that’s what’s going on down there in that park. America is a solution, and it is reaching a saturation point. And this crystal is starting to happen all over the country. There’s an awful lot of people who feel that they are not represented in Congress, that Congress has been bought by the large corporations, and that they are powerless, and that they are getting the short end of the stick. All across the political spectrum, even conservatives, feeling, you know, they’re not being represented and that what was supposed to be their representation is—

GRAHAM NASH: Doesn’t exist.

DAVID CROSBY: Doesn’t exist.

AMY GOODMAN: Maria Aytes-Wagner left this question on our Facebook page, said, “I think it is time for a concert to support the #Occupy Movement with all the good protest songs from the 1960s. Would you start the #OccupyMusic movement, before they take away our songs? Get all the groups together from Woodstock to make a new album to help the protesters.” And she said those “donations would go to groups supporting the basic necessities to the forefront.”

GRAHAM NASH: I think she has a fantastic idea, and we’re going to think about that heavily.

DAVID CROSBY: Yeah, except for the line, “take away the songs.” Nobody can take away the song. Nobody can own one, and nobody can shut it up.

GRAHAM NASH: And that’s the power of music.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Graham, I’d like to ask you. Over the years, you’ve especially focused on nuclear power, nuclear energy, and the big concert, obviously, in '79 in Madison Square Garden, now recently after the Fukushima disaster. Your sense of where our world is going on this issue of nuclear power, especially those now who are saying, “Well, at least it's cleaner than coal, and it provides an opportunity to get away from fossil fuels”?

GRAHAM NASH: It’s a complicated question. It may be cleaner than coal. We know what coal does, right? However, with a half-life of a quarter of a million years, who the hell is going to be able to take care of all this stuff? Where are we going to store the waste? Where are we—how are we going to protect them against terrorist activities, about transporting the waste across countries, to where? They tried in Yucca Mountain, and then they found that there was earthquakes and water down there that would affect the nuclear waste. So, we really have no idea what we’re going to do with all this waste. And it’s mounting by the second.

DAVID CROSBY: And that’s only the first part of the problem. The second part is that human beings make mistakes. That gave us Chernobyl. That gave us Three Mile Island. Mother Nature can kick our butts anytime she wants to. That gave us Fukushima. It’s not safe. There are two plants in California right on the beach. One of them is on a fault line. It’s 50 miles to, windward, my house. I keep—I sort of look that way to make sure I spot the plume when it happens. There’s nothing safe about it, and there’s nothing green about poisoning your country.

AMY GOODMAN: Since our Facebook friend asked about Woodstock, let’s go back to '69 for a moment to that part of Crosby, Stills & Nash's performance right there, upstate New York.

CROSBY, STILLS & NASH: [singing] It’s getting to the point
Where I’m no fun anymore
I am sorry
Sometimes it hurts so badly
I must cry out loud
I am lonely
I am yours, you are mine
You are what you are
You make it hard

Remember what we’ve said
And done and felt about each other
Oh babe, have mercy
Don’t let the past remind us
Of what we are not now
I am not dreaming
I am yours, you are mine
You are what you are
You make it hard

AMY GOODMAN: Ah, and Graham Nash and David Crosby, and Graham Nash, still with us here today in New York. As you look back to 1969, your thoughts on today?

GRAHAM NASH: It hasn’t changed much. There are many problems that we have to deal with as human beings, and we need to do it gracefully and nonviolently.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there, but we’re going to continue the interview, and we’re going to post it online at democracynow.org. Graham Nash, David Crosby, legendary musicians who played—well, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Byrds, two-time inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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