From 1996 through 1999, HIGH TIMES also published HEMP TIMES, a sister publication that promoted the hemp industry. This interview appeared in the February/March 1998 issue.
Despite a history of breakups, reunions, disputes and reconciliations, Crosby, Stills & Nash still stands as one of rock music’s biggest draws. Whether the group is singing their signature tight-knit harmonies or slamming the audience electrically, the musical creations of David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash have thrilled millions of fans for over 30 years.
The band has also made a firm point of putting their political point of view on stage. Graham Nash, the genteel and thoughtful Englishman of the group, calls it a natural choice for the band members: “Our concerns are the concerns of any thinking person,” he explains.
In his own life, Nash has tried to focus his activist energy on children’s issues and environmental pollution. That’s why hemp is on his mind and why he chose to talk to HEMP TIMES about it.
“I’m a communicator,” says Nash.
When Crosby, Stills & Nash first unveiled “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” at Woodstock, it was a revelation for everybody. One reviewer wrote “Marrakech Express” had broken the top 40, but the mainstream hadn’t hears anything like “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” What was it like for you guys?
We were like schoolboys, giggling, really, because when everyone heard it at Woodstock, we had already made and mixed the record, and mastered the album. It was old to us.
Some called the song “perfect” that night.
Well, it wasn’t, because the conditions weren’t perfect. We’re talking 30 years ago. The monitoring system was practically nonexistent. We could hardly hear ourselves in front of half a million people.
CSN’s continuing popularity is matched by only a few supergroups. How do you account for that?
It’s the music. It can only be the music – because it’s not like it’s Brad Pitt up there on the stage. It has to be something other than our appearance.
We’ve been doing this for 30 years, with the same kind of intensity. We have long recognized that the music we make is by far the most important part of our relationship. Not how much we fight or how much we dislike each other sometimes, or how much we love each other at other times. It’s the music and it transcends our existence.
Do you carry any particular political message when you go out on the road with CSN?
I don’t think I could even list the number of benefit concerts we’ve done, but we try very carefully to separate the musical entertainment vibes from political messages. There are certain songs we sing that are very politically motivated, but what we do is “table” the issues.
We take five tables. One is for Greenpeace, one is for Amnesty International, and the others are for local issues, women’s issues and nuclear issues. The tables disseminate information, take donations and sign up new members. Every concert I’ve played for the last fifteen years we’ve done things this way.
We also organize "Golden Circle" events. We take a few hundred tickets – the best tickets – and we give them to those involved with a particular good cause. They sell them for whatever they can. Ticket-buyers can come backstage and meet me, David and Stephen, and later, we have little parties for the causes. We do that at every single gig.
You lend a lot of your energy to the antinuclear movement as well.
I do. One of the greatest threats to the world environment is what’s happening with the breakup of the Soviet Union. I have a list of 4,000 nuclear accidents that have occurred in Europe and America. It doesn’t include the Society Union because information is very difficult to get out of that society. But if Europeans and Americans can have 4,000 documented accidents, what the hell is going on in places that you can’t see and can’t get to – place that depend to a great extent on a nuclear power for generating electricity? The Soviet Union extends through 13 time zones; it’s not a small space. There’s no central ruling committee that deals with it. Stealing plutonium and uranium has become a lucrative underground market. Those able to manufacture nuclear bombs appear to be growing daily.
People who express deep concern about the health of the planet are sometimes treated dismissively, almost as if the notion of activism has become quaint. Why is that?
I think that people have a fear of the word “liberal.” In the last campaign that’s all Dole talked about. Bush did the same thing. If you’re a liberal you have no sense, you’re just a jellybean – and it’s not true. I think liberals and people like me think very deeply about the issues and are very motivated personally.
When you see Love Canal happen ad you see babies born with no brains, completely deformed, and they all live within two miles of Love Canal, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to go, “Hmm, maybe something’s going on here. Maybe something in Love Canal has affected the genetic code of the human being and caused all these deformities.”
Is that a liberal cause? Is that a hippie cause? Of course not. It should be the concern of any thinking person.
Do you ever ask some of your peers what happened to their activism?
Nope. I don’t deal with anybody else except myself. I’ve learned over the years what people do is their own business. If they don’t get moved to act, then so be it.
You’ve been involved with what one might call “youth culture” for over 30 years now. Are you optimistic that upcoming generations will act upon their concerns?
Some issue is needed to galvanize youth: maybe a Woodstock event, where you galvanized half a million, had a great time for three days, and not much bad happened. A couple of people got killed because they got run over by tractors, but people generally had a great time. It put the youth of this country into action against the Vietnam War. It pissed off enough of the young where they marched and protested and wrote their congressmen, senators and President, and put an end to the Vietnam War. But I don’t see that kind of an issue for young people right now.
Do you have any idea what that issue might be?
Well, unfortunately, it certainly won’t be political, because if you saw the results of the ’96 election, the 18-to-34 vote was way, way down. That’s very, very sad. God bless MTV and the Rock the Vote campaign for trying to stir interest in voting. But when they see what happens in government – Iran-Contra scandals and the savings-and-loan debacle – they just don’t trust it. So they think, why vote if you don’t trust the government?
There is incredible energy out there. Right now, the kids are denying themselves their political rights by not voting and focusing only on what makes them feel good, like music. It’s going to take something before they get pissed off enough, en masse, to do something, possibly even cataclysmic events, some kind of galvanizing force that makes the majority of people say, “Enough of this shit!”
Is it tough staying on the activist road?
I can get depressed. I went through a period where I would get depressed and feel that the environmental movement wasn’t making the strides forward that I thought it would, that my vote didn’t count. I wondered whether benefit concerts made any difference. It was causing paralysis.
But after I had my kids, especially after Jasmine, my first-born who’s now 19, I began to realize that this is exactly what they want. I’m not sure who they are – “the powers that be” – but they don’t want people getting fired up and passionate and doing stuff. If we get depressed, we go away.
So I came out of my depression. I swore to myself I would never let myself get depressed, for one basic reason: if you can change the mind of one person and they change the mind of one person, eventually you’ll reach everybody. So, on a small level, if I can reach a few people, I’m doing my job as a communicator.
I’ve had to figure out what is really important – the causes to which, with all good conscience, I can devote a good deal of my time. Certainly one has to prioritize one’s time. I’ve got a great wife and great kids and I want to spend as much time with them as possible, and I’ve got a million other things on my plate, mainly as a musician.
But I still focus on kids’ issues like inoculation, education, feeding and protection rights. And environmental pollution, of course.
Hemp is a big part of turning back the tide, isn’t it?
My hemp awareness goes back about four years now. You do a little research and find out about George Washington – all the usual stuff – that our first President had hemp farms, that hemp used to provide 80 percent of our rope for the shipping industry and 80 percent of our paper. If you go further, you find out about how hemp helps the land, and how toxic growing cotton is.
Unfortunately, the main obstacle that hemp has to overcome is its association with smoking marijuana. The whole industry has had to deal with a public-relations problem that is over fifty years in the making.
You’re involved with so many issues – environmental and otherwise. You must be very familiar with corporate “spin control.”
Let’s say I am very intrigued by the stupidity of the people that control America that would allow them to ignore, for spurious reasons, a crop that could solve so many of the farmers’ problems in this country as well as the deforestation crisis. I am very intrigued with a mindset that connects hemp with smoking dope and bans it because of that ridiculous reason.
Deforestation is increasingly perilous, yet the timber industry insists they’re managing the forest and the trees are doing just fine.
Right – the trees are doing just fine. Go to the Black Forest. Have them go to some of the Scandinavian countries. Have them go to some of the forests in this country and see the degradation. Let them talk to the Forest Service and come back and tell me that acid rain is not creating any problems.
Still it would cost millions to transform the paper industry?
But how the hell can you go on unit there isn’t a tree left?
Remember Easter Island? Remember a community off 20,000 people that had an art culture and built those beautiful statues? When the last tree died, they died. Because they weren’t smart enough to realize: “We have no more canoes. We can’t get off this fucking island!”
Extrapolate that into today’s society. If the lumber industry has its way, it would decimate every tree on the planet. There are companies, of course, like Georgia Pacific, that have a regret program – for every tree they cut down, the plant one – but it’s going to take a couple hundred years for trees to get as big and as gorgeous as those they’re trying to cut down now in Northern California and Oregon.
So yes, it may take a lot of money to switch technologies, but does it really? What’s the real difference between cutting down a field of hemp, making it into pulp, and making paper from it? Yeah, there might be massive costs, but so what? I mean, if every tree were not here now, what would the paper industry be doing? They’d be growing hemp, right? If there weren’t a tree in this country, they’d be screaming for legislation to allow them to grow hemp.
There are indications that they are looking into it.
I’m sure they are. They would be very smart to look into it. They would be very smart to use their political collars to help change the law and get legislations passed that allowed farmers to grow hemp.
I have a house in Hawaii which, by the way, has hemp coverings on all the furniture. Where I live in Kauai, the sugar industry has gone belly-up. The price-stabilization market has ruled out American sugar farmers, especially in Kauai. So I look at all these giant fields growing sugar cane. For what? They can’t sell it and the industry is coming to the end. The last mill just closed. Wouldn’t it be interesting if all these fields could become hemp? Wouldn’t it be great to bring in a brand-new vital industry, one that could be manufacturing clothes or paper or rope?
Why are we importing hemp and not growing it ourselves? This train is heading towards us at the speed of light. We either get on board or get out of the way. But if the government adheres to a “dope is hemp, hemp is dope” mentality, we’re going to lose out.
So how do we get on that train?
Do not be afraid of the scare tactics that are brought out by the government and the legal society. Do not be sheep. Do not be reduced to nonaction.
We do have rights. We do have a right to speak out, and people should realize that, it’s very simple. The political system and the legal systems in this country are only interested in people going away and not bothering – so they can rape the country.
That’s what’s going on. People should learn to distinguish propaganda from fact.