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Singer's project takes him behind the music.

Byline: Fred Crafts The Register-Guard

On a gloomy winter day in 1968, Graham Nash's impromptu shopping expedition brought an unexpected bonus: a hit song.

"I'd taken my girlfriend, Joni Mitchell, to breakfast at a delicatessen on Ventura Boulevard in Los Angeles," the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member says by phone from New York City. "And about four or five stores down was this antique shop where she saw this vase that she wanted.

"She bought it. We took it home. And as we walked through the front door, I said, `You know, I'll light a fire, and why don't you put some flowers in the vase that you just bought.' And I thought, `Wow, that's an interesting concept.' '

Ninety minutes later, he finished the song "Our House."

The song, a 1970 hit for Crosby, Stills & Nash, is included in Nash's lavish coffeetable book, "Off the Record: Songwriters on Songwriting' (Andrews Mc- Meel Publishing, $49.95). In it, he explains not only how he wrote "Our House" but also how hits were composed by Carole King (`I Felt the Earth Move'), John Sebastian (`Sum- mer in the City'), Paul Williams (`We've Only Just Begun'), David Crosby (`Wooden Ships'), Grace Slick (`White Rabbit') and Ben E. King (`Stand by Me').

In all, 25 of the most famous popular songs of the rock era.

Each song's origin is re- vealed through interviews (conducted by Adam Mitchell) that not only recall pop music nostalgia, but also ruminate on the meaning of it all. It's almost as if the songwriters were telling their story directly to you.

Which they do, verbally, on the two CDs that accompany the book.

Altogether, "Off the Record" - with its photos, interviews, CDs and lyrics - is an impressive package.

Start with the lyrics. The composers themselves have handwritten them and dressed them up with colors and illus- trations.

In truth, the lyrics are the reason for the book. It's an outgrowth of Nash's "Manuscripts Originals" project, which sells original, illustrated lyrics for about $1,000 each.

The money goes to child welfare projects, to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

"It's a wonderful project all around," Nash says.

A moment of serendipity

As often happens in Nash's life, the idea for the project occurred to him while he doing something else.

"I was asked to give one of my photographs to a benefit for a school after a hurricane almost destroyed the (Hawaiian) island that I lived on," Nash recalls. "I gave them a photograph of my girlfriend, Joni Mitchell. I wanted to make it more special, so I wrote the words to `Our House' around the outside edge of the photograph, and it sold immediately.

`And I began to realize that this was a very valuable tool."

After getting support from key songwriters, Nash formed an organization to oversee the project while he is on a tour, such as the one that will bring Crosby, Stills & Nash to Eugene on Monday. The book, Nash says, is the first of a series.

"The art of songwriting is so mysterious to people that it's nice to give them a glimpse as to how the particular 25 songwriters in the book dealt with it," Nash says. "Great songs touch people's souls. Music has a great ability to heal and to soothe. People find great solace in a great piece of music.

`We all have musical signposts in our life that when you hear a piece of music, even years later, it will send you right back to that particular moment."

Nash's personal "signpost" songs are Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock," Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" and the Everly Brothers' "Bye Bye Love."

` `Bye Bye Love' changed my life completely," Nash recalls about the day he first heard it as a teen-ager in Manchester, England. "I remember going down to a dance, and walking across the floor.

`A slow dance had just finished - `You Send Me' by Sam Cooke - and `Bye Bye Love' came on. I had never heard two people sing together so beautifully - never so moved by a rock 'n' roll song as I was by `Bye Bye Love.' I wanted to do that."

Songs have birth in dreams

If the book reveals anything about songwriting, it is that the process is confounding, even to those who do it for a living. Even more surprising, though, is the number of songwriters who don't read or write music.

"David (Crosby) doesn't. Stephen (Stills) doesn't. Neil (Young) doesn't. Joni (Mitchell) doesn't. Jackson (Browne) doesn't. And Bonnie (Raitt) doesn't. Amazing, eh?" says Nash, including himself in that company.

To keep track of his songs until somebody can write them down, Nash uses "a good memory, note pads and just a brain that works."

While Nash often "composes" a song on a guitar or a piano, he writes "even if I have nothing (to play on). I have a whole orchestra in my head. You should see inside here; it's quite interesting."

Are there tricks to writing songs?

"No. I just think you have to strike when the iron's hot. If an idea's coming to me, I find it better to chase it down."

Often, songs occur to Nash - and to others in the book - in a dreamlike state that occurs just before sleep, but when the brain is still active.

"That's the time that Crosby refers to as `the elves taking over the workshop.' ' Nash says.

Once a song announces itself, Nash says they often almost write themselves.

` `Our House' took me an hour and a half. `Just a Song Before I Go' took me about 40 minutes. But `Cathedral' took me four years," Nash says.

"It's a process that I don't question. I'm just very pleased that it still continues for me."

Fred Crafts can be reached at 338-2575 or


Crosby, Stills & Nash

What: David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, one of America's most influential rock bands

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Cuthbert Amphitheater, Alton Baker Park, off Leo Harris Parkway

How much: $46 through the Hult Center box office, 682-5000

GuardLine: To hear some of their music, call GuardLine at 485-2000 from a touch-tone phone and request category 3733


David Crosby (left) and Graham Nash will be joined by Stephen Stills on Monday night at the Cuthbert Amphitheater.
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Title Annotation:When he's not touring, Nash contemplates the magic of songwriting; Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jul 18, 2003
Previous Article:Fresh Sheet.
Next Article:Dining Out Briefly.

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