"I still don't know which side of the street to walk on without pissing people off," Graham Nash says, striding forcefully in jeans and a denim shirt, his wavy hair bone-white, through sidewalk traffic in the East Village. He pauses to snap photos of a poster-splattered wall and reveals a recent tattoo on his right forearm: interconnecting black lines in the shape of a vegvisir, the Icelandic symbol for a compass. "You look at it and say, 'Which way is north?'" Nash explains. "It's a metaphor for life."
For decades, Nash was one of the hardest-working family men in rock, living in Hawaii with his wife of 38 years, Susan Sennett, and dividing his time among touring, running a digital-print business and overseeing an array of projects for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. But at 74, Nash has undergone a complete makeover. In the past year, he got divorced and moved across the country to New York – "I traded one jungle for another," he says – to be with his girlfriend, filmmaker and photographer Amy Grantham, who, at 37, is exactly half his age. "It's very interesting how people react," Nash says. "I understand. It's kind of amusing. But there's nothing I can do about it. I was coasting through an unsatisfactory relationship, and Amy set me on fire." Nash delves into his new love – and the end of his previous one – on his recent solo album, This Path Tonight. "I was going through all this emotional chaos in my life and I was writing and writing," he says.
The transformation came after the publication of his 2013 memoir, Wild Tales, which chronicled his early romance with Joni Mitchell and the most turbulent years of CSNY – among other things, the book recounts David Crosby's descent into drug addiction, down to a painful description of his swollen legs. By then, Nash had grown weary of fighting to keep the group together. In 2010, CSN began cutting an album of covers with Rick Rubin, but the project, which might have rejuvenated their recording career, fell apart. Nash says motivating the others "felt like the myth of Sisyphus, pushing a big rock up a hill, and it's slipping back. And I ran out of patience with it all."
Tensions rose in 2014, when Crosby took a swipe at Neil Young's girlfriend, Daryl Hannah. Then he called Nash's memoir "a very shallow, very self-serving book, and full of BS." Nash and Crosby have since stopped speaking. "My relationship with David began to sour," Nash says. "We used to be on the same page, but not anymore."
As much as the book dished on other members of the group (the quartet will turn 50 in 2019), it mostly gave Nash a fresh perspective on himself. "It was only after it came out that I began to really absorb what I had done with my life," he says. "What I thought were the happiest parts, in fact, weren't. I said, 'Look, how much longer is my life going on? I can just settle and coast through it, or I'll follow what my heart said I should be doing.'"
"My relationship with David Crosby began to sour. We used to be on the same page, but not anymore."
He was "in the middle of this incredible depression about what I should do in my life" when he was introduced to Grantham (whose blond bangs can make her resemble a young Mitchell) backstage at a CSN show in New York. "It was obvious from that first moment that something radical was going on with me," he says.
Still, Nash cringes at the memory of breaking the news of his divorce to his three adult children. Some of his friends are still adjusting too. The photographer Henry Diltz, who shot the cover of the Crosby, Stills & Nash album in 1969, recalls a tranquil visit to Nash's compound in Hawaii a few years back, but adds, "Some pressures must have built up. He's reached a point where he wants to do what he wants to do and not be beholden to people."
This summer, Young told Rolling Stone he wouldn't rule out future CSNY activity – which is news to Nash. "Well, he's right, you never know," he says. "There have been times when I've been so pissed at us all for wasting time and not getting on with the job that I wouldn't talk to any of them. But if Crosby came and played me four songs that knocked me on my ass, what the fuck am I supposed to do as a musician, no matter how pissed we are at each other?"
For now, when not on tour, Nash is settling into his do-over in Lower Manhattan, buying furnishings for his rental apartment and reveling in an anything-anytime lifestyle ("Kind of incredible"). He and Grantham also have a book of photography in the works. "My life has changed completely," he says. "I'm either the craziest motherfucker you know or the bravest. I'm not sure which it is right now."