Thursday, November 13, 2014

Recent reading

Crosby, Stills, Nash (& sometimes Young) were part of the soundtrack of my growing-up years in the late 1960s and through the 1970s.  I still thrill to the sounds of their amazing harmonies on songs like "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" and "Teach Your Children." 

Back around the time I got married in the mid-1980s, David Crosby's drug use and multiple arrests were in the news, and I read his memoir "Long Time Gone" when it came out in paperback. So it was interesting to read a slightly different take on some of the same people and events in "Wild Tales" by Graham Nash.

Nash comes across as affable and balanced, and probably the most sane member of CSNY.  He unabashedly loves Crosby, tolerates the prickly but immensely talented Stephen Stills, and admits to a mutual love/hate relationship with the quirky Neil Young.  Nash admits to his own excesses of sex (Joni Mitchell and Rita Coolidge were his lovers before he met his second wife of 35+ years, Susan), drugs and rock 'n roll. Fortunately, he quit cocaine cold turkey in 1984, in part after seeing what it was doing to Crosby. 

Before Nash became part of CSNY, he was a member of The Hollies -- part of the British Invasion sound that formed another important part of the soundtrack of my life. (I loved their tight harmonies on songs like "Bus Stop" and "Carrie Anne," and a friend & I saw a Nash-less version of the group in concert in the late 1970s.)  I especially enjoyed the earlier part of the book where Nash describes his growing-up years in Manchester, his early encounters with the Beatles (competing in the same talent shows!) and the Everly Brothers, and his rise to fame with the Hollies, who included his best friend from his schooldays, Allan Clarke. 

I was also interested to learn that Nash is an accomplished photographer -- the cover photo is a selfie of him and his camera taken the old-fashioned way, in a mirror -- as well as a painter & sculptor and an entrepreneur.

If you are interested in CSNY or Sixties music, this would be a good choice.  It's not a difficult read.

***  *** ***

There's a well-known little piece of Canadian poetry that goes, "Toronto has no social classes/Only the Masseys and the masses."  The Masseys were among the wealthiest and most influential families in Canada in the late 1800s and early 1900s:  the patriarch, Daniel Massey of Newcastle, Ontario, invented the mechanical threshing machine and founded Massey Harris (later Massey Ferguson), which was at one time the world's largest manufacturer of agricultural machinery. One of Daniel's grandsons, Vincent Massey, became Canada's first Canadian-born governor general;  Vincent's brother, Raymond, became a famous actor.

In February 1915, another Massey grandson, Bert, was murdered -- shot on the steps of his Toronto home by his housemaid, Carrie Davies, who claimed he had tried to "ruin" her. It was a shocking event and irresistible fodder for the city's newspapers, particularly the Daily Star (which still exists today as the Toronto Star) and the Evening Telegram.

In "The Massey Murder," award-winning writer Charlotte Gray explores the murder and Carrie's sensational trial (which all happened within the same month!!), in the context of the times -- the changing face of Toronto's social order, the influx of immigrants, the growing movement for women's rights and their expanding role in the workplace, and the impact of the First World War.  Gray's previous books on Canadian history themes have tackled figures such as sister-writers Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill, inventor Alexander Graham Bell, poet Pauline Johnson, and events such as the Klondike gold rush.

The book was well written, well researched and interesting overall -- albeit just a bit flat. I got to the end and was left with the distinct feeling of "is that all?" Perhaps this is because we know so little about Carrie, the central figure in the drama -- she left no letters or diaries and her only words on record come from newspaper reports from the trial.

It would be an interesting read if you're into vintage true crime stories, upstairs/downstairs relationships, and/or social history (particularly related to Canada and, more specifically, Toronto). 

These were books #15 & #16 that I've read so far in 2014.

1 comment:

  1. I would love to read Nash's book. CSN is my favorite all time group.