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Rock 'n' roll memories

Graham Nash pens frank autobiography, but Linda Ronstadt doesn't kiss and tell

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Graham Nash

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Graham Nash

New pop-rock music memoirs from Graham Nash and Linda Ronstadt arrive to capitalize on the Christmas book-buying and gifting season.

Wild Tales by Nash is a standard "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" tell-all spanning his half-century in music, from his British Invasion roots with the Hollies to YouTube.

Ronstadt's Simple Dreams is a much more personal reflection, offering a primarily musical perspective on her middle-class upbringing in a musical family in Tucson, Ariz., through to her decades of stardom.

Coincidentally, both authors choose book titles that reprise successful album titles from their '70s stardom. It was for both of them a magical time when everything they did turned to gold.

It is the subtitle of Nash's memoir, A Rock & Roll Life, that provides a fitting description of the way he remembers his role as a founding member of the Hollies in 1962 and as an integral voice in Crosby, Stills, Nash (& Young) in the late '60s and early '70s.

He lays out a wild personal journey that included two marriages, a two-year affair with Canadian great Joni Mitchell when he first arrived in L.A., endless "road sex," various love trysts, "an insane amount of drugs" and the ego-driven interpersonal conflict that accompanied rock superstardom.

While all of these antics were mind-blowing in that era, there's very little that would qualify as shocking today -- except for the fact that so much timeless music was created under the influence of so many recreational drugs.

Nash, now 71, is essentially a nostalgia act at this point, but he has written more than 200 songs (including such wonders as On a Carousel, Carrie Anne, Teach Your Children, Our House and Marrakesh Express) and made some of the most critically acclaimed classic rock ever as part of CSN&Y.

The subtitle of Ronstadt's autobiography, A Musical Memoir, foreshadows her disinclination to reveal much truly personal info. But Ronstadt got around. She had romances with high-profile suitors like California governor Jerry Brown, Star Wars' filmmaker George Lucas, writer Pete Hamill and singer-songwriter J.D. Souther.

She also doesn't dish much backstage dirt about, sex, drugs or her music contemporaries. The real story has obviously been subjected to Reader's Digest-style editing.

Ronstadt, first heard in 1967 as the vocalist on the Stone Poneys' folk-rock hit Different Drum, quickly transitioned to a solo career as one of the most talented voices in country-rock.

She reminisces about one of her early backup bands, whose members went on to become the Eagles, and a cast of contemporaries that included Jackson Browne, Randy Newman, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Aaron Neville, Neil Young and many more in the Southern California scene.

Ronstadt became one of the most successful female artists of all time with record sales topping 100 million, 12 Grammy Awards and countless hits (You're No Good, Blue Bayou, Heart Like a Wheel and Heatwave among them).

In addition to boasting the voice of an angel and the looks of a beauty queen, Ronstadt had a terrific ear for a hit and the uncanny ability to uncover songs by writers like Jim Webb, Lowell George, Souther, Kate and Anna McGarrigle and Warren Zevon. This was usually before the writers had gained any personal profile or success on their own.

Ronstadt, now 67, played the last concert of her career and retired in 2009 and, while the book never mentions it, is now struggling with Parkinson's disease.

Most baby-boom-era musicians are well past their true artistic and commercial best-before dates. But these chronicles of the '60s and '70s, when music was the most potent and significant of the pop arts, pile higher every year. They are the inevitable footnotes to what really happened.

Both the Nash and Ronstadt memoirs are easy, if not essential, reading for music fans of that era. But your enjoyment of the storytelling, the anecdotes and the behind-the-scenes glimpses of these privileged lives will be redoubled if you pull out and play your old albums loudly.

Ultimately, it's not about the printed word.

As Graham Nash himself says in both the opening and closing lines of his book, "It always comes down to the music."

Jim Millican is a Winnipeg freelance writer and boomer music fanatic.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 23, 2013 A1

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