Hosting "The Inside Track," a new talk and music show premiering Friday on the Arts & Entertainment Network, would seem a far stretch from singer-songwriter Graham Nash's experiences with the Hollies and Crosby, Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young).
But the personable native of Manchester, England, says it's no big deal serving as moderator and referee in the show's format, which is something of a cross between an adult "American Bandstand" and a non-sensationalized "Oprah."
"It's not much different from the role I play with this band," he said, able to laugh at the non-musical discord that at times over the past 20 years has been almost as much a part of CSN(Y) as its famed sweet vocal harmonies.
Still, until he was approached with the idea for the show last year, Nash, 48, had never really thought about being on that side of the interview microphone. And even once it was suggested, he had severe doubts.
"When the camera is pointing at you it can get tough," he said. "Give me a guitar and I can keep you going for days. But talk?
"It's a strange thing to be doing, but let me tell you why I'm doing it. Primarily what I enjoy about it is the forum it gives to artists to be able to speak in greater depth about issues that are close to their hearts, rather than just have the five minutes before they get on the tour bus."
That motivation should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Nash's career. One of pop music's premier social activists, Nash has often used his position to further a variety of political and environmental issues, including serving as a founder of Musicians United for Safe Energy.
"I just see it as a long line of self-expression," Nash said of his new job. "It's all the same to me, trying to make the best of a bad life. Not that mine is at all, but it's very difficult to live in this world, and I'm trying to move through it with grace and add something rather than take away."
So far, Nash believes "The Inside Track" is getting that job done, with each show focusing on one artist and his or her music and thoughts. The premiere show features Nash's cohort David Crosby discussing drug and gun abuse, aided by friend and fellow recovering addict Drew Barrymore. Members of the National Rifle Association, who were in the invited audience, also have something to say..
The second show's guest is Judy Collins, performing with former flame Steve Stills for the first time in more than 20 years. The third stars new folk singer Michelle Shocked, who discusses her years as a squatter and her experience of being committed to a mental hospital by her mother. A fourth show features Fleetwood Mac's Mick Fleetwood telling the truth behind that band's tangled rumors.
"It seems the intimate forum really opens people up," Nash said. People have talked about the greatest things. This is not Johnny Carson stuff. I'm beginning to get the feeling that they trust me. I'm grateful for that."
It's that trust that the show's producers are relying on. It is certainly manifest in the artists who have shown interest in participating in the show.
"They're kind of relying for the first year on my personal relationships with people like Sting, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder," he said, noting tentative commitments from Jerry Garcia, Bonnie Raitt, David Lee Roth and Herbie Hancock. "And if these get the desirable results I want to talk to Ralph Nader, (anti-nuclear activist) Helen Caldicott, Whoopi Goldberg--there are a lot of people with a lot to say out there."
One show Nash would like to do would definitely not be Carson stuff: "I will get 2 Live Crew for a show," he said. "And I want Neil (Young) on it too, and (Parents Music Resource Center founder) Tipper Gore. I want to get to the bottom of this (free expression) issue. Maybe I'll even invite Jesse Helms. Neil and Jesse Helms . . . I can't wait!"
Nash admits, though, that he has one fantasy show that may sound a bit narcissitic, but is inevitable after years of being interviewed by others. "I thought it would be fascinating to interview myself," he said. "I could get myself in really deep (trouble)."
The first question he'd ask himself?
"Are you really as nice as you appear?"
And the answer?
"I think I am. I think I really have a great sense of self-esteem, and I think I can make people comfortable and get the best out of them."
"The Inside Track" airs Fridays 7-8 p.m. and 11-midnight. on the Arts & Entertainment Network.