When Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell Broke up She Thought He Hated Women

There have been many short yet meaningful relationships in rock ‘n’ roll that have inspired the best music, including the brief relationship between Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell. Nash was a British rock star who originally came over to the U.S. with The Hollies. Mitchell was an up-and-coming folk singer. Sometime in the late 1960s, the musicians crossed paths, changing their lives forever.

Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell at the Big Sur Folk Festival in 1969.
Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell | Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Graham Nash fell in love with Joni Mitchell the night they met

In 1967, Mitchell met David Crosby. She accompanied him back to Los Angeles and met all of his friends. After a brief romantic relationship, they went their separate ways. Crosby told Nash to look out for the “Both Sides Now” singer in case their paths crossed. Eventually, they did. They met in Ottawa, Canada, in 1967, after a Hollies gig.

“Joni and I hit it off immediately, and I ended up in her room at the Chateau Laurier and she beguiled me with 15 or so of the most incredible songs I’d ever heard,” Nash wrote in 101 Essential Rock Records (per Grunge). “Obviously, I fell in love right there and then. She touched my heart and soul in a way that they had never been touched before.”

After they hit it off, Nash and Mitchell started dating. Nash first played with Crosby and Stephen Stills at Mitchell’s house. Nash had come out to see Mitchell, and when he arrived, he heard two male voices in her Laurel Canyon home.

“I wasn’t happy about that, but it was David and Stephen,” Nash told the Guardian. “They were having dinner with Joni. At one point David goes: ‘Hey, Stephen, play Willy [Nash’s nickname] that song we were just doing,’ and they were doing a song called ‘You Don’t Have to Cry.’

“I say: ‘It’s a great song – play it again.’ They play it again. I say: ‘That’s really a great song – do me a favour and play it one more time,’ and the third time I added my high harmony and the world f***ing changed from that moment. And that’s what Joni was the only witness to.”

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After Nash and Mitchell broke up, Mitchell thought Nash hated women

Nash and Mitchell dated for only two years, yet their relationship impacted their songwriting. After splitting up with Mitchell in 1970, Nash made two sorrowful albums, Songs for Beginners and Wild Tales. “Most of the sad songs on those albums are about my relationship with Joni,” he said.

Nash said she was the love of his life, at least at that time. “Well, I’m married to this incredible woman right now, so I could say the very same thing about her, but, yes, in those days she was absolutely the love of my life.

“It’s Joni Mitchell, for f***’s sake! Look at how she looks to start with! Then you put all those songs behind that smile. I didn’t stand a f***ing chance.”

Before splitting up with him, Mitchell told Nash: “If you hold sand in your hand too tightly, it will slip through your fingers.”

When asked if he held on to her too tight? “We were each other’s lives then, and I just loved her so much, and she loved me – there’s no doubt about it in my mind. We would light up a f***ing room when we walked into it. People would go, ‘Holy shit – what is the glow around these two people?'”

There was a story that Nash wanted to marry Mitchell and expected her to become a housewife. “No, no. Nononono,” Nash denied. “I think Joan thought if she married me I would ask her to stop writing and just cook pie. That is so insane to think that.”

Speaking to the Guardian, Nash started to blush because the idea of asking Mitchell to sacrifice her career for his would have been ridiculous.

When they ended their relationship, Mitchell told Nash that she thought he hated women. “I don’t know why she thought that.” Maybe she thought he objectified them, the Guardian pointed out. “Maybe. I don’t know. It’s hard to think about s*** that happened 50 years ago.”

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The musicians have kept in touch half a century later

Since breaking up 50 years ago, Nash and Mitchell have remained in touch.

The Guardian asked Nash if he sees Mitchell now. He replied, “I do. I sent her a bunch of pictures I took of her. She loved them enough to want to use them as album covers, and of course I gave them to her completely free.

“You know, you can’t take a beautiful picture of Joni and then sell it to her. I couldn’t do that to Joan.”

Unlike some other brief rock star relationships (Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham), Nash and Mitchell have remained friends without any drama. Not many can say that.

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