Joni Mitchell Left a Smitten Graham Nash Despite Loving Him in a Way She ‘Didn’t Think Was Possible’

In 1970, Joni Mitchell ended a relationship with Graham Nash and released an album that mined the depths of their connection. Listeners get a sense of their relationship in Blue as well as the sadness Mitchell felt at its end; in “River,” a song specifically about Nash, she sings, “I’ve gone and lost the bеst baby that I ever had.” Despite her feelings for Nash, she felt it was necessary to end the relationship.

Graham Nash wears a brown fur coat and Joni Mitchell wears an orange coat.
Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell | Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Joni Mitchell had a husband before she found success in her music career

In 1965, a pre-fame Mitchell, then Joni Anderson, married Chuck Mitchell. The pair were musicians and performed as a duo. Chuck was reportedly an expert at making Mitchell feel less-than. He was older and more educated, so he would give book recommendations and lyric edits with an air of condescension. 

When folk legend Joan Baez saw the pair perform in New York, her first thought was, “‘You gotta drop this guy,’” she said, per The Ringer.

After two years of marriage, Mitchell did divorce her husband, though she opted to keep his last name.

“There’s an old saying. It says: If you make a good marriage, God bless you. If you make a bad marriage, become a philosopher,” she later told The Cut. “So I became a philosopher.”

She had a meaningful relationship with Graham Nash

After her divorce, her music career gained considerable traction. As she became a key part of the folk music scene, she met other notable musicians, including Nash. They began a relationship and lived together for several years. 

“I had sworn my heart to Graham in a way that I didn’t think was possible for myself,” she said in the documentary Woman of Heart and Mind, “and he wanted me to marry him. I’d agreed to it.”

Soon after she agreed to the proposal, however, something in her shifted. Though her feelings for Nash were still strong, she remembered other women in her family whose artistic dreams were flattened by a traditional lifestyle.

“I just started thinking, my grandmother was a frustrated poet and musician. She kicked the kitchen door off of the hinges on the farm,” she explained. “I thought about my paternal grandmother who wept for the last time in her life at 14 behind some barn because she wanted a piano and said, ‘Dry your eyes, you silly girl, you’ll never have a piano.’”

She realized that she valued her artistic freedom over romantic love.

“I thought, maybe I’m the one that got the gene that has to make it happen for these two women,” she said. “As much as I loved and cared for Graham, I just thought, I’m gonna end up like my grandmother, kicking the door off the hinges, you know what I mean? It’s like, I better not.”

Graham Nash says he still has love for Joni Mitchell

Nash, who several of the songs on Blue are about, says that listening to the album gives him a strange mix of emotions.

“I still feel a couple of emotions that shouldn’t go together: One of them is sadness, and the other one is incredulity of how brilliant she is,” he told the New York Post.

He added that despite his heartbreak when their relationship ended, he is still close with Mitchell. He performed in a tribute concert for her and sends her flowers for every birthday.

“All these years later there’s a part of my heart that still loves Joni Mitchell,” he said. “Once you’re in love with Joni Mitchell … you’re in love with her forever.”

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