Joni Mitchell and Graham Nash’s relationship was a whirlwind. Lightning trapped in a bottle, it was a thing of simple beauty before it was uncorked, and the magic quickly dissipated, unfolding into acrimony. Concerning two of the counterculture’s biggest stars, it gave us two of the era’s most enduring songs and many an anecdote to boot.
Of the first time he met Mitchell, Nash recalled in his autobiography Wild Tales: “She was the whole package: a lovely, sylphlike woman with a natural blush, like windburn, and an elusive quality that seemed lit from within”.
Mitchell and Nash first met after a Hollies show in Ottawa, Canada, in March 1968, just as the Salford band were reaching their end. Nash noticed Mitchell sitting in the corner of the space by herself and went over to introduce himself: “‘I know who you are,’ she said, shyly. ‘That’s why I’m here'”.
Things moved quickly from that moment, and the pair found themselves back at Mitchell’s hotel. Nash described it as “a seduction scene extraordinaire”, before remembering in more detail: “She picked up a guitar and played me 15 of the best songs I’d ever heard, and then we spent the night together. It was magical on so many different levels”.
The pair wouldn’t see each other for a while afterwards but would again cross paths at a raucous party that David Crosby was hosting. Mitchell took Nash by the arm, saying: “Come to my house and I’ll take care of you”.
What followed can only be described as a period of utter bliss. They wrote music, Mitchell crafted her visual art, and seemingly nothing could break the intense bond they shared. One day, Mitchell was tending the flowers in the garden, and sensing a songwriting opportunity, Nash captured the “little domestic moment”.
He penned the song ‘Our House’, and the following lyrics were pulled from that actual scene: “Our house is a very, very, very fine house; With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard; Now everything is easy ’cause of you.” An instant classic, it became a definitive moment on CSNY’s debut album Déjà Vu.
Things quickly began to fall apart between Mitchell and Nash. The tension really came to a head when CSNY were on a short tour in Europe, sharing the bill with the Canadian songstress. According to Nash, “It went weird in Copenhagen”. A few days earlier, they had played a show in Stockholm, Sweden, and whilst on stage, CSNY did their regular thing, discussing politics. There was a “gentle anti-American slant” to what they were saying as they protested the Vietnam war and raised questions about the Kennedy assassination.
For some reason, this upset Mitchell. When back at their hotel room in Copenhagen, Mitchell lost her cool. Nash questioned why she was so upset: “You keep slagging America after it gave you all this opportunity,” she said. “Why are you biting the hand that feeds you?”. A titanic argument ensued, which resulted in the folk heroin pouring her bowl of cornflakes and milk over Nash’s head.
Then it got really bizarre. There was a maid cleaning the room at the time, and she was asked to leave. Directly from the mouth of Nash: “Then I put Joni over my knee, and I spanked her. With all due respect, she took it very well. It was over within 30 seconds”.
It seems as if even the men in the counterculture weren’t as progressive as they believed themselves to be. The anecdote is a revealing moment that shows just how unprogressive the ’60s actually was.