(Credits: Far Out / Alamy / Tidal)
For a time, Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell lived the dream in the Laurel Canyon. They were madly in love, and nothing else mattered in the wider world. However, like all good things, it came to an end, and Nash was devastated once their relationship reached its natural conclusion, but he does have songs to remember that special period.
In 1968, the two iconic musicians first crossed paths when The Hollies performed in Ottawa, Canada. After the show, they got acquainted, and Mitchell played some of her material to Nash, immediately capturing his attention. He once described the evening as “magical on so many different levels” and revealed she treated him to 15 pieces from her songbook.
A whirlwind romance ensued, which would last two years, and in this time, they’d both hit their stride professionally. However, by 1970, their relationship had become intolerable for Mitchell, who moved out of their shared residence and cuttingly informed Nash of her decision via a telegram.
Mitchell’s third studio album, Ladies of the Canyon, was inspired by their experience living together in the plushy Los Angeles neighbourhood. On the track ‘Willy’, she declares her love for Nash and sings: “Willy is my child, he is my father, I would be his lady all my life, He says he’d love to live with me, But for an ancient injury, That has not healed, He said I feel once again, Like I gave my heart too soon.”
However, by the time that the track was finally released, their love had dissipated, and Nash was left reminded of happier times through ‘Willy’. The singer-songwriter was heartbroken upon the end of their relationship, and the Ladies of the Canyon track compounded his feelings.
Nash said about the track with Uncut in 2015: “‘Willy,’ to this day, breaks my heart when I hear it. But her artistry is such that she takes a personal situation and turns it into a world situation. The relationship she’s talking about can apply to anyone who’s listening.”
He continued: “That’s the art of writing a great song, taking a simple thing and making astounding music from it. There are so many great songs for a start. I really believe that in a hundred years from now, when people look back on the ’60s, the great writers will be Bob Dylan, John and Paul, and Joni.”
Following the relationship’s conclusion, Nash reflected on their days as a couple through rose-tinted glasses rather than anger on the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young track ‘Our House’. The song was an ode to their days of living a picture-perfect existence in the Canyon, and Mitchell holds immensely fond feelings for his creation.
She told the Los Angeles Times in 2021: “I thought it was beautiful. It captured that day. Our relationship was warm and cozy and loving. Sometimes, I get sensitive or worried, and it might bother the man I was with. But not Graham. He just said, ‘Come over here to the couch; you need a 15-minute cool-out.’ And then we would snuggle. It’s a beautiful memory.”
Although their lives splintered off into different directions and they’d both marry other people, these songs provide the pair with a portal to their shared carefree youth. Despite their story not containing a Hollywood ending, Mitchell and Nash remain close friends who are capable of fondly reminiscing about the good old days.
Listen to ‘Willy’ below.