Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah

An enquiry | Contents
2015-2020 | 11,400 words | 1 hr


Photo: Getty Images


Q: Did Jackson Browne assault Daryl Hannah at the time of their acrimonious separation in 1992?

A: Probably not, but no one really knows apart from them – and they’re not saying.

For more, start here – or skip to the Conclusion

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Update: March 2020
Wikipedia gagged me!

For a long time, the Wikipedia entries for Browne and Hannah made no mention of the assault allegation. However, at some point they began mentioning it, and (at the time of writing) both entries gave the same three references (all of which are covered in this post, and none of which sheds much light). I signed up as a Wikipedia editor and added a reference from both entries to this post. Those references were then removed. Wikipedia – understandably – regards self-published sources as generally unreliable but they make exceptions. Despite my appeals (including an unanswered email to Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales), they wouldn’t make an exception in this case, even though this blogpost is – if I say so myself – the only reliable source available. Oh well – I still love Wikipedia. (I donate, FFS!)

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They say…
Quotes about this post

‘Nice presentation and analysis of competing facts and explanations… excellent evidentiary compilation’
Jane, commenter and lawyer

‘You’ve put work into the research’
Fred Schruers, Rolling Stone writer who interviewed Jackson Browne in 1994 about the incident

‘Very thorough and well researched’
Alan Nierob, Daryl Hannah’s press agent at the time of the incident

‘Please do not contact Ms. Hannah or myself again’
Lawrence Kopeikin, Daryl Hannah’s entertainment attorney


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What happened

Who did it?

The autism factor

The cocaine factor

The 1992 People article

The 1994 US interview

The three 1994 US ‘uncle’ letters

Why didn’t Hannah’s uncle go to the police?

Did the police see Hannah during their visit?

Was there a police investigation?

The 2003 defamation claims

Joni Mitchell’s song, Not to Blame

Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

Browne – a troubled man?

Some peripheral information

Some sources

Conclusion – kind of


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I’ve loved Jackson Browne’s music since the early 70s, especially his wonderful 1974 album, Late for the Sky. Back in the day, friends who liked the likes of Captain Beefheart scoffed at Browne’s supposed fey lightness, but I liked them both, Beefheart and Browne.

(There’s an excellent account of Browne’s musical career from the early 70s to the mid 00s on PopDose. See also Bruce Springsteen’s brilliant speech about Browne at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.)

I was going to take my (uninitiated) wife to see Browne on his 2014 UK tour, but the rumour of domestic abuse put me off.

I thought I’d check it out. I’ve done that – from time to time – for over five years. This post is about what I found out. (Summary: a lot of relevant information, but no definite answer. There’s smoke – and mirrors – but no fire.)

In a 1993 interview, Browne said, ‘I’m not going to provide the actual details of what did happen, because it’s not anybody’s business.’ So far, he’s kept his word.

Its understandable that he’d say that – but he’s wrong. Because of his fame, it’s the business of anyone who cares about his music, and who cares about domestic violence. If that’s you, dear Reader, please read on.

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What happened

On 23 September 1992 Browne and Hannah were at their house in Santa Monica, California. It was the sad end of their long – if occasionally rocky – relationship.

Hannah was leaving Browne for John F Kennedy Jr and had come to collect some belongings. Apparently, there was a row, and some kind of altercation.

Browne called the police at some point, supposedly to report someone ransacking his house. When the police arrived, they spoke to Browne and possibly to Hannah. The police left.

Some time after that, Hannah apparently left the house and called her sister, who took her to a local hospital where she was treated by a doctor for injuries reportedly including bruises on her face and ribs, and a broken finger.

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Who did it?

Hannah made no complaint to the police. Browne wasn’t arrested or charged with any offence. So how did Hannah get those injuries?

Hannah’s spokesman told the press on the day of the incident:

‘She received serious injuries incurred during a domestic dispute with Browne for which she sought medical treatment.’

That carefully worded statement’s a fine example of the dark art practised by a skilled press agent. It might seem to imply that Browne inflicted the injuries, but it doesn’t actually say so.

As far as I know, Hannah has never publicly repeated or withdrawn that implied accusation.

Browne has strongly denied causing Hannah’s injuries but has never publicly explained what happened.

In a 1994 interview (see below), Browne, apparently referring to Hannah’s long-term fragile emotional state (possibly her autism – see below), said, somewhat Biblically, that his reason for not explaining what happened was that it’d be ‘a breach of faith in a covenant that is many, many years old‘.

I asked Hannah’s then spokesman, Alan Nierob, if he still held that position and, if so, if he’d ask Hannah to publicly say what happened. Nierob said that he no longer represents Hannah. I asked him what really happened. He hasn’t replied.

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The autism factor

Hannah has revealed that she was diagnosed with autism as a child. Adults with autism, including those with high functioning autism, can go through rage cycles due to a build-up of anger, which can be expressed as destruction of property, self-injury and causing injuries to others. After the episode there’s often a denial of rage and withdrawal into a fantasy that it didn’t happen.

People with high functioning autism can control their anger and rage in their professions and at social functions and activities outside the home.

If Browne’s denial is true, perhaps Hannah had an autistic rage episode, and that’s why he didn’t want to explain what really happened.

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The cocaine factor

Browne has spoken about his use of cocaine. (He even recorded a song about it.) In the 80s and 90s many wealthy creatives had a chronic habit. Perhaps Browne and Hannah were a user-couple. Perhaps Hannah found that cocaine helped with her autistic shyness.

Cocaine’s a very moreish and ultimately addictive drug. It can produce psychiatric symptoms including violence. Perhaps on that sad occasion they had a line or two for old times’ sake, and things turned bad…

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The 1992 People article

One month after the incident, an October 1992 article in celebrity magazine People, quoting numerous anonymous ‘friends‘, reported that:

  • A press statement made on the day of the incident by Hannah’s spokesman said: ‘She received serious injuries incurred during a domestic dispute with Browne for which she sought medical treatment.’
  • A ‘close friend’ of Hannah’s said that Browne caused her injuries.
  • Browne’s manager, Donald Miller, said that the incident couldn’t have happened because he was with Browne at an LA recording studio at the time.
  • ‘Browne supporters’ said that he was defending himself against Hannah. Browne’s friend, the singer JD Souther, said, ‘He was getting chased around by her.’
  • A ‘friend’ said, ‘This has happened before, but never this bad.’
  • A Santa Monica police officer, Sgt Gary Gallinot, said that Browne called the station complaining that someone was ransacking his home.
  • ‘Friends of Hannah’ said that Hannah was not ransacking, but hiding in the guest house in fear of Browne. Friends said, ‘He goes into blind rages and doesn’t know what he does. He was trying to kick the door down. A ‘friend’ said: ‘He has an explosive personality.’
  • Gallinot said that Browne told the two attending officers, ‘Everything is fine’; that they never saw Hannah, and as there were no signs of distress, the men left and did not file a report.
  • Hannah’s ‘friends’ said that she then left the house and called her sister, who took her to a local doctor to have her injuries treated.
  • An ‘associate of Browne’ said, ‘He’s not the macho type…it sounds completely out of character.’
  • Hannah did not plan to press charges.
  • ‘Friends of Browne’ said that he’d gone to northern California and was keeping a low profile.
  • A friend of Hannah’ said that she certainly wouldn’t be going back to her home in Santa Monica or to Jackson Browne: ‘We would never let her do that again.’

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The 1994 US interview

In a February 1994 interview in classy monthly film and music magazine US, Browne opened up to music journalist Fred Schruers (better known as a writer for sister publication Rolling Stone).

Browne’s denial in this interview apparently provoked the letter to US from Hannah’s uncle (see below). In the interview:

  • Browne strongly denied assaulting Hannah.
  • He denounced the People article (see above) as lies orchestrated by Hannah’s publicist.
  • Schruers wrote that Hannah’s press agent denied this; and that People’s managing editor said that they stood by the story and the publicist had nothing to do with the story’s conclusion.
  • Browne denied the People article’s claim that the police didn’t see Hannah during their visit. He said that the police spoke to them both for ‘a long time‘.
  • Schruers quoted Santa Monica police officer Sgt Gary Gallinot as saying, ‘A male and female officer went to the house. It was an argument, what we call a family disturbance, and when we left, everything was OK. [Hannah] never made indications she was assaulted…if there are any signs of domestic violence, we take a report, but in this instance there were no signs. It could have happened later, but she never filed charges.’ (My bolding)
  • Browne denied that he was laying low after the incident as implied by the People report. He pointed out that he was gigging regularly at that time.
  • Browne said that he wouldn’t say what happened because it would be ‘a breach of faith in a covenant that is many, many years old‘. He was apparently referring to Hannah’s autism.
  • Referring to Jerrold Wexler, stepfather to Hannah since she was eight years old, Browne said that at the time of the incident, ‘Daryl’s father was dying. She was under tremendous pressure, had been caring for him for over a month in hospital. So she was in very fragile shape.’
  • Referring to Hannah’s family, Browne said that since the incident he’d been ‘banished from the kingdom, from the monarchy that her family resembles

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The three 1994 US ‘uncle’ letters

Following the February 1994 interview with Browne (see above) in monthly film and music magazine US, in April 1994 the magazine published three letters about the incident: a letter of angry accusation by Hannah’s uncle, Haskell Wexler, and two letters of angry denial by Browne.

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US letter 1: from Hannah’s uncle

The first of the three letters in the April 1994 US was from Hannah’s uncle, the late Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Haskell was the brother of Hannah’s stepfather, Jerrold Wexler, who was seriously ill at the time of the incident, and who died not long after. Wexler wrote:

‘I am Haskell Wexler, Daryl Hannah’s uncle. I am, also, a longtime friend of Jackson Browne and admirer of his artistry. I am no longer his friend.

‘Jackson beat Daryl in September 1992. I was with her in the hospital. I saw the ugly black bruises on her eye and chin and on her ribs. The examining doctor reported she had blood in her urine. The doctor was shocked by the severity and noted Daryl as “a badly battered woman”. I photographed her at the hospital.

‘It could be that nobody cares about objective truth anymore. Jackson is a “good guy,” and good guys don’t beat women. Yes, it is hard to listen to Jackson and believe he has a hidden side of violence.

‘I saw the results of the last violent attack on my niece, and there is no spin of fancy which will erase my shock and disdain for someone who would beat her up.’

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US letter 2: Browne’s open reply and his police ‘statement’

In the same April 1994 edition, immediately after Wexler’s letter, US published two replies from Browne repeating his denial. A US preamble said:

‘Jackson Browne asked to respond with two letters. One general response, and one addressed specifically to Mr Wexler.’

In his open letter of general response, Browne, apparently referring to the February 1994 US interview, wrote:

‘It appears that Haskell Wexler has taken exception to your having printed my assertion that much that was said about this affair in the tabloids and in the media is untrue.’

Browne’s letter criticised the 1992 People report for saying that the police didn’t see Hannah during their house call. He ended the letter by reproducing a defensive and somewhat rambling ‘statement’ by a Santa Monica police officer.

Browne gave no contextual information for this statement other than the officer’s rank and name, and the month it was made: Lt John Miehle, November 1992. This is the statement:

‘The Santa Monica Police Department went to the house where Jackson Browne lives regarding a possible disturbance. We resolved the situation in about five minutes. There was never any assault. There are no charges pending and no prosecution sought by or intended by the District Attorney. It is this department’s intention that no citizen, regardless of who she is, suffer any kind of abuse, whether it be domestic violence or any other kind of assault. But in this case, absolutely no assault occurred. Our investigators tell us nothing happened. Nobody has even alleged that Daryl Hannah was even touched. If they had, we’d be investigating. We’re not hiding anything. The press is trying to make more out of this than there really is, and it’s unfair, not just to Browne, but to us. We did our job, and repeat, no crime occurred here. This whole thing is ridiculous.’

Presumably Browne thought that this ‘statement’ supported his case, but it actually raises more questions:

  • Ending with ‘This whole thing is ridiculous‘, it’s clearly not the usual carefully worded press statement made by the police. It sounds like a spontaneous spoken statement which was recorded and transcribed. How did the officer come to make that statement? Was he prompted by Browne’s lawyer?
  • Did the ‘investigators‘ who said that ‘nothing happened‘ question Hannah and check the medical evidence? Or were those ‘investigators’ the officers who went to the house and ‘resolved the situation in about five minutes‘?
  • Given the events, how could the police, apparently without conducting a formal investigation, be so sure that ‘no assault occurred’?
  • Nobody has even alleged that Daryl Hannah was even touched‘. It may be that no allegations were made to the police, but what about Hannah’s spokesman saying, ‘She received serious injuries incurred during a domestic dispute with Browne’?
  • Given that the police visited the house because of a reported disturbance, and given Hannah’s press statement made later the same day, why didn’t the police formally investigate the incident?
  • Regardless of the ‘department’s intention‘, did male rock stars get a free pass for reported domestic abuse in Santa Monica in the early 90s when no complaint was made to the police, even if the female involved was a film star?

I asked the Santa Monica Police Department about Lt Miehle’s ‘statement’. They said they had no record of the incident or of any statement made; and that Miehle had retired. I asked retired Capt Miele about his statement. He hasn’t replied.

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US letter 3: Browne’s reply to Hannah’s uncle; a deal made?

Browne’s second letter in the April 1994 edition of US was addressed to Hannah’s uncle, Haskell Wexler.

Browne agreed that they were no longer friends. He said that Wexler hadn’t allowed him to explain what happened, but had joined the attack on his reputation and character in which many untrue things were said, some of which Wexler must have known were untrue; and that Wexler had added his own incorrect and damning assumptions.

Browne said that Hannah’s decision not to press charges was not taken out of generosity but for her own reasons. It meant that he’d been subject to trial by media, ‘where anything can be said and nothing has to be proven’.

Browne, addressing Wexler, wrote:

    ‘I suggest that you allow me to describe Daryl’s actions to you and then judge for yourself as to how those injuries may have occurred. I repeat: I did not beat her. I have no desire to expose Daryl to public scrutiny in this matter. I have avoided describing her actions or characterizing her behavior so far. It has been hard. I would have preferred to talk to you a year ago. Basically, I believe that Daryl has a right to the support and belief of her family and friends. However, you leave me no choice but to respond to your public accusations.’

Perhaps, faced with that threat of exposure, Wexler allowed Browne to ‘describe Daryl’s actions‘ and found his explanation plausible.

Perhaps they made a deal: Wexler would drop the accusation and Browne would continue to keep his ‘covenant‘ of secrecy.

That would explain why, after all that hot air, they both suddenly and completely clammed up (apart from Browne’s occasional pained – if unexplained – denials).

Haskell Wexler died in 2015.

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Why didn’t Hannah’s uncle go to the police?

The police ‘statement’ included in Browne’s open letter to US (see above) said, ‘no one alleged that Hannah was assaulted‘, presumably meaning that no assault was reported to the police. This begs the question: why didn’t Hannah’s uncle, Haskell Wexler, go to the police after seeing his injured niece and believing Browne to be responsible?

In his letter to US, Wexler said that he photographed Hannah’s injuries. The letter showed that he was very angry. He was clearly a high-status resident who wouldn’t have hesitated to make a complaint – so why didn’t he report it?

The reason must be that Hannah persuaded him not to. Perhaps she told her uncle that she couldn’t face the publicity a possible trial would bring, or that she wanted to protect Browne.

However, if Browne didn’t assault her, perhaps Hannah’s real concern was to protect herself from the embarassing or incriminating truth that a police investigation might have uncovered.

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Did the police see Hannah during their visit?

As regards whether the police who visited the house saw Hannah, there are conflicting reports. However, it seems likely that they did see her.

The 1992 People report said:

‘Since there were no visible signs of distress – [the police] never saw Hannah, says Gallinot [*] – the men [sic] left and did not file a report.’

*Santa Monica Police Department spokesman Sgt Gary Gallinot

In the 1994 US interview with Fred Schruers, Browne, specifically criticising the People report, said:

‘…the story that I sent the police away, that they never spoke to Daryl, [is] completely untrue. The officers did speak with Daryl, and they spoke with both of us for a long time…They basically said: “Look, you’re having an argument. Just cool it.”‘

Schruers then quoted Gallinot as saying:

‘A male and female officer went to the house – it was an argument, what we call a family disturbance, and when we left, everything was OK. [Hannah] never made indications she was assaulted…if there are any signs of domestic violence, we take a report, but in this instance there were no signs. It could have happened later, but she never filed charges.’

So according to the People report, Gallinot said that the police didn’t see Hannah when they visited the house; but in the US interview, Browne said that the police spoke to Hannah; and Gallinot was reported as saying that Hannah didn’t indicate that she’d been assaulted, implying that the police did see her.

In his open letter to US, Browne, apparently referring first to the 1992 People article and then to the 1994 US interview, wrote:

‘…much that was said about this affair in the tabloids and in the media is untrue. Particularly that the police came to our house and I sent them away without their having spoken to Daryl. Further, Fred Schruers actually checked it out with the police, and that’s more than the other writers that I made the same assertion to were able to do.’

I asked Schruers about this. He said he vaguely remembers speaking to the district attorney or possibly the police.

I asked the Santa Monica city attorney’s office about it. They said they have no record of the incident; they only keep closed domestic violence files for 15 years.

I asked the Los Angeles district attorney and Santa Monica Police Department Sgt (now Capt) Gallinot about their involvement with the incident. The LA DA’s office said they have no record of the incident. Gallinot hasn’t replied.

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Was there a police investigation?

There should have been a full investigation – but it seems there wasn’t one.

According to lawyer, fan and forum contributor ‘Laura‘ it was the practice in California at that time (and still is) to investigate – and, if appropriate, to prosecute – cases of apparent domestic violence even if no complaint was made to the police.

(‘Laura’ thinks that this proves Browne’s innocence: there must have been an investigation – which, as no charges were made, must have exonerated Browne.)

The October 1992 People article reported Hannah’s press release about her injuries, issued on the day of the incident. Presumably the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) would have been aware of that public statement. The call-out to the house and Hannah’s press release made later the same day should have prompted the police to launch an investigation.

However, it looks as though there was no investigation. The People article, apparently relying on information from SMPD press information officer Sgt Gallinot, said that the officers who visited the house didn’t file a report.

Also, if there had been a follow-up investigation, the defensive ‘statement’ by SMPD Lt Miehle (made, according to Browne, in November 1992) would surely have mentioned it. But the ‘statement’ didn’t say there was an investigation – it referred only to the ‘investigators‘ who ‘resolved the situation in about five minutes‘. It said:

‘Nobody has even alleged that Daryl Hannah was even touched. If they had, we’d be investigating.’

So how come there was no investigation? As ever, cock-up is the most likely explanation but conspiracy is always a possibility.

According to the People report, Browne’s manager Donald Miller gave him a false alibi, saying that Browne was with him at a recording studio at the time of the incident. Presumably Miller thought things looked bad for his friend and client and was trying to fix it. Did Mr Fixit then somehow persuade the police not to investigate?

(Donald “Buddha” Miller was production manager for the 1977 album/tour Running On Empty. He co-wrote with Browne the frustrated roadie’s ode to masturbation, Rosie, an oddly coarse song that was part of that album’s account of life and camaraderie on the road. Perhaps the members of that tour made a pledge of loyalty.)

I asked Miller if it’s true that he gave Browne that alibi, and if so, why? I also asked him if he somehow persuaded the police not to investigate. He hasn’t replied.

I asked the SMPD about their response to the incident. They said they were unable to find any record of the incident. They said that if there had been a record, it would presumably have been deleted.

(Case types exempt from deletion apparently include unsolved cases of severe violence. So, if there had been a follow-up police investigation in addition to the five-minute visit, the record might have been deleted, depending on whether the case was considered solved or not; and if not, how severe the alleged violence was considered to be.)

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The 2003 defamation claims

Despite the flakiness of the police ‘statement’ included in Browne’s open letter to US (see above), he was apparently able to use it as the basis of two successful defamation claims in 2003.

Fox Television Studios, makers of a TV movie about John F Kennedy Jr, and the Gurin Company, makers of a documentary about celebrity paparazzi, both agreed to remove scenes referring to Browne and the alleged assault on Hannah.

Browne then said in a statement:

‘I never assaulted Daryl Hannah, and this fact was confirmed by the investigation conducted at the time by the Santa Monica Police Department.’

Browne, faced with the damaging rumour, seems to have resorted to a delusional faith in the police’s so-called investigation. The powerful and well lawyered Fox company must have seen the holes in Browne’s police ‘statement’, but perhaps decided not to bother with what would have been a difficult and high-profile defence.

Fox and the Gurin Company both added an identically worded apology to the start of their movies, in which they said:

‘…local authorities have reported to the media that based upon their investigation, the incident previously reported in our program did not occur.’

The two identical apologies must have been agreed or supplied by Browne or by his lawyer Lawrence Iser, or his publicist Michael Jensen.

I asked Fox, Gurin, Iser and Jensen if that’s a reference to Browne’s police ‘statement’, or, if not, which ‘local authorities’ investigated the incident and reported to the media that Browne didn’t assault Hannah.

None of them have replied. I think it’s safe to assume that that part of the film companies’ identical statements is a pompous, puffed-up reference to Browne’s rubbish police ‘statement’.

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Joni Mitchell’s song, Not to Blame

The daft and bitter song, Not to Blame by 70s-scorned Browne ex Joni Mitchell from her 1994 Turbulent Indigo album was supposedly about the rumoured assault.

Not that I’m comparing myself to Van Gogh. Oh no – actually, I am | Detail of self-portrait by Joni Mitchell (Turbulent Indigo cover artwork)

The song’s misinformed scattergun attack – by a spurned lover who apparently still carried a torch for Browne – implied that he was a serial abuser who was to blame for the suicide and suicide attempts of previous partners, (including, presumably, Mitchell’s own alleged attempt – which she denies); and that he never accepts responsibility for the damage he does, but always says he’s not to blame.

This smear seems to have been inspired by pure spite with no substance. Browne’s relationship history shows not that he was an abusive man who drove women to suicide, but rather that he was attracted to troubled women. It happens.

This was a low point for Mitchell. I’d like to think she’s better than that. Her best songs have a sublime magic. Her artistry (if not her style) is indeed comparable to Van Gogh’s. However, even geniuses have off-days.

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Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
And how it ended up with Not to Blame

    Heaven has no rage like love turned to hatred, nor Hell a fury like a woman scorned
    William Congreve
    [A] violent and personal attack
    David Yaffe, biographer, on Not to Blame
    Jackson is not violent in any way and the end of relationships are always messy
    David Geffen

Was it violent? | A rebound relationship? | Browne’s contributory immaturity | How it ended | Phyllis Major | Mitchell on Major | Not to Blame | Browne on Mitchell | Mitchell on Browne | Conclusion | An appeal to Mitchell

Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

I love Joni Mitchell’s music. Blue blew my mind, and still does. I also love a lot of her other work, earlier and later. She’s unique – a genius. Before she got old, ill and cranky (like me), she was also beautiful, sexy and glamorous.

I’m probably not worthy to lace her size 9 dancing shoes, let alone criticise her for misusing her art and platform to make a damaging false accusation out of anger. But needs must when the Devil drives.

To fans like me, Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell seemed like gods in their early ’70s Laurel Canyon paradise. Jackson and Joni were a match made in that heaven. What could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot, apparently.

For instance, their relationship and its unhappy ending led to Mitchell releasing her vicious accusatory song Not to Blame (see above).

Mitchell has denied that her songs are autobiographical but Not to Blame is widely understood to be her condemnation of Browne as a wife-beater who made women suicidal but said he was not to blame.

Not to Blame also implied that Browne was responsible for the suicide of his first wife, Phyllis Major. Mitchell’s Song For Sharon, from Hejira, made a similar implication. Major suffered extreme postnatal depression before committing suicide. No one else has suggested that Browne was in any way responsible.

Googling the rumour that Browne assaulted Daryl Hannah produces many comments suggesting that Mitchell’s song confirms it. Mitchell, known for her lyrical integrity, knew Browne well – so it must be true, right? But what if it’s not true?

If, as seems to be the case, it’s not true, why would she do that? Their relationship, like any relationship, was and is essentially private – but Mitchell’s song, in raising that question, has made it public.

If Mitchell’s song is to be seen as a false accusation, there has to be a plausible reason. What could have gone so wrong with their relationship?

No one else knows exactly what went on, but there’s some published information. It paints a sad and murky picture not of physical abuse but of a failed relationship that ended badly and of Mitchell’s lasting and overwrought hatred of Browne – a hatred vented in Not to Blame.

Mitchell and Browne began their brief and turbulent relationship in early 1972 while touring the USA and England. Back home in Los Angeles, they didn’t live together. Their ‘dating’ relationship ended later the same year.

One possible reason for the turbulence was that in their neighbourhood of Laurel Canyon, home since the 60s to many LA rock musicians, cocaine had replaced cannabis as the drug of choice.

There was apparently some violence in both directions, but serious incompatibility seems to have been the main problem.

After the usual messy ending, a scorned Mitchell was furious. Love turned to hate and rage. And how.

This section refers to and quotes from two biographies which cover Browne and Mitchell’s troubled relationship:

    (There’s an excellent review of Yaffe’s book on Goodreads.)

Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

Not really. However, there was apparently some low-level violence. According to David Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter:

    There was violence of some kind – allegedly in both directions – during Joni’s relationship with Browne.
    (p 343)

Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us alleged* that Browne hit Mitchell on one occasion. According to Weller (as related in a 2008 news report), Mitchell confided to a friend that Browne disrespected her on stage at LA club The Roxy, that they later had an argument, and that he hit her. (* p 407)

Weller assured me that her source was good. However, Mitchell cast doubt on the credibility of scenes related in Weller’s book when she vetoed a planned movie based on it.

According to a 2014 report, Mitchell told the movie’s producer, ‘It’s just a lot of gossip – you don’t have the great scenes‘. She also said of Weller’s book, ‘There’s a lot of nonsense about me in books – assumptions, assumptions, assumptions.’

So there’s questionable hearsay evidence that Browne hit Mitchell on one occasion. On the other hand, Browne claimed that Mitchell attacked him during their relationship.

In a 1997 interview about his response to Mitchell’s Not to Blame, he described Mitchell as a violent woman who twice physically attacked him.

Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

Did Browne’s relationship with Mitchell turn sour because he was on the rebound from a previous relationship?

In David Yaffe‘s Reckless Daughter, Mitchell said that Browne didn’t return her love. (p 167) (See below).

Browne may have referred to that in his song Fountain of Sorrow (from the 1974 album Late For the Sky)

Browne has denied that his songs are autobiographical – something, at least, he shares with Mitchell – but Fountain of Sorrow is widely believed to be about Mitchell.

In a 2014 interview about Fountain of Sorrow Browne was asked about the meaning of these lines:

  • When you see through love’s illusion there lies the danger
  • And your perfect lover just looks like a perfect fool

Declining to say who it was about, he nonetheless replied:

    ‘It’s about the fact that when you fall in love with someone, when you’re brokenhearted, you don’t see them as a person.’

Was Browne saying that although he loved Mitchell he was still heartbroken from a previous relationship? Was it his continuing focus on a previous lover that so distressed Mitchell?

According to Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us*, Browne was a romantic who said he kept getting his heart crushed. Weller wrote that in 1971 he had a love affair in London with actor and photographer Salli Sachse, who’d been tour photographer for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. (* p 405) Weller referred to Sachse as ‘Jackson’s pre-Joni girlfriend’. (p 410)

According to a 2019 interview, Sachse (now an artist living in California) left Browne to go to Holland, where she met and fell in love with an artist.

Was Browne’s heart crushed again when Sasche left him and fell for another man? Was he on the rebound?

Maybe not. That’s speculation – and it was a short affair. But it would perhaps explain that strange remark of Browne’s:

    ‘When you fall in love with someone, when you’re brokenhearted, you don’t see them as a person.’

Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

Browne’s relative immaturity – and the 20s age gap – probably contributed to the breakdown of his relationship with Mitchell.

According to Browne’s own comments, Ready Or Not (from the 1973 album For Everyman) showed that he was lacking in emotional maturity at that time.

Ready or Not is about Browne’s first wife Phylis Major, who he met around the time of his break-up with Mitchell. It’s funny, honest and slightly flippant.

These verses refer to Major’s apparently unintended pregnancy and Browne’s uncertainty about settling down:

  • Now baby’s feeling funny in the morning
  • She says she’s got a lot on her mind
  • Nature didn’t give her any warning
  • Now she’s going to have to leave her wild ways behind
  • She says she doesn’t care if she never spends
  • Another night running loose on the town
  • She’s gonna be a mother
  • Take a look in my eyes and tell me brother
  • If I look like I’m ready
  • I told her I had always lived alone
  • And I probably always would
  • And all I wanted was my freedom
  • And she told me that she understood
  • But I let her do some of my laundry
  • And she slipped a few meals in between
  • And the next thing I remember, she was all moved in
  • And I was buying her a washing machine

The Songfacts page on Ready or Not (click on the ‘artistfacts’ tab) quotes a Mojo interview* with Browne:

    ‘She hated that song. She said, “I wasn’t having a baby to get you. And the bullshit about the washing machine is just insulting. So fuck you.” And she was right. I should have said in that song, “Oh shit, I’m about to become a parent and I have no idea how to do this.” But I was not emotionally mature enough.’

* The interview date isn’t given (and there’s no online archive for Mojo).

In a filmed interview*, a 1970s-looking Browne described Ready or Not as glib, and said – generously – that he learned from Mitchell the need to write deeper songs. (And he did – with his next album, the timeless Late for the Sky.)

* The interview was possibly in a TV documentary about Laurel Canyon. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find it again.

Those comments show that Browne considered himself relatively immature at that time. With Mitchell, perhaps this was inevitable given the awkward younger-man 20s age-gap. Browne was 23, Mitchell 28.

He was, as he said in Fountain of Sorrow, ‘one or two years‘ (five, actually) and (apparently) ‘a couple of changes‘ behind her.

Ready or Not portrays Browne as torn between settling down and freedom. No doubt the immaturity and commitment-aversion shown in the song and acknowledged in his comments on it – along with the age-gap – contributed to his apparent incompatibility with Mitchell.

(Also, the casually entitled sexism shown in Ready or Not’s jokey reference to Major doing laundry and cooking meals can’t have helped. Apparently, there was quite a lot of that around, despite the proclaimed hippy ideals of equality and liberation.)

Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

The relationship was ended by Browne in 1972 shortly before or after he met his future wife Phyllis Major. Apparently Mitchell was incensed that it was Browne who ended it.

When it ended, Mitchell was said to have been distraught and to have attempted suicide by taking pills. She also supposedly threw herself at a mirror, getting badly cut. She’s denied this, but, according to Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us, friends corroborated it. (p 408)

After a period in residential therapy, Mitchell moved into the home of her – and Browne’s – friend and manager, David Geffen.

I asked Geffen about Mitchell’s alleged suicide attempt. He replied to say:

    ‘Everything written about it is either wrong or completely made up…I am not going to talk about Joni’s private life other than to say Jackson is not violent in any way and the end of relationships are always messy.’

(I told Geffen I was asking about Mitchell’s alleged suicide attempt in the course of my investigation into the rumour that Browne assaulted Hannah. In his reply, Geffen added, ‘Jackson never assaulted Hannah’.)

David Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter quoted Larry Klein, Mitchell’s husband from 1982 to 1994, as saying:

    ‘Joni had a great deal of anger towards Jackson…Maybe it stems from the fact that he was the one to end the relationship…I think that’s a pattern in her life. She would do things that would lead to the end of the relationship…and then feel unjustly abandoned.’
    (p 167)

However, Mitchell’s previous – intense – relationship with James Taylor was also not ended by her – but she seems to have stayed friends with Taylor.

Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

In 1972, around the time he ended his relationship with Mitchell, Browne met the woman who was to become his first wife, Phyllis Major. They met in the LA Troubadour club when he saw her having a row with her boyfriend and intervened.

Browne’s Ready Or Not (from his 1973 album For Everyman) includes his jaunty account of meeting Major:

  • I met her in a crowded barroom
  • One of those typical Hollywood scenes
  • I was doing my very best Bogart
  • But I was having trouble getting into her jeans
  • I punched an unemployed actor
  • Defending her dignity
  • He stood up and knocked me through that barroom door
  • And that girl came home with me.

Soon after meeting, they began a serious relationship. Their son Ethan was born in 1973. Tragically, Major suffered severe postnatal depression. They married in 1975. She attempted suicide in the same month, and committed suicide in 1976 by taking an overdose of barbiturates.

Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

Two songs by Mitchell falsely accuse Browne of causing the suicide of his first wife, Phyllis Major, who he met around the time he ended his relationship with Mitchell:

  • Song For Sharon, released in 1976 soon after Major’s suicide, implies that Browne was responsible for it.
  • Not to Blame, released in 1994 in the wake of the rumour that Browne beat Hannah, implicitly accuses Browne of serial physical abuse and repeats the smear about Major more openly, with added bogus detail.

Mitchell apparently knew Major before Browne met her. In David Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter*, Mitchell described Major as ‘a sensitive, artistic, beautiful girl, who was passed from guy to guy to guy‘, and said that when she learned that Major was with Browne, she thought:

    ‘Here comes another one – the worst one of all. The very worst one. And all that shit that she’s gone through to fall into his clutches.’
    (* p 238 – Yaffe’s italics)

(In Yaffe’s book, Mitchell harshly criticised all her exes, but was especially vicious about Browne. See below.)

According to Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us*, Mitchell angered Browne by attending Major’s funeral. Weller says that Mitchell saw a parallel with her own suicide attempt, and so included a coded implication in Song For Sharon (on her 1976 album Hejira) that Browne was responsible for Major’s suicide.
(* p 411)

At the time of writing, Wikipedia’s description of Song For Sharon (in the page on Hejira), cites Weller’s claim that the song alludes to Major’s suicide, and repeats her observation that the song asks if the suicide was a means of ‘punishing someone‘.

Song For Sharon is a long and rambling autobiographical catch-up addressed to an old friend (Sharon). Verse five (of ten) is a coded account of Mitchell’s response to the news of Major’s suicide.

Although Major died from a barbiturate overdose, the song refers cryptically to a woman who ‘just drowned herself‘. It says she was ‘just shaking off futility‘ (ie, of life with Browne), ‘or punishing somebody‘ (ie, Browne – presumably for his supposed mistreatment of her):

  • A woman I knew just drowned herself
  • The well was deep and muddy
  • She was just shaking off futility
  • Or punishing somebody
  • My friends were calling up all day yesterday
  • All emotions and abstractions
  • It seems we all live so close to that line
  • and so far from satisfaction

In Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter there was no comment from Mitchell about the coded insinuation in Song For Sharon, but Yaffe – apparently channelling Mitchell – explained her motivation for making that accusation:

    A woman [Major], who had been married to an ex-lover, commits suicide. She [Mitchell] feels bad. And she can’t let go of her bitterness toward the man who surely drove her to it, which makes her feel even more sympathy, more anger… She is sad, she is angry, she takes umbrage. She would like to be above settling scores, yet she is compelled to do so. It all came rushing back. Jackson had the nerve to dump her. Then she had such a vivid sense of what was wrong with him, and she could see what he was doing to the women who came after.
    (p 236-7)

18 years after Song For Sharon, Mitchell was still bitter. In 1994, in the wake of the Browne-Hannah rumour, Mitchell released Not to Blame.

The last verse addresses Major’s suicide. Cruelly padded with fake detail, Mitchell’s unusually boorish lyrics openly accuse the subject (ie, Browne) of driving his wife to suicide.

  • I heard your baby say
  • When he was only three
  • ‘Daddy let’s get some girls
  • One for you and one for me’
  • His mother had the frailty you despise
  • And the looks you love to drive to suicide
  • Not one wet eye around
  • Her lonely little grave
  • Said ‘He was out of line girl
  • You were not to blame’

Major took her own life after apparently suffering long-term mental health issues and extreme postnatal depression.

There’s no corroboration for Mitchell’s nasty accusation and – despite Yaffe’s empathetic Song For Sharon explanation – no excuse.

Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

In October 1994, 22 years after her relationship with Browne ended, Mitchell released the album Turbulent Indigo which contained her accusatory song Not to Blame.

The US ‘uncle’ letters (see above) had been published in April 1994. The rumour that Browne beat Hannah in 1992 was still news, and Mitchell’s song was perfectly timed – deliberately or not – to twist the knife.

The first of the three verses gives the gist:

  • The story hit the news from coast to coast
  • They said you beat the girl you loved the most
  • Your charitable acts seemed out of place
  • With the beauty, with your fist marks on her face
  • Your buddies all stood by
  • They bet their fortunes and their fame
  • That she was out of line
  • And you were not to blame

The third verse accuses Browne of causing the suicide of his first wife, Phyllis Major. (See above.)

In David Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter, there was no comment from Mitchell about Not to Blame, and – although critical of Browne – she notably didn’t repeat that song’s accusations. Yaffe wrote about the song:

    There was violence of some kind – allegedly in both directions – during Joni’s relationship with Browne, and this song finds her carrying a grudge 20 years later.
    (p 343)

Allegations of violence in a relationship must be taken seriously, but given Mitchell’s comments on Browne in Yaffe’s book (see above), it seems unlikely that the grudge was about some alleged occasional two-way violence.

Yaffe described the song as a ‘violent and personal attack’. (p 344)

Browne expressed frustration at not being able to talk to Mitchell about Not to Blame. Interviewed in 1997, he said it was inexcusable for her to believe the tabloid gossip and he was tired of people assuming she was an authority on his life despite not having known him for 20 years.

He said he wrote to Mitchell after hearing the song, but she didn’t reply. He’d tried not to conduct a public defence against Mitchell’s song, but was tired of having to accept her bitter attack.

Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

Typically tight-lipped, Browne has said very little about his relationship with Mitchell other than in response to Not to Blame and in contemporaneous lyrics, some of which he’s – kind of – explained.

In a 1997 interview about Not to Blame, Browne described Mitchell as a violent woman who twice physically attacked him during their relationship.

Browne has also spoken about the ‘differences’ alluded to in Fountain of Sorrow (from his 1974 album Late For the Sky), believed to be about Mitchell.

In his introduction to a 2014 live performance of Fountain of Sorrow, Browne explained that he wrote it for an ex-lover. He’d run into her some time after they separated, was impressed by her beauty, remembered ‘all the good stuff’, and wrote the song for her. His introduction concluded:

    ‘But as time went on, as years went on, it turned out to be a more generous song than she deserved‘.

The audience’s knowing and sympathetic laughter showed they understood Browne’s drily understated reference to Mitchell and her vengeful song.

Weirdly, however, Fountain of Sorrow isn’t a generous celebration of an ex-lover’s good points at all – it’s a typically deep and soulful meditation on relationships, memory, loss and sadness.

Pressed about that introduction to Fountain of Sorrow in a 2014 interview, Browne said:

    ‘The things that come to bear in that song are the healing and acceptance of each other’s differences. That’s what I meant by it being more generous than she deserved.’

In the same interview about Fountain of Sorrow Browne was asked about the meaning of these lines:

  • When you see through love’s illusion there lies the danger
  • And your perfect lover just looks like a perfect fool

He replied, gnomically:

    ‘It’s about the fact that when you fall in love with someone, when you’re brokenhearted, you don’t see them as a person.’ (See above.)

The equally brilliant and moody song Late for the Sky – ‘Looking hard into your eyes, there was nobody I’d ever known’ – is also thought to be about Mitchell.

Such were Browne’s thoughtful – if not particularly ‘generous’ – reflections on their relationship. Mitchell’s take on it, however, seemed increasingly angry.

Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

Apparently furious after Browne ended their relationship in 1972, Mitchell trashed him implicitly in two songs and then explicitly in a recent biography.

In 1976 soon after the suicide of Browne’s first wife, Phylis Major, Mitchell released Song For Sharon which included a coded implication that Browne caused his wife’s suicide.

In 1994 (22 years after their relationship), in the wake of the Browne-Hannah rumour, Mitchell released the uncompromisingly vicious Not to Blame which openly implied that Browne was a serial wife-beater who drove his wife to suicide.
In 2017 (45 years after their relationship), in David Yaffe’s biography Reckless Daughter, Mitchell – apparently consumed by bitterness like a modern-day Miss Havisham – brutally dismissed Browne as a worthless nonentity.

Mitchell – perhaps advisedly – didn’t repeat Not to Blame’s accusation in Yaffe’s book (based partly on recorded interviews) but she vindictively described him as a ‘leering narcissist‘, ‘just a nasty bit of business‘ and ‘the very worst one‘.

Some of Mitchell’s comments about Browne were conflated with those about her previous lover, James Taylor. Taylor and Browne seem to have almost fused in Mitchell’s mind into a single lump of uselessness – but while she excused Taylor as a junkie, she condemned Browne as actively vile.
Mitchell made the ‘leering narcisist’ comment when speaking about her love not being reciprocated:

    ‘I did love, to the best of my ability, and sometimes, for a while it was reciprocated, and sometimes…they were incapable. James numbed on drugs and Jackson Browne was never attracted to me…when [Jackson] spoke about old lovers, he leered. He was a leering narcicist.’
    (Yaffe, p 167)

The ‘nasty bit of business’ comment ocurred when Mitchell explained how her sadness was caused by having her self-worth undermined:

    ‘I wasn’t mentally ill. I was sad…When someone’s undermining your self-worth, it’s not a healthy situation. Well, it’s not James’s fault, he’s fucked up. And Jackson’s just a nasty bit of business.’
    (Yaffe, p 169)

The ‘very worst one‘ comment was about Browne meeting Phyllis Major at the time he ended his relationship with Mitchell. She described Major as a ‘sensitive…girl, who was passed from guy to guy’ (see above), and claimed a horrified concern:

    ‘Here comes another one – the worst one of all. The very worst one. And all that shit that she’s gone through to fall into his clutches.’
    (Yaffe, p 238 – Yaffe’s italics)

There’s more of this from Mitchell in Yaffe’s and Weller’s books. Yaffe told me he was able to get most of the people involved to tell their side of the story but Browne’s management didn’t respond. That was probably for the best – Mitchell seems to have constructed an alternative reality in which fault is one-sided, exaggerated and vilified.

Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

Browne’s brief 1972 relationship with Mitchell continues to resonate – disproportionately and disharmoniously.

In 1976 in Song For Sharon Mitchell falsely implied that Browne’s behaviour caused his wife to commit suicide. Why did she do that?

Then in 1994 Mitchell falsely implied in Not to Blame that Browne routinely physically abused women. She clearly meant to boost the rumour that Browne beat Hannah.

Why did she lash out again with a false accusation 22 years after their relationship ended? What made her so vengeful?

Was it simply that Browne didn’t sufficiently return her feelings (perhaps because his heart was attached to a previous lover) and – perhaps even worse – that it was he who ended it? Was Mitchell inconsolably enraged when he dumped her?

Is that a plausible explanation for Mitchell maligning Browne so long after their brief relationship – with uncharacteristically clunky lyrics that swapped poetry for polemic?

If there’s more to it, it must be the depth of her feelings for Browne and the depth of her despair when he ended things.

In 2017 in David Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter Mitchell didn’t repeat Not to Blame’s accusations but she angrily dismissed Browne as deeply selfish, and unpleasant – ‘the very worst one’. (See above.)

No one else has publicly said such things about Browne. Mitchell’s unsupported criticism, so bitter after 45 years, raises the possibility that in denigrating him she was hiding – perhaps from herself – a painful truth.

Perhaps Browne wasn’t the despicable nobody she portrayed, but was actually the lost love of her life. To paraphrase the poet, there’s no fury like that of a woman scorned – and no rage like love turned to hatred.

Perhaps Browne inadvertently got through Mitchell’s defences like no one else, and left her permanently embittered when he ended their relationship.

In his 1997 interview about Not to Blame, Browne said, ‘She and every one of her friends knows – it’s all about carrying a torch‘.

Is that the explanation for Mitchell’s lasting bitter anger and its expression in Not to Blame‘s spiteful slur? We’ll probably never know – Browne has mainly kept quiet about their relationship, and Mitchell’s heated outbursts have shed little light.

Whatever happened and whatever Mitchell’s state of mind, her relationship with Browne gave Not to Blame considerable credibility.

That song’s defamatory message – boosted by Mitchell’s renown as the truthful songwriter, and by her more recent expression of lasting hatred – has continued to damage Browne’s reputation.

Sheila Weller’s 2008 biography Girls Like Us recounts a brief meeting in 2004:

    Mitchell ran into Browne in a grocery store. He told her he couldn’t bear the animosity between them and the two reportedly buried the hatchet.
    (p 497)

However, Mitchell’s comments on Browne in Yaffe’s 2017 biography (see above) showed that the hatchet was buried alright – in Browne’s head.


Joni and Jackson – a match made in Hell? | Photo: source unknown

Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

Mitchell said she was thin-skinned and exposed when recording Blue in 1971. If she was still vulnerable in 1972, perhaps the relatively immature Browne got under her thin skin and accidentally did some lasting damage. Whatever it was, perhaps forgiveness is now for the best.

Apparently, Mitchell doesn’t use the internet. Perhaps a friend could pass this on.

What d’you say, Joni? You were lovers – you know what he was like. Was he really that bad? If not – however difficult it might be after all that bluster – perhaps you owe him an apology as a debt of honour.

(Before you die would be good…)


Cat lady in red | Photo: PR

I’m grateful for some of the above information about Browne and Mitchell to Alan Ashworth, UK journalist and writer on music, especially West Coast music.


Contents 🔼

Browne – a troubled man?
Childhood exile from Abbey San Encino – a traumatic event? Dr Fraud speculates…

    Freud believed that events in our childhood have a great influence on our adult lives, shaping our personality. For example, anxiety originating from traumatic experiences in a person’s past is hidden from consciousness, and may cause problems during adulthood.
    Saul Mcleod, Simply Psychology, 2018

Regarding Browne’s apparent attraction to troubled women (an alternative to Joni Mitchell’s toxic tale of serial abuse – see above), perhaps sensitive artist Browne is or was himself a troubled person.

Browne was apparently somewhat disturbed as a pre-teen. His behaviour, which involved hanging out with a ‘bad’ crowd, caused his parents to move the family from their amazing bohemian home, Abbey San Encino – hand-built by Browne’s grandfather and featuring a dungeon and a chapel – to an indentikit housing estate.

This must have been a traumatic change in the young Browne’s life. When he and Hannah separated, Browne spoke movingly of feeling banished from the kingdom that her family resembled. Perhaps he was painfully reminded of that previous exile from the abbey.

In a 1994 interview, Browne unconvincingly made light of this event. Perhaps he was cloaking a disturbed childhood – as many of us do, perhaps unconsciously.

  • No one ever talks about their feelings anyway
  • Without dressing them in dreams and laughter
  • I guess it’s just too painful otherwise

Perhaps in his search for a lover, what Browne most needed was unconditional support. Some of the lyrics in Take it Easy (co-written by Glenn Frey, Browne’s neighbour at the time) such as ‘I’m looking for a lover who won’t blow my cover’ and, ‘I gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me’ sound, despite the song’s carefree and upbeat tone, revealingly desparate.

Perhaps a troubled Browne found not the support he needed, but troubled women who shared that need – women with whom he found co-wounded codependency. However, if so, that doesn’t make him abusive.

Happily, Abbey San Encino was kept in the family, and Browne returned there in the early 70s. In 1973 it was pictured on the cover of For Everyman. In 1974 much of Late For the Sky was written and rehearsed in the chapel. Since 1975 Browne’s brother, the singer-songwriter Severin Browne, has lived there.


Jackson re-enthroned in his childhood kingdom, rocking it in a rocking chair | For Everyman art direction: Anthony Hudson | Photo: Alan F. Blumenthal

Asylum records (for whom Browne was David Geffen‘s first signing) went to some trouble with the original For Everyman cover. The photo frame was die-cut: the photo showing Browne was on the sleeve. With the sleeve removed, there was another photo on the inside back – the same scene, but without Browne. Push the sleeve in – with this record, he was back!

Photo: Ebay

Contents 🔼

Some peripheral information

Blue and Black – black and blue?

Browne’s beautiful song Sky Blue and Black (from his 1993 album I’m Alive) is supposedly about the ending of his relationship with Hannah.

Given the yearning sincerity of the lyrics, it might seem unlikely – but is there perhaps an incongruously dark wordplay in Sky Blue and Black’s title and refrain? ‘Blue and black’ is only a reversal away from ‘black and blue‘. Could master wordsmith Browne have been unaware of that?

Kennedy on Hannah

A magazine article about the incident includes an account of a 1996 TV interview (see “JFK, Jr. Interview”) in which John Kennedy Jr, Hannah’s lover at the time of her breakup with Browne, commented – somewhat ungallantly – on Hannah’s alleged flakiness, and said he didn’t think that Browne hit Hannah.

John Kennedy Jr died in 1999.

Contents 🔼

Some sources

There are some useful sources of information out there:

  • The surprisingly (to me) in-depth October 1992 news report by US celebrity magazine People, published about a month after the event – hotly contested by Browne (in the interview listed next) as fake information – but stoutly defended by People as genuine
  • A scan of the February 1994 interview with classy US film and music magazine US (not to be confused with its later trashy celeb mag version, US Weekly) nicely written by music journalist Fred Schruers, in which Browne opens up on the incident (albeit without saying what happened)
  • A scan of the three April 1994 ‘uncle’ letters in US
  • An interesting forum discussion on the subject
  • Another one – with the post by lawyer ‘Laura
  • An 2016 article in the US online OnStage Magazine by assignment editor and stage photographer Larry Philpot, with a good summary of the available evidence (albeit with a pro-Browne bias)
  • Two biographies cover Browne’s troubled relationship with Joni Mitchell and its bitter aftermath: Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation (2008); and David Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell (2017)

The text of the US ‘uncle’ letters and the account of the JFK Jr TV interview (see above) can be found in the forums and the OnStage article.

In his OnStage piece, Philpot writes that as a longtime friend of David Linley (Browne’s genius-collaborator and close friend) and as a stage photographer who’s looked many times into Browne’s (famously soulful) eyes, he can’t believe that Browne could have assaulted Hannah.


Puss does the big eyes | Image: DreamWorks

The OnStage article says that Hannah has denied several times that Browne hit her. I’ve come across this claim elsewhere but haven’t found any evidence. I asked Philpot if there’s any evidence that Hannah has publicly made that denial. He hasn’t replied.

Contents 🔼

Conclusion – kind of

    And in the end
    The love you take
    Is equal to the love you make

    From The End by The Beatles from their 1969 album Abbey Road. (No, I don’t know what it means, either – but it seems somehow appropriate.)

Who says what | What I think (probably) happened | An appeal to Browne and Hannah

Conclusion – kind of

Did Jackson Browne beat Daryl Hannah in 1992? Back in 2014 I couldn’t find a definite answer to that question, so I didn’t take my wife to Browne’s concert. It wouldn’t have felt right, especially as she suffered domestic abuse in her previous marriage.

I still haven’t found what I’m looking for – ie, a definite answer. Yes, it was all a long time ago, but it still matters to me, 28 years on from 1992. I love Jackson Browne’s music – it speaks to something in my soul – but the unresolved rumour makes it a tainted love.

It apparently also matters to the 30,000-plus people who’ve found and read – or, at least, looked at – this post.

Can we – should we – separate the artist from the art? Maybe not – or not completely. I’d overlook a lot of bad behaviour in an artist whose art I admire, but not domestic abuse – nor, as in this case, a persistent rumour of domestic abuse that the artist refuses to resolve.

Separating the life from the art is especially dificult with a singer-songwriter who wears his heart on his sleeve. So I didn’t take my wife to Browne’s 2017 or 2019 UK tours.

In Browne’s defence there is, of course, his social activism. Browne’s decades-long record of committing his talent, fame and much of his wealth to social activism speaks to his good character. Perhaps you can combine domestic violence with dedication to improving the world, but it seems unlikely.

Hannah also has a long record of committed social activism in the course of which she’s been arrested more than once. That speaks to her good character – and to her integrity.

Conclusion – kind of
With Daryl Hannah, Jackson Browne, Haskell Wexler, Joni Mitchell, David Geffen, Old Uncle Tom Cobley* and me

Hannah never explicitly accused Browne of assaulting her. Her press release on the day of the incident – her only public statement – read, ‘She received serious injuries incurred during a domestic dispute with Browne for which she sought medical treatment.’ She didn’t press charges. She’s never publicly repeated or withdrawn her implied accusation, as far as I know.

Browne has frequently denied beating Hannah. However, he refuses to publicly explain what happened, citing a promise made during his relationship with Hannah.

Hannah’s uncle Haskell Wexler saw her injuries and wrote to US magazine accusing Browne of beating her. (See above.) In his US reply to Wexler, Browne threatened to go public unless allowed to privately explain it. Their subsequent silence suggests that Wexler heard Browne’s explanation and found it plausible.

Joni Mitchell’s accusatory 1994 song Not to Blame is thought by some to show that he’s guilty of being a physical abuser – but it doesn’t. It shows that in 1972 he made a lifelong enemy by not sufficiently returning Mitchell’s love, and then dumping her.

David Geffen, Browne’s friend since the early 70s, might be considered partial but seems like an honest guy for a multi-billionnaire. He told me, ‘Jackson is not violent in any way and the end of relationships are always messy. Jackson never assaulted Hannah’.

My opinion, having investigated the rumour as I set out to do, is that – his dodgy police ‘statement’ notwithstanding – Browne probably didn’t assault Hannah.

Who says what? A summary:

  • Hannah never explicitly accused Browne and didn’t press charges but has never withdrawn her implied accusation.
  • Browne denies it but refuses to explain it.
  • Uncle Haskell angrily accused him but piped down when Browne said he’d go public.
  • Joni Mitchell implied abuse but it was a false accusation made in anger.
  • David Geffen said Browne’s not violent and he didn’t do it.
  • I think my detailed investigation shows that he probably didn’t do it.

Conclusion – kind of
You know that cartwheeling scene in Bladerunner


Daryl Hannah as Pris in Bladerunner, 1982 | Photo: Warner Bros

If, as seems likely, Browne didn’t do it, how did Hannah get those injuries?

Perhaps she had an autistic rage episode during which either she inflicted the injuries on herself or she attacked Browne and was injured when he defended himself.

Browne seems to have the knack of making some women very angry. (See, also, my account of his relationship with Joni Mitchell. However – again – that doesn’t make him abusive.)

Perhaps it happened like this: They had an argument. Hannah began ‘ransacking’ the place. Browne called the police, who told them to cool it. After the police left, she attacked him and he defended himself.

At five-ten, Hannah was the same height as Browne. A former gymnast and dancer, she’d done some of her own stunts in Bladerunner. At 32, she was 12 years younger than Browne. She might well have been a match for the skinny ex-high-school wrestler approaching middle-age.

According to his own account, in his early twenties Browne punched an unemployed actor defending his first wife-to-be’s dignity – albeit the actor then supposedly knocked him through a barroom door. Allowing for artistic licence with the barroom door slapstick, Browne’s apparently true tale shows that – although by all accounts (apart from Joni Mitchell’s) a gentle man – he was no weakling.

Despite Browne being 20 years older in 1992 than he was that night at the Troubador, if he was instinctively defending himself against an effective autistic rage attack by Hannah, his fighting spirit might account for her injuries.

We’ll probably never know why there was no proper police investigation or why Browne’s manager gave him a false alibi – but we should know how Hannah got those injuries. Browne says it’s none of our business. I disagree. Here’s to truths yet to be known.

Conclusion – kind of
For heaven’s sake, just tell us…

So I think that, probably:

  • Browne’s a decent chap who didn’t assault Hannah.
  • Hannah’s injuries were caused when Browne defended himself against her autistic rage attack.
  • Hannah felt embarrassed, and kept quiet.
  • Browne felt bound to keep her secret.

That’s what I think, but I could be wrong – on all counts. Theres’s only one way to settle it. They should just tell us.

I couldn’t find contact information for Browne or Hannah, so I asked their representatives to ask them to say how it happened. I said I’d publish whatever they said.

Browne’s representatives – his lawyer and publicist – haven’t replied. (They’ve got form for ignoring such requests.) Hannah’s entertainment attorney replied immediately to say, ‘Please do not contact Ms. Hannah or myself again’. How rude!

Having got nowhere with their monkeys, I’ll ask the organ-grinders directly. (You never know – they might read this.)

If you didn’t do it, Jackson, please explain it. Whatever covenant or deal you made, it’s time to tell the truth and shame the devil. You’ve been self-isolated for too long under a dark cloud of suspicion. The truth will set you free – at last.

It would be even better if Hannah told us what happened that day. C’mon, Daryl – spill them beans. What have you got to lose?

After all this time, such transparency would release the tension. Let it go! Everybody could forgive everybody else, and we could all move on.

It might be wrong to suggest forgiveness when there’s still the possibility of past domestic violence. (There’s no excuse for it and some things can never have closure.)

But it’s always better to be kind to one another – if possible.

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September 2020
My closing farewell

This rolling blogpost now rolls to a halt. I’ve been updating, supplementing, rearranging, editing, tweaking and generally faffing about with it for over five years (on and off). It’s grown to over 11,000 words. Enough, already.

Was it worth it? Yes. Call me obsessive – I suppose I am. (I haven’t got OCD, thank goodness, but I’m probably a bit autistic.)

There’ve apparently been over 30,000 viewers so far. (You’re another one, dear Reader.) That shows that people care. Keep caring.

(Please feel free to comment – all comments will continue to be answered.)

Chris Hughes | Leicester, UK
chris.hughes1235@gmail.com | 0044 7733 055472

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Keep a fire burning in your eye
Pay attention to the open sky
You never know what will be coming down
From For A Dancer by Jackson Browne
From the album Late For The Sky (1974)

Eyebrowed handsome man | Photo: Poster for Jackson Browne’s 2017 tour

* Old Uncle Tom Cobley – included for (supposedly) comic effect. In the well known Devon, UK, folk song, Widecombe Fair – covered, apparently, by the Nashville Teens – the rousing (often drunkenly shouted) chorus consists of an open-ended (‘…and all’) list of the people with whom the the singer hopes to travel to the fair. He wants to go…

  • With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawke
  • Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all
  • Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

…and after a few pints, we all want to go with them.

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Pleeeease comment…

61 thoughts on “Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah

  1. This was a very well-written synopsis of the allegations, thanks. I appreciate all the detail. I’ve always enjoyed Jackson Browne’s music but as you say it’s a “tainted love.” I’ve always had trouble separating the artist from the art. (I can’t enjoy Michael Jackson anymore, for instance. Nobody has to be above reproach, but some acts are too repellent to overlook.) I want to think Browne didn’t do it, of course, but wish there was a definitive answer out there.


    1. Thanks for your complimentary comment, Mary. Yes, I wish they’d say what happened. I must admit, I still listen to Jackson’s music, but I wouldn’t go with my wife to a concert (if there are any in the foreseeable future!).


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