Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah

An enquiry | Contents | They say…

2015-2020 | 16,000 words | 50 mins


Browne and Hannah in 1990 | 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.

Then there’s Joni Mitchell sticking her oar in.

For more, start here; or browse the Contents; or skip to the Conclusion

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Top 🔼

Update: March 2020
Wikipedia gagged me!
The bastards

When I started writing this, the Wikipedia entries for Jackson Browne and Daryl Hannah made no mention of the assault allegation. At some point they began mentioning it, and at the time of writing both entries gave links to the same three published references. All three references are covered here but none of them sheds much light. So 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!)

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Top 🔼

They say
Quotes about this post

Incredibly well researchedall the sources in one placelet me come to my own conclusion – important in this cancel culture

Elizabeth, commenter and law student

Nice presentation and analysis of competing facts and explanationsexcellent evidentiary compilation

Jane, commenter and lawyer

You’ve put work into the research

Fred Schruers, Rolling Stone writer (interviewed Browne in 1994 about the incident)

Very thorough and well researched

Alan Nierob, Hannah’s press agent at the time of the incident

Please do not contact Ms Hannah or myself again

Lawrence Kopeikin, Hannah’s entertainment attorney


Top 🔼
Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah



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 – a troubled man?

Some peripheral information

Some sources

Conclusion – kind of

Annex: Jackson Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

Afterword: The #MeToo movement

Sources of help


Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼


A need to know

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.)

After I’d written this, it occurred to me there was a third party inextricably involved – Joni Mitchell. Her song Not to Blame famously – and very damagingly – put the boot in. I’ve tried to extract it by showing her song was a libellous fit of passion.

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.

It’s understandable 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.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

What happened

Just the facts

On 23 September 1992 Jackson Browne and Daryl 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 (whom she’d apparently been seeing since 1988) and had come to collect some belongings. 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 later, 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.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Who did it?

(Not the butler)

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

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

‘Daryl Hannah 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 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, his reason for not explaining what happened was it’d be ‘a breach of faith in a covenant that is many, many years old’.

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

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

The autism factor

We’re all on the spectrum, but …

Daryl Hannah has revealed she was diagnosed with autism as a child. Doctors recommended medication and institutionalisation but her mother refused.

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 Jackson 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.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

The cocaine factor

Danger line?

Jackson 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 Daryl Hannah were a user-couple. Perhaps Hannah found 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 …

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

The 1992 People article

The guilty pleasure of celeb tittle-tattle

In October 1992, one month after the incident, celebrity magazine People wrote about it. The article’s opening paragraph referred to Daryl Hannah as ‘reportedly … a battered victim’. Quoting numerous anonymous ‘friends‘, People said:

  • A press statement made on the day of the incident by Hannah’s spokesman said: ‘Daryl Hannah received serious injuries incurred during a domestic dispute with Browne for which she sought medical treatment.’
  • A ‘close friend’ of Hannah’s said Jackson Browne caused her injuries.
  • Browne’s manager, Donald Miller, said the incident couldn’t have happened because he was with Browne at an LA recording studio at the time.
  • ‘Browne supporters’ said 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 Browne called the station complaining that someone was ransacking his home.
  • ‘Friends of Hannah’ said 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 Browne told the two attending officers, ‘Everything is fine’; they never saw Hannah; and as there were no signs of distress the men left and didn’t file a report.
  • Hannah’s ‘friends’ said 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 he’d gone to northern California and was keeping a low profile.
  • A friend of Hannah’ said 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.’

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

The 1994 US interview

Earnest but dull

Over a year after the incident, in February 1994 monthly film and music magazine US (not to be confused with its later trashy incarnation US Weekly) published a long interview with Jackson Browne in which he 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 Daryl Hannah’s uncle (see below). In the interview:

  • Browne strongly denied assaulting Hannah.
  • He denounced the 1992 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 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 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 he was laying low after the incident as implied by the People report. He pointed out he was gigging regularly at that time.
  • Browne said he wouldn’t explain 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 since the incident he’d been ‘banished from the kingdom, from the monarchy that her family resembles’

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

The three 1994 US ‘uncle’ letters

Sparks fly!

Following the February 1994 interview with Jackson 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 Daryl Hannah’s uncle, Haskell Wexler, and two letters of angry denial by Browne.

Letter 1 | Letter 2 | Letter 3

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Letters intro | Letter 2 | Letter 3

US letter 1: from Hannah’s uncle
Angry Uncle Haskell

The first of the three letters in the April 1994 US was from Daryl 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, in 1992. 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.’

In saying ‘I saw the results of the last violent attack on my niece’, Wexler was clearly suggesting there were previous attacks. However, this throwaway accusation apparently has no basis in fact.

There’ve been no other suggestions of previous incidents except for some flimsy accusations from anonymous ‘friends’ of Hannah in a celebrity magazine’s report of the incident.

If Hannah’s protective uncle had known of any such incidents at the time, he’d surely have intervened (and have ended his friendship with Jackson Browne then). If, on the other hand, Hannah had told him at the hospital about previous attacks, he’d surely have insisted on reporting it to the police. No report was made to the police. (See below.)

Perhaps Wexler, angrily convinced Browne attacked his niece, wanted to enhance his case by suggesting – with, apparently, no evidence whatsoever – there were previous attacks.

(Edit: I came across a forum post referring to a previous incident in 1988. Forum rules prevent me from contacting the poster, and I can’t find any other reference. If you know about any such incident, dear Reader, please email me.)

Letters intro | Letter 1 | Letter 2 | Letter 3

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Letters intro | Letter 1 | Letter 3

US letter 2: Browne’s open reply and his police ‘statement’
(The ‘statement’ is rubbish)

In the same April 1994 edition, immediately after Haskell Wexler’s letter, US published two replies from Jackson 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 criticised the 1992 People report for saying the police didn’t see Daryl Hannah during their house call.

Browne ended his open US letter by reproducing a defensive and somewhat rambling ‘statement’ by a Santa Monica police officer, with no contextual information other than the officer’s rank and name and the month it was made: Lt John Miehle, November 1992.

This is the police officer’s ‘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 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 ‘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 – and the apparent lack of a formal investigation – how could the police be so sure ‘no assault occurred’?
  • ‘Nobody has even alleged that Daryl Hannah was even touched’. It may be true 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’?
  • ‘If they had [alleged assault], we’d be investigating’. Given the police visit to the house to check out 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 Miehle’s ‘statement’. They said they had no record of the incident or of any statement made; and Miehle had retired. I asked Miele about this statement. He hasn’t replied.

Letters intro | Letter 1 | Letter 2 | Letter 3

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Letters intro | Letter 1 | Letter 2

US letter 3: Browne’s reply to Hannah’s uncle; a deal made?
Jackson hits home – silences angry uncle

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

Browne agreed they were no longer friends. He said 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 Wexler had added his own incorrect and damning assumptions.

Browne said Hannah’s decision not to press charges was not taken out of generosity but for her own reasons. It meant 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.

Letters intro | Letter 1 | Letter 2 | Letter 3

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

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

You’d think he would have …

The police ‘statement’ included in Jackson Browne’s open letter to US (see above) said, ‘no one alleged that Hannah was assaulted’, meaning no assault was reported to the police.

In his angry letter to US, Daryl Hannah’s uncle, Haskell Wexler, said he photographed Hannah’s injuries and he believed Browne to have caused them. He was clearly a high-status resident who wouldn’t have hesitated to make a complaint to the police – so why didn’t he?

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

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

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Did the police see Hannah during their visit?

A vital piece of the jigsaw

As regards whether the police who visited the house saw Daryl Hannah, there are conflicting reports. However, it seems likely 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, Jackson 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 the police didn’t see Hannah when they visited the house; but in the US interview, Browne said the police spoke to Hannah; and Gallinot was reported as saying Hannah didn’t indicate she’d been assaulted, implying 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 remembered 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.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Was there a police investigation?

Defund the SMPD

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 this proves Jackson 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 Daryl 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 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 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 Browne’s 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 if there had been a record, it would presumably have been deleted.

(SMPD 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.)

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

The 2003 defamation claims

A legal farce = but a fair outcome

Despite the flakiness of the police ‘statement’ included in Jackson 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 Daryl 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:

‘…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. It seems safe to assume the film companies’ identical statements are pompously referring to Browne’s rubbish police ‘statement’.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Joni Mitchell’s song, Not to Blame

A false accusation made in anger

The daft and bitter song Not to Blame by 70s-scorned Jackson 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 he was a physical abuser who drove his first wife to suicide but who always claimed he was 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.

Not to Blame is apparently a false accusation – but why would honest Joni have told such a damaging lie?

See my (necessarily detailed) account of Mitchell’s brief 1972 relationship with Browne and its bitter aftermath, below, which tries to answer that question and counter the widespread belief expressed in discussion forums and comments that the song proves Browne’s a wife-beater.

That section includes a (very detailed) analysis of Not to Blame.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Browne – a troubled man?

Childhood exile from Abbey San Encino – a traumatic event?

    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.
    Simply Psychology, Saul Mcleod

Regarding Jackson Browne’s apparent attraction to troubled women (an alternative to Joni Mitchell’s toxic tale of physical 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 identikit 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 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. Was he – perhaps unconsciously – cloaking a disturbed childhood, as many of us do.

  • 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 desperate.

Perhaps a troubled Browne found not the support he needed, but troubled women who shared that need – women with whom he found co-wounded co-dependency. 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!

For Everyman cover and sleeve | Photo: eBay

I’d suggest For Everyman‘s elaborate sleeve with its coded message of triumphal return shows Browne’s forced removal from his wonderful childhood home affected him deeply.


I’ve suggested Browne wasn’t the woman-hating wife-beater portrayed in Not to Blame, but was, rather, a troubled man attracted to troubled women.

However, since breaking up with Hannah, Browne seems to have sorted himself out, and now apparently has a good relationship with an untroubled woman.

Hannah also seems more sorted, currently apparently happy with folk-rock god Neil Young.

I wish all the best to all of them.

(Joni Mitchell, meanwhile, continues unrepentantly to be… Joni Mitchell. But I wish her all the best, too.)

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Some peripheral information

Left-over bits


Jackson Browne’s beautiful song Sky Blue and Black (on his 1993 album I’m Alive) is supposedly about the ending of his relationship with Daryl 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?


A magazine article about the incident included an account of a 1996 TV interview* (see ‘JFK, Jr. Interview’ in the article) in which John Kennedy Jr, Daryl Hannah’s lover at the time of her breakup with Jackson Browne, commented on Hannah’s flakiness, and said he didn’t think Browne hit Hannah.

Kennedy’s comments might seem somewhat ungallant, but Hannah’s reported behaviour at the time of Kennedy’s mother’s death in 1994 might be thought to justify them.

John Kennedy Jr and his wife died in a plane crash in 1999.

* I haven’t been able to find any information about the interview.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Some sources

Check it out for yourself

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 Jackson 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 a 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 Joni Mitchell biographies cover her troubled relationship with Browne and its bitter aftermath: Sheila Weller’s 2008 Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation; and David Yaffe’s 2017 Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell

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 wrote that as a long-time friend of David Linley (Browne’s genius-collaborator and close friend, who sadly died in May 2023) and as a stage photographer who’d looked many times into Browne’s (famously soulful) eyes, he didn’t believe Browne could have assaulted Daryl Hannah.


Puss does the big eyes | Image: DreamWorks

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

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Conclusion – kind of

She probably did it

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

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

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

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Conclusion 🔼


This is the end, dear Reader

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 my wife suffered domestic abuse in her previous marriage. I started trying to find the answer, out of casual curiosity at first, then out of full-blown obsession.

I still haven’t found what I’m looking for: a definite answer. Yes, it was all a long time ago, but it still matters to me, 30 years on from 1992. It apparently also matters to the 50,000-plus people who’ve found and read – or, at least, looked at – this post.

When I saw Jackson Browne in Birmingham (UK) in the 90s, the crowd (mainly female – as ever, apparently) called out, ‘We love you, Jackson!’ And we did.

Despite being straight, I had a man-crush on Browne back in the 70s – but mainly I loved his voice and his music. It speaks to something in my soul – but the unresolved rumour makes it a tainted love.

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 the artist refuses to resolve.

Separating the life from the art is especially difficult 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 character and integrity.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Conclusion 🔼


Daryl Hannah | Jackson Browne | Haskell Wexler | Joni Mitchell | David Geffen | Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all | Summary

Who said what 🔼

Daryl Hannah

Hannah never explicitly accused Browne of assaulting her. Her only public statement was a press release in 1992:

    Daryl Hannah received serious injuries incurred during a domestic dispute with Browne for which she sought medical treatment.

Hannah didn’t press charges, and she’s never publicly repeated (or withdrawn) her implied accusation – as far as I know.

Who said what 🔼

Jackson Browne

Browne has frequently denied beating Hannah, but he refuses to publicly explain what happened, citing (in 1994) a promise made during his relationship with Hannah.

Who said what 🔼

Haskell Wexler

Uncle Haskell saw Hannah’s injuries and wrote in 1994 to US magazine accusing Browne of beating her. In his US reply to Wexler, Browne threatened to go public unless allowed to privately explain it. Their subsequent silence suggests Wexler heard Browne’s explanation and found it plausible.

Who said what 🔼

Joni Mitchell

Mitchell’s accusatory 1994 song Not to Blame is thought by some to show Browne’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.

Who said what 🔼

David Geffen

Geffen, Browne’s friend since the early 70s, might be considered partial, but he seems like an honest guy for a multi-billionaire. He told me (in 2020):

    Jackson is not violent in any way and the end of relationships are always messy… Jackson never assaulted Hannah.

Who said what 🔼


  • Hannah didn’t explicitly accuse Browne 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 used the rumour to make a false accusation in anger.
  • David Geffen said Browne’s not violent and he didn’t do it.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Conclusion 🔼


You know that cartwheeling scene in Bladerunner


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

If, as seems likely, Jackson Browne didn’t do it, how did Daryl 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 Troubadour, 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.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Conclusion 🔼


For heaven’s sake, just tell us …

So I think, probably:

  • Jackson Browne’s a decent chap who didn’t assault Daryl 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. There’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’. (Rude!)

Having got nowhere with their monkeys, I’ll ask the organ-grinders here. (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 best to be kind to one another – if possible.

Conclusion – kind of 🔼
Contents 🔼
Top 🔼

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah

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 16,000 words. Enough, already. (Apart from the occasional irrestible faffing…)

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 50,000 viewers so far. (You’re another one, dear Reader.) That shows 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

Contents 🔼
Top 🔼


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
On the album Late for the Sky (1974)

Eye-browed handsome man | Photo: Poster for Jackson Browne’s 2017 tour

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Who said what 🔼

Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all

Nothing to do with Jackson Browne – it’s a whimsical reference to Widecombe Fair, the well-known traditional folk song from Devon, UK.

The rousing – often drunkenly shouted – chorus consists of a list of all the people the singer wants to go to the fair with…

  • Wi’ 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 to Widecombe Fair.)

Get drunk responsibly

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Jackson Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell

And how it ended up with Not to Blame

Contents – Joni 🔽

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

    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

Top – Joni 🔼
Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell



Reference books

Their relationship

Was it violent?

A rebound relationship?

Browne’s immaturity

How it ended

Phyllis Major

Mitchell on Major’s suicide

Not to Blame

Browne on Mitchell

Mitchell on Browne


An appeal to Joni

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼


Get the popcorn out, dear Reader

This necessarily detailed account of what’s known about Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell’s relationship amounts to about half my post about Browne and Daryl Hannah.

I added this annex quite late when I realised many people condemn Browne because they believe Mitchell’s accusatory song Not to Blame.

The song’s believability depends on her relationship with Browne. Mitchell, known for her lyrical integrity, had an affair with Browne and knew him well – so it must be true, right? But what if it’s not true?

70s Joni | Photo: Henry Diltz/Rhino

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 complex and unique – a genius.

I also had a crush on her. She was beautiful, sexy, and glamorous. (She still is, for an old person – ie over 70, like me. Finally, she can truly be called Old Lady of the Year!)

I’m probably not worthy to lace her size 9 dancing shoes, let alone charge her with 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 and Joni 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 eventually to Mitchell releasing her vicious accusatory song Not to Blame (on the album Turbulent Indigo).

Mitchell has denied her songs are autobiographical but Not to Blame, released in 1994 in the wake of the Browne-Hannah rumour, is widely understood to be her condemnation of Browne as a wife-beater who drove his first wife to suicide.

Not to Blame not only repeated the rumour that Browne beat Hannah but also implied he was responsible for the suicide in 1976 of his first wife, Phyllis Major.

Mitchell made a similar implied accusation soon after Major’s suicide in Song For Sharon (on the album Hejira).

Major had long-term mental health issues. She suffered severe postnatal depression before committing suicide.

Browne’s songs show they had serious relationship problems (see below), but no one apart from Mitchell has suggested Browne drove Major to suicide.

If Mitchell’s accusation is false, why would she do that? What went so wrong with her relationship with Browne? Like any relationship, theirs was private – but Not to Blame‘s accusations made it public.

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

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼


Two’s company

Same 1968 photo of Joni on both books | Photo: soothfairy

This annex refers to, and quotes from, two biographies which cover Jackson Browne and Joni Mitchell’s troubled relationship:

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

Weller interviewed confidantes of her three subjects. Yaffe drew mainly on his conversations with Mitchell, recorded in 2015 shortly before her aneurysm.


The two books both get one thing wrong when writing about Mitchell’s Not to Blame. They both wrongly say Daryl Hannah accused Browne of assaulting her:

    Browne’s longtime girlfriend, actress Daryl Hannah, accused him of beating her up (Weller, P 411)
    Hannah claimed that Browne beat her badly enough to put her in a hospital (Yaffe, P 343)

That’s careless – Hannah made no such explicit accusation. The only public statement she made was a carefully worded press release issued on the day of the incident:

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

That clever wording implies Browne assaulted her but doesn’t actually say so.

(Why not? I conclude she probably got those injuries when Browne defended himself against her autistic rage attack.)

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼


Such as it was

Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne began their brief and turbulent relationship in early 1972 while touring the US and England.

Mitchell was promoting her fifth studio album, For the Roses; Browne was promoting his debut album, Jackson Browne.

That’s Manchester, UK! I could have gone …

David Yaffe in Reckless Daughter says after Mitchell’s relationship with James Taylor (see below) had ended, she was…

    …thrown on the road with Jackson Browne, another brooding singer-songwriter who was even more harmful to Joni’s already fragile emotional state. (P 167)

Mitchell famously said about her thin-skinned Blue period that she felt ‘like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes’.

But Yaffe’s suggestion Browne was more harmful to Mitchell than Taylor – whilst it matches Mitchell’s vicious character assassination of Browne in Yaffe’s book (see below) – isn’t borne out by accounts of their relationship.

Far from being harmful to Mitchell’s emotional state on that tour, Browne apparently lifted it. According to Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us:

    When Jackson and Joni dueted on “The Circle Game”, fans saw a chemistry between them. By the end of the tour…”Joni and Jackson were together” [a friend] recalls…”Jackson and I are in love” is how Joni put it [to an old flame]. “She just fell for him,” says a confidante. (P 406)

However, back home in Los Angeles, they didn’t live together – and their ‘dating’ relationship ended later the same year.

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

Moreish cocaine can be addictive, and can cause violence. Did the – possibly cocaine-related – turbulence in their relationship manifest as violence? There was apparently some violence in both directions, but serious incompatibility seems to have been the main problem.

Weller’s Girls Like Us:

    By the end of 1972…things were not going well between her and Jackson. “It was a high-strung relationship,” says a a confidante. Everyone in their crowd was “doing so much cocaine at the time,” and “Joni thrives on conflict, and not many guys can take that”. (“I’m a confronter by nature,” she’s admitted.)…Nonetheless, Joni remained in love with Jackson. (P 407)

Jackson then met Phylis Major, who would become his wife. (See below.) Weller:

    Jackson’s attention to Phyllis Major felt, to Joni, like “a great loss and a great mind-fuck,” says her confidante. (P 408)

Browne ended the relationship, which apparently caused Mitchell to have a nervous breakdown. She spent some time in residential therapy.

However, a scorned Mitchell was also furious. Love turned to hate and rage – and how! Weller:

    Joni remained deeply angry at Jackson for years. Said percussionist Don Alias, who became her serious boyfriend for several years in the late 1970s, “She really had this hatred of Jackson Browne; the whole Jackson Browne thing was really heavy for her.” (P 410)

Sad, but evidently true. Hence, 22 years later, Not to Blame.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼


Not really

There was apparently some violence but it clearly wasn’t the habitual kind characteristic of an abusive relationship.

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 claims Jackson Browne hit Joni 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, and they later had an argument, during which he hit her. (P 407)

Weller assured me 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.

In a 2014 interview, Mitchell said she told the movie’s producer, ‘It’s just a lot of gossip – you don’t have the great scenes’. She also said, ‘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 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.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼


Possibly – but who was on the rebound?
Introduction | Jackson on the rebound? | Joni on the rebound?

A rebound relationship?  🔼


I’ll be your substitute

(Great chorus – sorry about the YouTube ad)

Did Jackson Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell turn sour because it was a rebound relationship?

In David Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter, Mitchell said 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 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, 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 (typically gnomically):

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

A rebound relationship?  🔼

Jackson on the rebound?

Something fine

Was Browne saying 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 says in 1971 Browne had a brief love affair in London with actor and photographer Salli Sachse, who’d been official photographer for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. (P 405).

Sachse and Peter Fonda in The Trip, 1967 | Photo: AIP

Weller refers to Sachse as ‘Jackson’s pre-Joni girlfriend‘. (P 410)

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

In the interview, Sachse said Browne’s song Something Fine (from the 1972 album Jackson Browne) was about her. She said, ‘I was always saying I was going to go to Morocco, so he put that in there’.

  • Now if you see Morocco, I know you’ll go in style
  • I may not see Morocco for a little while
  • But while you’re there, I was hoping you might keep it in your mind
  • To save me just a taste of something fine

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

Maybe not. That’s speculation – and it was a short affair, lasting about 10 days. But it would perhaps explain that strange remark of Browne’s:

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

A rebound relationship?  🔼

Joni on the rebound?

Jackson for James

Or was that actually about Mitchell and James Taylor, Mitchell’s pre-Browne lover. Was it Mitchell who was brokenhearted and on the rebound?

Mitchell and Taylor were together from 1970-71. For a while, according to Yaffe, they were very close. (P 127) Then, with Taylor’s growing heroin/opioid addiction and Mitchell entering her thin-skinned Blue period (when, she’s said, she felt ‘like a cellophane wrapper on a pack of cigarettes’), the relationship declined.

James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, 1971 | Photo: Joel Bernstein

According to one account, the relationship was ended by Taylor after Mitchell complained about him flirting with female admirers, and after he’d started seeing Carly Simon.

However, according to Weller, when Taylor and Simon met, Taylor and Mitchell’s relationship had already ended. (P 359) Oddly, neither Yaffe nor Weller describe how it ended, but Weller, writing about Mitchell’s 1972 album For the Roses, said James’ ‘rejection’ got to her. (P 334)

Taylor (in choosing California as his favourite song from Blue) claims Mitchell ended things when she left him in an airport and flew back to California. (Is that what Blue’s This Flight Tonight is ‘about’?)

Who dumped who matters because it’s suggested Mitchell’s anger at Browne stems from him dumping her. But if Taylor also dumped her, how come she’s not angry at him?

Anyhow…was Mitchell broken-hearted when her relationship with Taylor ended? Was Browne – a young, good looking, cultured singer-songwriter, like Taylor – Mitchell’s rebound substitute? Was Browne referring to Mitchell not seeing him as a person?

Taylor married Carly Simon in November 1972. Did that make the breakup with Browne even worse for Mitchell?

Carly Simon and James Taylor at their wedding in Manhattan, 1972 | Photo: Peter Simon (Carly’s late brother)

However, if Mitchell’s relationship with Browne was a relatively insignificant rebound relationship, why would she remain so intensely bitter towards him 20, 40 years later?

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼


In his own words

There was a 20s age-gap between Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne – she was 28, he was 23. Browne’s relative immaturity probably contributed to the breakdown of their relationship.

Browne has said he was lacking in emotional maturity at that time. He was talking about Ready or Not (on the 1973 album For Everyman).

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

Two verses refer to Major’s apparently unintended pregnancy and to 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 [Major] 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 – 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 Browne considered himself relatively immature at that time. With Mitchell, perhaps this was inevitable given the awkward younger-man 20s age-gap.

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 portrayed 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.

Browne’s casually entitled sexism, as shown in Ready or Not‘s jokey reference to Major doing laundry and cooking meals can’t have helped.

(Apparently, there was a lot of that around – despite the proclaimed hippy ideals of equality and liberation.)

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼



Jackson Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell was ended by Browne in 1972 shortly before or after he met his future wife Phyllis Major. Apparently Mitchell was incensed it was Browne who ended it.

She was also apparently distraught. According to Sheila Weller’s Girls Like Us, a confidante of Mitchell said she attempted suicide by taking pills and she threw herself at a mirror, badly cutting herself. (P 408)

Mitchell has denied this. According to David Yaffe in his biography Reckless Daughter, the breakup was ‘less eventful than has been reported elsewhere’ (P 167). Mitchell told Yaffe:

    ‘I read a page in one of those books. It said when Jackson Browne dumped me I attempted suicide and I became a cutter. A cutter! A self-mutilator! I thought, Where do they get this garbage from? I’m not that crazy. I’m crazy, but not that crazy’. (P 237)


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’.)

Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter quotes 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 – according to one account – not ended by her – but she seems to have stayed friends with Taylor.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼


Very sad

Phyllis Major | Photo: source unknown

In 1972, around the time he ended his relationship with Joni Mitchell, Jackson 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 (on his 1973 album For Everyman) included 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. They married in 1975.

Oddly – apparently for no reason – Browne ends Walking Slow (from Late for the Sky, 1974) with these doleful lines:

  • I’m feelin’ good today
  • But if I die a little farther along
  • I’m trusting everyone to carry on

Tragically, it was, of course, Major who died a little farther along and Browne who had to find a way to carry on.

Major, who had long-term mental health problems, suffered severe postnatal depression. She attempted suicide in 1975, and committed suicide in March 1976 by taking an overdose of barbiturates.

🌷 🌷 🌷

Apparently, as with most relationships, Browne and Major had arguments.

Browne’s Walking Slow (from Late for the Sky, 1974), despite its breezy tone and its opening reference to being happy and feeling good, refers to marital discord:

  • I got a pretty little girl of my own at home
  • Sometimes we forget we love each other
  • And we fight for no reason

Browne added, presciently:

  • I don’t know what I’ll do if she ever leaves me alone

In their relationship, things were apparently worse than typical marriage tiffs. As a free-spirited and dedicated musician, no doubt Browne was sometimes an absent husband and parent. And Major had a history of mental health issues.

Two of Browne’s songs address the difficulties they had. The first, Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate (on the album The Pretender, November 1976) was written soon after Major’s suicide:

  • Never shoulda had to try so hard
  • To make a love work out, I guess
  • I don’t know what love has got to do with happiness
  • But the times when we were happy
  • Were the times we never tried

It took Browne a while to write about what went wrong. In the Shape of a Heart (from Lives in the Balance, 1986) is very moving – and painfully revealing:

  • I guess I never knew what she was talking about
  • I guess I never knew what she was living without …
  • There was a hole left in the wall from some ancient fight
  • About the size of a fist, or something thrown that had missed
  • And there were other holes as well, in the house where our nights fell
  • Far too many to repair in the time that we were there …
  • It was the ruby that she wore, on a stand beside the bed
  • In the hour before dawn, when I knew she was gone
  • And I held it in my hand for a little while
  • And dropped it into the wall, let it go, heard it fall …
  • Speak in terms of a life and the living
  • Try to find the word for forgiving

Browne’s reference to ‘a hole left in the wall from some ancient fight about the size of a fist, or something thrown that had missed‘ implies him hitting the wall in frustration or her throwing something at him. The reference to ‘other holes as well in the house where our nights fell, far too many to repair in the time that we were there‘ is clearly metaphorical.

Browne’s not confessing to domestic violence. He’s expanding Walking Slow’s ‘we forget we love each other, and we fight for no reason’ and Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate’s ‘had to try so hard to make a love work out’ to In the Shape of a Heart’s account of his struggle to cope:

  • You keep it up, you try so hard
  • To keep a life from coming apart
  • And never know
  • The shallows and the unseen reefs
  • That are there from the start
  • In the shape of a heart

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼


Very bad

Jackson Browne met his first wife, Phyllis Major, around the time he ended his relationship with Joni Mitchell in 1972. Tragically, Major committed suicide in 1976. (See above.)

In two of her songs, Mitchell has implicitly accused Browne – with no grounds whatsoever – of driving Major to suicide.

  • The epic Song For Sharon on the album Hejira was released in 1976 soon after Major’s suicide. In one of the song’s ten verses, Mitchell falsely implied Browne drove Major to it.
  • The accusatory Not to Blame on the album Turbulent Indigo was released in 1994 in the wake of the rumour that Browne beat Hannah. In Not to Blame, in addition to accusing Browne of beating Hannah (see below), Mitchell repeated her smear about Major more openly – and with spurious detail about Browne and Major’s three-year-old son.

Mitchell was apparently acquainted with 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 when she learned 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; my bolding)

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

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

At the time of writing, Wikipedia‘s description of Song For Sharon – in its entry on the album Hejira – cites Weller’s claim that the song alludes to Major’s suicide, and relates Weller’s observation that the song asks if the suicide was a means of ‘punishing someone’.

Mitchell’s beautiful Song For Sharon is a long and rambling autobiographical catch-up (nominally – as it were – addressed to an old friend, Sharon). However, the song’s poetic and sonic beauty conceals an ugly bitterness. Verse five (of ten) is a coded account of Mitchell’s vengeful response to the news of Major’s suicide.

Although Major died from a barbiturate overdose, the verse 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’s no comment from Mitchell about the coded accusation in Song For Sharon. Nevertheless, Yaffe, perhaps referring to unpublished parts of his conversations with Mitchell, describes her emotional compulsion to make that accusation:

    A woman [Major], who had been married to an ex-lover [Browne], 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 – My bolding)

The bitterness in Song For Sharon was coded and muted. However, 18 years later Mitchell was still bitter – and she let rip. In 1994, in the wake of the Browne-Hannah rumour, Mitchell’s song Not to Blame (on the album Turbulent Indigo) repeated the accusation openly and angrily.

(Not to Blame is analysed in detail in the next section.)

The first two verses of Not to Blame are about physical abuse, but the last verse addresses Major’s suicide. Cruelly padded with spurious detail, Mitchell’s 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
  • lonely little grave
  • Said ‘He was out of line girl
  • You were not to blame’

The spurious detail (‘I heard your baby say …’) refers to Browne and Major’s son. Interviewed about Not to Blame in 1997, Browne said:

    ‘It was abusive to employ that image of my son as somebody who treated his mother’s death light-heartedly. I mean, he was a three-year-old baby, you know. This is inexcusable.’

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

Browne’s songs Walking Slow, Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate and – especially – In the Shape of a Heart refer to the difficulties they had in their relationship. (See above.)

Those difficulties may have been known to Mitchell – theirs was a small world. However, no one apart from Mitchell has suggested Browne mistreated Major and drove her to suicide.

There’s no corroboration for Mitchell’s nasty accusation in those two songs and – despite Yaffe’s empathetic explanation for Song For Sharon‘s coded accusation – no excuse.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼


Sour revenge – a sextual analysis
Intro | Verse 1 | Verse 2 | Verse 3 | Outro


Not to Blame  🔼


Song of hate

In 1994, in the wake of the Jackson Browne-Daryl Hannah rumour – 22 years after her relationship with Browne had ended – Joni Mitchell released her accusatory song Not to Blame (on the album Turbulent Indigo).

This section offers a detailed analysis of the song, the part it’s played in the rumour about Browne and Hannah, and its reference to the suicide in 1976 of Browne’s first wife, Phylis Major.

(Mitchell’s twisted take on Major’s suicide in Not to Blame and in the earlier Song For Sharon is also separately addressed above.)

Not to Blame is often invoked in discussion forums and comments as proof Browne’s a wife-beater.

It’s no such thing, but some people seem to think Mitchell’s condemnation of Browne trumps Browne’s protestation of innocence – perhaps because of Mitchell’s stronger reputation and her ‘weaker’ sex.

It doesn’t help, of course, that Browne refuses to explain what happened with Hannah.

Not to Blame contains no proof Browne assaulted anyone. Mitchell repeated the gossip about the Hannah incident, expanded on that gossip, and speculated on the suicide of Browne’s first wife, but she offered no corroboration or evidence.

For instance, she made no reference to her brief relationship with Browne 20 years previously, despite that being the last time she’d known him.

(Mitchell did talk about their relationship in David Yaffe’s 2017 autobiography, Reckless Daughter. She was highly critical of Browne – see below – but she notably didn’t mention Not to Blame or repeat its accusation of abuse.)

If Not to Blame reveals any truth, it’s not that Browne’s a wife-beater, it’s that Mitchell’s a grudge-holder – and that there’s no rage like love turned to hate.

Not to Blame is beautifully sung over sparse piano chords and sexy bass, with a light, slightly breathless, beguiling purity. Mitchell’s lyrics sound utterly convincing. She doesn’t sound angry or bitter – she sounds like, say, a Norwegian ice-maiden crooning light jazz.

But the song’s dulcet beauty belies its ugly theme: banal vengeance with a poisonous sting.

The rumour that Browne beat Hannah was still in the news. The US ‘uncle’ letters about Hannah (see above) had been published that year. Despite Mitchell’s flimsy pretence that Not to Blame wasn’t about anyone in particular, it was clearly about Browne, and it was perfectly timed to twist the knife.

The first two verses addressed that rumour, accusing Browne of assaulting Hannah. Then, after that banal bluster, came the madness.

The venomous spite of the third verse was aimed at Mitchell’s real target: Browne and Phyllis Major.

Browne left Mitchell for Major in 1972. Mitchell apparently never got over it.

Major became Browne’s first wife in 1975. Sadly, she committed suicide in 1976. In the same year, Mitchell referred to Major’s suicide in Hejira‘s Song For Sharon.

Now, 18 years later, in Not to Blame’s final verse, Mitchell referred again to Major’s suicide, and accused Browne of despising women’s frailty and loving to drive them to suicide.

Why would she have done that?

In David Yaffe’s autobiography, Reckless Daughter, Yaffe often apparently channels Mitchell in order to explain without quoting. (See, for instance, Yaffe’s explanation for Mitchell’s comment on Major’s suicide in Song For Sharon.)

In that spirit, here’s my channelled explanation:

    Jackson had left her – genius Joni – for airhead* Phyllis. The shallow bastard! Then Phyllis killed herself. Joni gatecrashed the funeral. She felt sorry for Phyllis, and blamed Jackson. Her bitterness towards him festered. Now, years later, here was the Daryl Hannah rumour – a chance too good to miss! It had to be his fault! Like Phyllis’s suicide! Bastard! Stab! Stab! Stab!

Or something like that. But however you slice it, Not to Blame’s third verse is quite the Psycho scene.

*Major wasn’t an airhead – her reported response to Browne’s Ready or Not shows that – but Mitchell apparently thought she was. In Yaffe’s book, she said Major was ‘passed from guy to guy to guy’ (P 238).


Not to Blame  🔼

Verse 1


Jackson Browne had already been damaged by the gossip about Daryl Hannah. Now Joni Mitchell put the boot in with her accusation.

The first verse got right to it: the media said Browne beat Hannah; his philanthropy was hypocritical; she had his fist marks on her face; but his friends said it was her fault and he was not to blame:

  • 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

In Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter there was no comment from Mitchell on Not to Blame, but Yaffe misleadingly implied the song was Mitchell’s revenge for Browne’s alleged violence against her:

    There was violence of some kind – allegedly in both directions – during Joni’s relationship with Browne, and this song [Not to Blame] finds her carrying a grudge 20 years later. (P 343 – my bolding)

Allegations of violence in a relationship must be taken seriously, but the alleged occasional two-way violence in their relationship (see above) was clearly not the persistently repeated one-way assault typical of domestic abuse.

In 1994, Mitchell’s 20-year grudge resulted in Not to Blame‘s accusation that Browne was a physical abuser. The grudge, however, can’t have been about physical abuse in their relationship – because the infrequent two-way violence in their relationship clearly didn’t amount to that.

Mitchell’s fiercely derogatory comments on Browne in Yaffe’s book (see below) revealed a long-held grudge (over 40 years by that time) but in the book she notably – perhaps advisedly – didn’t repeat Not to Blame’s physical abuse smear.

Yaffe was wrong to suggest Mitchell’s grudge was about ‘violence of some kind’ in her relationship with Browne. More accurately, Yaffe went on to describe the song as a ‘violent and personal attack‘. (P 344)


Not to Blame  🔼

Verse 2


The second verse of Not to Blame was less directly accusatory:

  • Six hundred thousand doctors
  • Are putting on rubber gloves
  • And they’re poking at the miseries made of love
  • They say they’re learning how to spot
  • The battered wives among all the women
  • They see bleeding through their lives
  • I bleed for your perversity
  • These red words that make a stain
  • On your white-washed claim
  • That she was out of line
  • And you were not to blame

However, the second verse seemingly gave a coded explanation for the damning accusation in the third verse – that Jackson Browne despises women’s frailty and habitually makes them suicidal.

In the second verse Joni Mitchell said, ‘I bleed for your perversity‘. That apparently referred to Browne’s obstinacy in insisting he wasn’t to blame. But was wordsmith Mitchell also implying sexual perversity?

Was Mitchell suggesting Browne was secretly gay and his hiding it was a perversion? Was she saying his secret gay misogyny made him despise women’s frailty and beauty and want to drive them to suicide?

Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter openly suggested Browne was secretly gay. According to Mitchell, Browne’s mother said to her:

    ‘I wondered what form your perversion would take’. (P 167)

Explaining that gnomic comment (a family trait?), Yaffe, apparently channelling Mitchell, said:

    Joni eventually came to feel she was being given a heads-up. Maybe there was something off about Jackson’s relationships. And he did seem to be more giddy with his male friends than he could ever be with a woman… This guy had issues. (P 167-8 – my bolding)

Yaffe told me he got most of the people involved to tell their side of the story, but Browne’s management didn’t respond.

However, it seems likely that whatever was ‘off’ in Browne’s relationship with Mitchell, and whatever ‘issues’ he had, he’s not secretly gay. Perhaps Mitchell was pursuing her vendetta against him by slinging any mud that came to hand.

Whether or not Mitchell subtly loaded all that onto the word ‘perversity’, her accusation that Browne loved to drive beautiful women to suicide couldn’t be justified in any case – it was clearly absurd.

Another accusatory element in the second verse was the phrase ‘battered wives’.

Not to Blame implied Browne beat Hannah, but it didn’t imply he beat Mitchell or any other women. The song’s reference to ‘battered wives’ was ostensibly a general comment about doctors not recognising domestic abuse.

However, ‘battered wives’ might also have been a subtle dig at Browne. A few months before the release of Not to Blame, Daryl Hannah’s uncle, Haskell Wexler, in his much publicised angry letter to monthly film and music magazine US, said:

I was with her in the hospital … The doctor was shocked by the severity and noted Daryl as ‘a badly battered woman’. (My bolding)

In his reply to Wexler, Browne threatened to go public unless allowed to privately ‘describe Daryl’s actions’. Wexler’s subsequent silence suggests he heard Browne’s explanation and found it plausible – but that wouldn’t have fitted with Mitchell’s bitter preconception.

(Also, Wexler or the doctor may have been exaggerating. According to a contemporaneous People report, although Hannah was seen in New York days after the incident with a bandaged hand and a black eye, 10 days after the incident, the ‘badly battered woman’ was pictured in a paparazzi video ‘smooching’ with JFK Jr in Manhattan.)

Perhaps Mitchell, having seen Wexler’s letter, felt entitled to subliminally enhance her anti-Browne message with the phrase ‘battered wives’.


Not to Blame  🔼

Verse 3

Stab! Stab! Stab!

Finally, in the third verse of Not to Blame, Joni Mitchell got to the poisoned point: her hatred for Jackson Browne after he left her for Phyllis Major in 1972. In this verse, Mitchell got well and truly Psycho on Browne’s ass.

After Major’s suicide in 1976, Mitchell gatecrashed the funeral. This verse was her twisted account of it, and her even more twisted explanation for Major’s 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’

In two crazy and vicious lines she suggested not only that Browne despised his wife’s frailty and drove her to suicide but also that he made a habit of it:

  • [She] had the frailty you despise
  • And the looks you love to drive to suicide

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

Browne and Major apparently had relationship problems. (See above.) That may have been known to Mitchell. But no one apart from Mitchell has suggested Browne drove Major – or any other women – to suicide.

Mitchell’s vengeful accusation was a cheesy, melodramatic lie. Such is art made to serve congealed rage.

Mitchell also callously referred to Browne and Major’s three-year-old son:

  • I heard your baby say when he was only three
  • ‘Daddy let’s get some girls
  • One for you and one for me’

If Mitchell, the unwelcome guest at Major’s funeral, heard those words, they were clearly the foolish words of a baby.

Using those words, whether true or invented, to suggest Browne was a womaniser and his three-year-old son was aware of that and was colluding with it at his mother’s funeral was bizarre. It showed the twistedness of her anger.

Interviewed in 1997, Browne said:

    ‘It was abusive to employ that image of my son as somebody who treated his mother’s death light-heartedly. I mean, he was a three-year-old baby, you know.’


Not to Blame  🔼


Fade to grey

Joni Mitchell should withdraw Not to Blame’s very damaging false accusation. It’s not too late for her to put it right. (See my appeal to Mitchell, below.)

In his 1997 interview, Jackson Browne expressed frustration at not being able to talk to Mitchell about Not to Blame.

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.

So Browne had his say – but the song continued to damage him.

In Not to Blame Mitchell used her poetic artistry and her beguiling voice to create the false impression of a man who mistreats women, who despises their frailty and loves to drive them to suicide.

The angry and personal tone of the third verse will have convinced some that Browne must be guilty of something terrible. Such is the power of a false accusation made by someone of stature.

Mitchell’s reputation – sealed with her unparalleled album, Blue – as the foremost truthful songwriter of her generation, together with her brief but intimate knowledge of Browne, gave Not to Blame an impressive veneer of credibility.

However, behind that cool, authentic exterior, Mitchell was wildly stabbing at Browne like a vengeful goddess* re-enacting Psycho.

This song and the unfair damage it’s done to Browne should fade to grey – to the limbo reserved for such defamatory fits of passion.

* Thanks to commenter Alan Smith for that apposite epithet.


Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼


Typically gnomic

Typically tight-lipped, Jackson Browne has said very little about his relationship with Joni 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 spoken introduction to a 2014 videoed performance of Fountain of Sorrow, Browne explained 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 got Browne’s drily understated reference to Mitchell and her vengeful song, Not to Blame.

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, and loneliness.

  • I’m just one or two years and a couple of changes behind you
  • In my lessons at love’s pain and heartache school
  • Where if you feel too free and you need something to remind you
  • There’s this loneliness springing up from your life
  • Like a fountain from a pool

Asked in a 2014 interview about that introduction to Fountain of Sorrow, 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.’

Hmmm. 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 broken-hearted, 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.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼


More heat than light

In 1972, Jackson Browne ended his relationship with Joni Mitchell. Apparently permanently furious ever since, she’s trashed him implicitly in two songs and explicitly in a recent biography.

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

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

Yaffe’s book drew on conversations he recorded in 2015 shortly before Mitchell’s aneurysm.

Surprisingly – perhaps advisedly – Yaffe’s book contained no comments by Mitchell about Not to Blame. (Readers had to rely on the author’s own flawed explanation.)

However, Mitchell wasn’t holding back in Yaffe’s book. She lashed out at Browne, describing him as a ‘leering narcissist‘, just a ‘nasty bit of business‘ and the ‘very worst one’.

Some of Mitchell’s comments about Browne in Yaffe’s book were merged with those about her previous lover, singer-songwriter James Taylor.

Taylor and Browne seemed 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 narcissist’ comment when speaking about her love not being returned:

    ‘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 narcissist.’ (Yaffe, P 167)

The ‘nasty bit of business’ comment occurred 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 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; my bolding)

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. Browne must have had his faults, but Mitchell seems to have constructed an alternative reality in which fault is one-sided, exaggerated and vilified.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼


A woman scorned

In forum discussions and comments, people say Joni Mitchell’s Not to Blame shows Jackson Browne’s a wife-beater who drove his wife to suicide.

I think this detailed account of Browne and Mitchell’s brief 1972 relationship and its lasting aftermath shows Not to Blame is a false accusation made in anger.

In 1976, shortly after the suicide of Browne’s first wife, Phyllis Major, Mitchell implied in Song For Sharon that Browne drove his wife to suicide.

Then in 1994 in the wake of the Browne-Daryl Hannah rumour – 22 years after her relationship with Browne had ended – Mitchell really ramped it up.

She implied in Not to Blame that Browne beat Hannah, and she openly accused him of driving Major to suicide, nastily adding spurious detail about their three-year-old son (see above).

The song suggested a pattern of mistreatment of women, with Browne always saying he was not to blame.

If – as I think I’ve shown – there’s no truth in Mitchell’s allegations, why did she lash out with those damaging smears so long after their relationship had ended? What could have made her so vengeful?

Was it simply that Browne didn’t sufficiently return her feelings (perhaps because it was a rebound relationship) and – perhaps even worse – that he ended it?

Was Mitchell inconsolably enraged because he dumped her? Possibly, but James Taylor (Mitchell’s pre-Browne lover) also, apparently, dumped her and they’ve stayed friends – whereas in 2015 she described Browne as ‘just a nasty bit of business’.

He’s got a friend – even if he did dump her | Photo: Marcy Gensic (2018) | Thought bubble: Yaffe (P 169)

Also, Browne and Taylor are apparently good friends. As of late 2021 they were planning to tour together. This suggests Taylor doesn’t share his friend Mitchell’s bad opinion of Browne.

Best of friends: Mr Nasty and Mr Fucked-up | Photo: Taylor’s selfie?

If there’s more to it than Browne ending it, perhaps it’s the depth of Mitchell’s 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’.

No one else has publicly said such things about Browne. Mitchell’s unsupported criticism, so bitter after over 40 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.

Like Mitchell’s previous lover James Taylor, Browne was a talented and intelligent singer-songwriter. Taylor was handsome enough, but Browne was undeniably a very good-looking young man. Was Mitchell entranced by his combination of talent and beauty – and hopelessly in love with him?

Browne in 1971. Handsome is … | Photo: Henry Diltz

As she’s said, ‘I’m a fool for love’.

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 in Yaffe’s biography (see above), 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 showed the hatchet was buried alright – in Browne’s head.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Browne’s relationship with Joni Mitchell
Contents – Joni 🔼


Put it right and let it go

Joni Mitchell said she was thin-skinned and exposed when recording Blue in 1971. If she was still vulnerable in 1972, perhaps the relatively immature Jackson Browne got under her thin skin and accidentally did some lasting damage.

In Not to Blame she used her art to hurt him back. Her more recent comments in the Yaffe biography inflamed the wound.

After all this time, perhaps she could forgive him and retract her claws. Some healing would be good. Not to Blame‘s false accusation should be withdrawn.

Its false note still resonates dissonantly. It should be silenced and allowed to fade away. It’s a bad spell woven with lurid colours. It should be undone and allowed to fade to grey. It’s a bad smell. Light a candle, hey?

Apparently, Joni Mitchell doesn’t use the internet, but a friend might show her this direct appeal:

    Dear Joni

    You’ve said some terrible things about Jackson. A lot of people believe you. After Phyllis’s suicide, you implied in Song For Sharon it was his fault.

    After the Daryl Hannah incident, you implicitly accused him in Not to Blame of being a violent man who drove his wife to suicide. You said, about Phylis’s death:

    [She] had the frailty you despise

    And the looks you love to drive to suicide

    That was crazy – and cruel. But a lot of people believe it.

    in David Yaffe’s biography, you described Jackson as a ‘leering narcissist’, a ‘nasty bit of business’ and the ‘very worst one’.

    No one else has said such extreme things about him. Would your discerning friend James Taylor, who presumably knows Jackson pretty well, be his friend if he shared your view of him?

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

    Before you die would be good. (Flinch not, dear younger Reader. Those of us over 70 may try to deny it – I do – but we know we’re facing death.)

    OK, he pissed you off, He seems to have a knack for doing that.

    Maybe he broke your heart. And you’ve been lashing out ever since.

    But don’t take this grudge to the gravelet it go!

    Remember Jackson’s ‘generous’ words:

    You’ve had to struggle, you’ve had to fight

    To keep understanding and compassion in sight

    You could be laughing at me, you’ve got the right

    But you go on smiling so clear and so bright


Cat lady in red: Joni and Bootsy, 2020 | 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.


Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Afterword: the #MeToo movement

And how I think it relates to this post

It’s the Me Too movement’s time (as I write this).

Best known as the hashtag #MeToo, it’s a movement against the sexual abuse and harassment of young vulnerable women in the overheated show business workplace, where the power to confer fame gives an ugly sense of entitlement.

None of that applies here, but the #MeToo movement has been extended to other sorts of abuse in the wonderful world of showbiz.

So in these #MeToo times, how come I’m giving the benefit of the doubt to a famous musician (Jackson Browne) accused of abusing an actor (Daryl Hannah). And how come I’m accusing an even more famous musician (Joni Mitchell) of making a false accusation of abuse?

The #MeToo movement’s a wonderful thing. It’s breaking the silence and setting the truth free.

That’s the thing: truth. Browne probably told the truth, but not enough of it; Hannah kept quiet, which was a kind of deceit; and Mitchell libelled Browne in a fit of passion.

To effectively oppose abuse and objectification, the wider #MeToo movement needs truth, however complicated.

In that spirit, I hope this post’s attempt to get at the truth – of a rumoured assault by a famous man on a less famous younger woman, and of the accusations made by a more famous spurned lover – can be seen as supportive of #MeToo.

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Contents 🔼

Sources of help

If you need it

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised, here are some sources of help:

  • Domestic abuse: UK | US
  • Mental health: UK | US
  • Cocaine addiction: UK | US
  • Autism: UK | US

Jackson Browne & Daryl Hannah
Top 🔼 | Contents 🔼

Pleeeease comment…