Joni Mitchell, motherly musician and artist to millions of fans worldwide, landed one of the most vicious blows in the history of pop music on her 1994 album "Turbulent Indigo" with the song "Not to Blame."
The blow's target—although she has never acknowledged it—was clearly her former boyfriend Jackson Browne.
Now, Browne is hitting back. In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, he describes Mitchell as a "violent" woman who twice physically attacked him. He also calls her a "very embittered" artist who believes she has not been given her due as a musical innovator and who has carried a torch for him since they broke up more than 20 years ago.
The song, he says, was "beneath her."
"Joni Mitchell is, unfortunately, she's not really well," Browne says. "At this point in her life, you know, she has had deep fallings out with many people in her life. I think there's quite a few people that she's no longer on speaking terms with. She's not a happy person, and what she says in that song is absolutely, 100 percent wrong. And it's really very nasty, very, very ill, you know, very bad-spirited of her to make this kind of conjecture when in fact as she and every one of her friends knows ... it's all about carrying a torch for 20 years."
A spokesman for Mitchell's record company, Reprise/Warner Bros., requested and received a copy of some of Browne's comments, but he said she was busy in the studio and would not respond.
In "Not to Blame," Mitchell discusses a breaking news story in which "they say you hit the girl you love the most."
Darryl Hannah accused Browne of beating her in 1992.
In 1976, Browne's wife, Phyllis Major, committed suicide. She "had the frailty you despise/And the looks you love to drive to suicide" the song says. A particularly nasty line seems to refer to Browne's son, who was 3 when Major died: "I heard your baby say when he was only 3/'Daddy, let's get some girls, one for you and one for me.'"
"It was abusive to employ that image of my son as somebody who treated his mother's death lightheartedly," Browne says. "I mean, he was a 3-year old baby, you know. This is inexcusable."
Browne has vehemently denied Hannah's charges and says it was "inexcusable" for Mitchell to believe the "tabloid [expletives] that gets put out there.
"I just get so sick of people assuming that she's an authority somehow in my life," he says. "She just thinks that I'm like, you know, the antichrist. But we haven't known each other for 20 years, and she's not an intimate of mine."
Browne says he wrote Mitchell a letter after hearing the song, but "she's not really big enough—she's not really beyond this enough to, like, actually have a conversation with me about it."
He says he has tried not to conduct a "public defense" against Mitchell's song, but "I mean, I get tired of being, you know, like, the person to shut up and let this bitter person go on, you know, attacking me."
When he thinks of Mitchell, he says, he prefers to "think of her great works and not these kinds of bitter attacks."