Joan Osborne: The Complexities of Love and Hate

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Joan Osborne: The Complexities of Love and Hate

On her new record, Love and Hate, singer/songwriter Joan Osborne delves deeply into matters of the heart. It's a lovely, sensual work that reflects her as a woman and an artist. For the bulk of the set, Osborne partnered with long-time friend and collaborator Jack Petruzzelli as a co-writer and co-producer. Together, they fashioned a sound that is befitting of her voice and style — eclectic, but cohesive, sassy, yet mature. Never one to fall back on mere vocal gymnastics, Osborne sings the hell out of these tunes... just like she always does. The potency, though, stems more from her knowing, from her well-worn heart, than from her voice alone.

With that knowing in mind, I thought I would ask her for relationship advice rather than pose stock interview questions: “Wow. Okay. I'll do my best. I have to put out a big disclaimer that I'm not a relationship expert by any stretch of the imagination.” Copy that. Except... she had some pretty solid wisdom to share, so I think we stumbled into a back-up career, if ever she should need one.

What are the greatest lessons you have learned from your experiences of both love and hate?
Patience and forgiveness — the importance of both of those things. A lot of times people are very focused on what their partner needs to be doing and what they're not doing and why haven't they done this and what's going on with them. And those are things — to a great degree — those are out of your control. So the things that are within your control are patience and forgiveness. And I think those are really powerful things.

Very true. You can't control anyone else's feelings or actions, but you can control your responses. And those are two very powerful ones. Good answer! How do you feel about happily ever after? Are you a believer?
Ha! A believer in happily ever after... no, because I think there is no such thing as an ending to a relationship. As long as you're still with the person, then that's a continuing story. It can certainly be a happy one, but it's not like you just set things on autopilot and then, for the rest of time, everything is cool and groovy. People change and situations change and families change and relationships change. So, you do have to keep checking in and taking risks, I think. The thing that whole happily ever after thing implies is that you've found some sort of a safe harbor and nothing is ever going to challenge you again and I just don't think that's a realistic assessment of what love is like. I think it will continue to challenge you. And you have to be prepared to face those challenges and take those risks.

I saw something the other day that said something like “happily ever after happens one day at a time.”
Yeah, yeah. I don't know if 'work' is the correct word to use when you talk about a relationship, as in you have to work on your relationship, and work on this and work on that. But I can certainly understand why people do that because you can't just slack off and expect things to be the way you want them to, but I think skill and effort applied in the correct way, in a graceful way, is something that will yield results more than just, “Oh we have to bear down and work on this thing and wrestle it to the ground.” I think there's a lighter touch that can be very effective.

Going back to your stunning cover of “Make You Feel My Love” (from Righteous Love), talk to me about strategies for waiting someone out when you're all in, but they are still undecided.
Oooooo, oh man. Wow. That is really tough. Again, you can only...

Patience and forgiveness are pretty good on this one, too.
Yeah. You can't force someone to act how you think they should and to care about you as much as you want them to. Those are things that are completely beyond your control. This is so funny because I have a nine-year-old daughter and she recently came home with a completely overwhelming crush on a boy in her class, and would just talk about him all the time. And, you know, “Today, this boy did this. And, today, this boy did that. And I really like him. And I think he knows I have a crush on him. But I don't know if he has a crush on me...” You know, all this stuff that everyone struggles with at any age, but to see my daughter go through it at the age of nine is like I'm getting this perspective on the dawning of what love can mean and just this very fact that she's crazy about this boy, and she can't make him like her.

The only thing she can do is to try to be herself and be a good friend to him and get to know him. I think it would be the same for somebody who's in the situation you're describing, where you're all in and you're waiting on the other person to respond to that and to meet you in that place where you already are. You can only give of yourself and you can't force them or manipulate them into doing anything. But you can be ready when they are. If they ever decide to meet you there, you can be ready for it and you can try to be the best partner or the best friend to them that you can. You're never going to lose doing that. Even if the person never comes to feel that way about you, at least you know that you were as good a friend to them as possible and you did as much as you could do. But that can be a heartbreaking situation to wait on that, to feel so much for somebody and not know — or know that they just aren't there yet.

Recording “These Arms of Mine” (from How Sweet It Is) was a deeply emotional experience for you. How have you dealt with a longing that runs so deep it feels like it's going to break you? Do you dig into music, do you distract yourself...
Yeah, of course. That's the thing that falling for someone so much can leave you stranded and leave you feeling like it's all about them and this connection with them. And that's a very heavy thing to try to put on somebody else. That's a huge responsibility that you're giving to that person to make it all okay and make it good for you. So you need to fall back on the things that help you feel good about yourself and make you who you are and connect you with something larger than yourself — whether that's music or whatever it is — the things that you are put here to do and experience. And, of course, loving somebody is part of that, but there are other things that we are put here to do in this world. And, if you can remain connected to that, then you're coming from a place of strength or certainty or a calm center to yourself...

Your own truth.
Yeah. And that's more attractive rather than being like, “Oh my God, if you don't love me, it's all over for me and there's nothing...” You know? Some people probably like that, but I can't imagine that's going to work with most people. What's attractive is someone who knows themselves and who is connected to something larger than themselves beyond just the relationship.

A song like “Work on Me” (from Love and Hate) seems to come at longing from a completely different side. Which do you think is harder — loving and losing or never having loved at all?
Whew. I think that's a good question. The obvious answer, that everyone says, is that it's better to have loved and lost. But I think it's harder to love and lose. I think it's still a worthwhile thing to do than to never have those feelings. I think that's an easier way to go through life — to never be pushed in that way and overwhelmed in that way. But, you know, do you really want to live like that? I think most of us would say no. Most would rather risk those kind of debilitating feelings and put themselves in those kinds of situations.