Joan Osborne Interview

Joan Osborne, known for the ubiquitous hit, “One of Us,” which had people singing along to the line, “What if God was one of us?” back in the mid-1990s, tells me she’s “not technically a Buddhist,” though she thinks Buddhist teachings make a lot of sense– the notion of God being something we’re all a part of.

“Every religion has its own particular way of seeing truth,” she says. “The way men interpret teachings often pits people against each other, and that is a trap. When it leads to violence, that’s the antithesis of what faith is all about.”

So is Joan Osborne, who was raised Catholic ’til about the age of 8, a “Christian?” I’m not sure. A fellow recording artist she tours with, Paul Thorn, is the son of a Pentecostal preacher, so they have talked about the Christian faith, and Joan has been to a megachurch near her hometown in Kentucky for one of its Christmas programs.

Interestingly, that famous song of hers, “One of Us,” which catapulted her into the spotlight such that she couldn’t go to the corner store without being mobbed at one point, wasn’t self-penned. It was producer Eric Bazilian (Cyndi Lauper, Billie Meyers, Amanda Marshall) who wrote “One of Us.” None-the-less, a lot of people assume Joan Osborne wrote it.

To this day, there are people who think it’s a song that is kind of mocking God while others look at it quite differently, as a modern day ode to The Almighty. Joan likes the idea that people take from the song their own interpretation of what it means to them.

“The song’s function is to have people ask themselves simple questions, to get them to think about their own beliefs,” she says. “The song asks a lot of questions, like how a little child tugging at his or her mother’s apron would. The song, which reminds some of the story of the beggar and the Good Samaritan, is not meant to dictate beliefs.”

Some have tried telling her that “One of Us” makes her a charismatic– they want to appoint her to some kind of position in Christian culture, but Joan’s not interested in that. In her own life, she thinks “there are many different ways to see the truth.”

I forgot to suggest to her that maybe she should became a Unitarian Universalist, based on what she told me, though secretly, I’m still holding out that she “gets saved and gives her life to Jesus,” as the evangelicals would want. Surprisingly, when I asked her if anyone tried to “save her,” she said, “No.”

Now that she’s the mother of a daughter, Joan Osborne, who likes to keep her private life private such that I don’t know the daughter’s name or if there’s a spouse involved, told me that having a daughter is “incredibly joyful and challenging.”

“Having a daughter is the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” she says. “It puts all your beliefs to the test; I have to help her navigate through the world.”

Because of her daughter, Joan, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, found herself looking for a church recently.

“I feel there’s a place for organized worship– it can be a wonderful part of a person’s life,” she says. “I was looking for a church, a community that teaches values I agree with, and I’m still on that search.”

joan osborne
Joan Osborne

When she’s not taking the subway around New York City, she owns a 1961 Mercury Meteor, a car with a gleaming white exterior and sky blue interior that turns heads wherever she goes. Joan has it in storage in Upstate New York, but keeps it because she thinks cars from that era are like sculptures, “so beautifully made, it’s like driving a sculpture.”

Joan, who is now in her late 40s, is not the same woman she was when “One of Us” hit it big over a decade ago. Gone is the nose ring she became synonymous with because it gets in the way of being a mother.

“The nose ring? That was a temporary thing,” she says. “It was fun while it lasted.”

Open to the idea of collaborating with younger artists to help them establish themselves, Joan has yet to fulfill all of her musical dreams. On her myspace page, one of her influences is Tina Turner. They’ve yet to sing together, but if Tina sang a cover of The Beatles’ “Help!” with Joan, that would be a dream come true.

Meanwhile, Joan Osborne tours consistently, promoting her “Little Wild One” recording, featuring a haunting song called “Cathedrals.” In the past, she has worked with The Dead, the Dixie Chicks, and the Funk Brothers. Recently she toured with The Holmes Brothers, a Gospel blues band, and Paul Thorn, a fellow thinking-person’s kind of artist.

Whether it’s country, pop, funk, folk, or soul, Joan Osborne loves to sing. Because “One of Us” was a smash hit, she’ll be able to sing in concert halls and on festival stages for as long as she lives, something for which she is very grateful.

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