Song of the Day #340: ‘Pensacola’ – Joan Osborne

joanosborneYou know how the other day I said some of my favorite songs are by artists I don’t consider among my favorites? Well, a perfect example is Joan Osborne’s ‘Pensacola,’ which I consider absolutely brilliant despite not thinking much about her one way or another. I’ve been dying to get this song on the blog since the beginning but I’ve been thwarted in my attempts to post it on YouTube. It inspired my first rant against the YouTube copyright protection, way back at Song #69.

But now I have my fancy new streaming capabilities, so I’m happy to bring you this wonderful tune. This week will probably be very cathartic, as I get out of my system many of the songs I’ve been unable to feature over the past year.

When I said I don’t think much of Joan Osborne, that wasn’t entirely true. Her debut album, Relish, is a fantastic piece of work. Known primarily for the oddball hit single ‘One of Us’ (as in “What if God was one of us?”), which is the worst thing on it by far, it’s a soulful and sexy collection of rock, rhythm and blues. Osborne’s voice is one for the ages, rugged and dramatic — she’s got the blood of the land in her voice, right Bob?

I could do a theme week on Relish alone, particularly the epic drug tale ‘St. Theresa,’ the majestic ‘Ladder’ and the funk-blues gem ‘Spider Web.’ Long story short… if you don’t have this album, you should.

My favorite song on Relish is today’s track, ‘Pensacola.’ What’s interesting about this song is not the passionate vocals or the muscular music, though both play a big role in its success. It’s the lyrics. The song is a brief sketch of a young woman’s experience tracking down the father who presumably abandoned her and in just three short verses I feel like I know this man, and I experience the sadness of the girl who has found him.

Osborne offers up the bare minimum here — the only description of the man is that he’s “squinting and stubbled” in “Pensacola in a trailer in the sand” — but those few lines show me this man’s whole life. He speaks only two lines. The first — “If you’ve come to take the car away, I don’t have it anymore” — gives some insight into exactly how down on his luck this guy is.

It’s his second line that really sends chills down my spine: “I sold my blood for money. There wasn’t any pain. But I just can’t stand the feeling it’s in someone else’s veins.” It’s another glimpse at his financial desperation but it’s also a splendid metaphor for this man’s abandonment of his daughter. Does he know who she his as he tells her this… does he know that his blood is in her veins, too?

I love songs for all different reasons, but I have a special fondness for songs that tell a tale. They are the ultimate short stories, and set to music to boot.

Well, I found him in Pensacola in a trailer in the sand,
The man from the picture, creased and yellow in my hand
Creased and yellow in my hand
He was squinting and stubbled and standing in the door
He said, ‘If you’ve come to take the car away,
I don’t have it anymore, I don’t have it anymore.’

He got the gospel on the radio and the gospel on T.V.
He got all of the transcripts back to nineteen sixty-three
Back to nineteen sixty-three
He said, ‘I sold my blood for money
There wasn’t any pain
But I just can’t stand the feeling
It’s in someone else’s veins
It’s in someone else’s veins.’

Momma took me aside and she tried to change my mind
She said, ‘Don’t waste your time in looking,
There’s nothin’, nothin’ left to find,
Nothin’, nothin’ left to find.’
So I left him in Pensacola in a trailer in the sand
The man from the picture, creased and yellow in my hand
Creased and yellow in my hand

Joan Osborne – Pensacola

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3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #340: ‘Pensacola’ – Joan Osborne

  1. Amy says:

    Wow. Powerful song. Just curious – To what does he have the transcripts? The gospel show?

    I, too, love when a person – or a segment of society – can be conveyed so vividly. Typically, I gravitate to films that tell this sort of story more than I do songs that do the same. Maybe I don’t look to music for the same emotional depth. Still, I can understand why you hold this song out as a favorite, and I’m very glad YouTube is no longer your only way to share music on this blog. This song is a great reason to have adopted your new fancy streamlining capabilities. Well-done, you.

  2. Dana says:

    Great song.

  3. Jem says:

    Always my favourite from that album. What a voice. The kind you dream of having.

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