From the crackle of the vinyl at the beginning, this song had my heart. Much like I spent Side A of this album waiting for “You’re Mean” to play, I spent Side B waiting for Juanita. If you haven’t figured it out already, I’m a sucker for sf59 slow jams and this one stands among the best of them.
This song drips confidence in its composition. It breaks so many rules of conventional songwriting wisdom. From the whispery vocals, the subtlety of the drums, to the chiming, interwoven guitars, this song is ironically bold. This songs is as smooth as a ball bearing when songs are supposed to have more texture. Conventional wisdom says that you need to give the listener more to keep their attention – a little more grit in the vocals, more of an edge in the lead guitar and, by God, more drum fills. You definitely don’t give them 3 minutes of slow instrumental meandering and you most certainly don’t do all of this as an album closer. In its way, this song is more punk than your high school Green Day phase because it challenges the conventional wisdom.
I always appreciated One Shot Juanita as a character. I felt like she could be my first cousin. My aunt’s nickname is “One Blow Wanda”. She earned this nickname at a young age because it didn’t matter who you were: man, woman or child – she could take you down in one blow. I experienced this myself on multiple occasions. I always marveled at her skill at taking a deep curve in her Pontiac towncar with the heel of one hand on the steering wheel while smacking all of us kids in the backseat (there were usually at least three of us) with the other hand when we were acting up. She would get us all with one swipe without looking back, regardless of our height differences. One blow. And we would settle down after that. Her skills weren’t limited to just driving and dealing punishment multitasking. Oh no. She could throw a shoe at a cascading line of children running down a hall and somehow manage to hit all of us. The shoe would hit the first kid and bounce off him to hit the second. It would then bounce off the second, ricochet off the wall and hit the third. One blow. You didn’t mess with this woman and expect to make it out unscathed.
I suppose I also see myself in Juanita too. Her name is so close to my own. I also have a reputation for being someone you don’t mess with. My brother has always referred to me as “Dirty Harry” because someone could come up to me with the worst bully threat and I would dare them to carry it out. It’s not that I get in fights on a regular basis and I doubt that I have the physical process and shoe throwing skills of my aunt. My prowess is mostly in the debate arena. If you want to argue with me about anything, from politics to religion or Star Wars lore, you better bring your A game.
One thing I know about being a woman living in the one blow/one shot dynamic is that you shake men to their core whether you intend to or not. I think that men in general don’t know what to do with feminine strength. It baffles them. There are some men (#notallmen) who can’t get over it , much like the singer still thinks about One Shot Juanita. Maybe it’s the refusal of submission that perplexes them so. Maybe they don’t know what to do with a woman they can’t control. They think about you when you aren’t around. They get drunk and call you up, telling you that you were the only one, you hung the moon and stars – now why don’t you just behave the way you are expected to?
I find it interesting that my brother refers to me as Dirty Harry. It is as if he can only think of strength in masculine terms. This reminds me of something I read about Mario Puzo’s concept of Don Corleone, the Godfather. The Godfather was the pinnacle of masculine strength. He could order the death of men with a quiet nod and fix the results of the World Series or the US Senate based on his whims. He did not have to shout, brandish guns or pound his fists to get what he wanted. Everyone knew what he was capable of and he didn’t need to engage in saber-rattling to bend people to his will. The character was based on Puzo’s grandmother, a strong, Italian woman who ruled over a massive family with unquestioned authority. Puzo said that whenever he wrote Don Corleone’s dialogue, he always heard it in his grandmother’s voice.
I think the thing that is different about feminine strength is that is is simultaneously resolute and gentle. One Blow Wanda could take us kids down without effort but she also made us homemade chocolate pudding, cared for us and watched over us. If you pick a fight with me you might, in the words of Missy Elliott, get burnt like toast, but I’ll still love you. I’ll still talk with you and laugh with you as soon as you stop acting like an ass as if nothing happened at all. It is the same kind of quality we find in this song. On an album closer, where you would expect them to go balls to the wall, we find a contemplative, gentle ballad that is bolder than anything else on this album. God bless Juanita.