Friday, August 10, 2012

Master Storyteller: 'The Curse' by Josh Ritter

'He opens his eyes, falls in love at first sight, with the girl in the doorway. What beautiful lines and how full of life, after thousands of years, what a face to wake up to. He holds back a sigh as she touches his arm, she dusts off the bed where til now he's been sleeping. And under miles of stone, the dried fig of his heart, under scarab and bone, starts back to its beating.

She carries him home in a beautiful boat, he watches the sea from a porthole in stowage. He can hear all she says as she sits by his bed, and one day his lips answer her in her own language. The days quickly pass, he loves making her laugh, the first time he moves, it's her hair that he touches. She asks, are you cursed, he says, I think that I'm cured. Then he talks of the Nile and the girls in bulrushes.

In New York, he is laid, in a glass covered case, he pretends he is dead, people crowd round to see him. But each night she comes round and the two wander down the halls of the tomb that she calls a museum. Often he stops to rest, but then less and less, then it's her that looks tired, staying up asking questions. He learns how to read from the papers that she is writing about him and he makes corrections. It's his face on her book, more and more come to look, families from Iowa, Upper West Siders. Then one day it's too much, he decides to get up, and as chaos ensues, he walks outside to find her. She's using a cane and her face looks too pale, but she's happy to see him, as they walk, he supports her. She asks, are you cursed, but his answer's obscured, in a sandstorm of flashbulbs and rowdy reporters.

Such reanimation, the two tour the nation, he gets out of limos, he meets other women. He speaks of her fondly, their nights in the museum, but she's just one more rag now he's dragging behind him. She stops going out, she just lies there in bed, in hotels in whatever towns they are speaking. Then her face starts to set and her hands start to fold, and one day the dried fig of her heart stops its beating.

Long ago in the ship, she asked, why pyramids, he said, think of them as an immense invitation, she asked, are you cursed, he said, I think that I'm cured, then he kissed her and hoped that she'd forget that question.'

-'The Curse', So Runs the World Away, Josh Ritter, 2010)

Here's an excerpt from a note that Josh Ritter wrote on his website, explaining the inspiration for 'The Curse' and what the song means to him:

"...You know what that’s like. Anyone who loves to do something and then, one day, finds no joy in it, knows what that’s like. I suppose I could say I was burned out, but it wasn’t that; I wanted to write and I wanted to play, but nothing, nothing felt right to me anymore. Even more than that, nothing felt original. Suddenly, after all my effort, I had lost my confidence in the force and originality of my own work. I wrote and wrote. Nothing came and if it did, it was the same old stuff as before. My old songs came ringing back, silly, bereft to my ears of their original love or intent. I felt at times as if I was hovering just above myself, watching the mediocrity of my afternoon threatening to spread across months and years into a lost decade. And with nothing to show for myself would anyone ever believe how hard I had worked? The shadow hung and I held on, hoping for a single verse of something, anything at all that I could love.

Then one night, lying awake and looking at the ceiling, with the sound of taxis and garbage trucks trolling the streets outside our window, a story came. It wasn’t just a verse, it was a story, whole, ripe for the writing as if dropped from some apple tree down on my sleepless head. It was, strangely enough, about a mummy and his malign love affair with an archaeologist. I got up and wrote it in the bathroom, sitting on the edge of the bathtub. I thought the story was fiendish and tense and sad and funny. I was proud of it. The pride I had in it propelled me forward in a rush. I couldn’t stop writing after that. I wrote everyday, and as I reached the limits of what I could accomplish with a narrative in a single song I also began to write a novel, tentatively titled “Bright’s Passage,” finishing both at roughly the same time.

With each record I make there is always a song that forms the pallet by which the other songs can be painted. For So Runs the World Away, “The Curse,” my mummy song, was that song."

 - Josh Ritter

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