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So Runs The World Away


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A note from Josh Ritter on So Runs the World Away…

So Runs the World Away was almost two years in the making, and the most difficult album I’ve made so far.

After my last record, Historical Conquests, a feeling came stealing over me that I had a reckoning in store. It was a new feeling, sinister in its emptiness, and it fell across me like a cold shadow. After almost a decade on the road, my life seemed as if it had become the one I always dreamed of; I was playing shows, living the charmed existence of a writer who has worked very hard and been very lucky. Still, the shadow was there, and I knew it had found me for a reason. I knew that I would have to wrestle it eventually. In the meantime though, in the words of Muriel Spark, I went on my way rejoicing. Then one day the shadow fell across me and stayed there. 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. I liked the idea of a Victorian archaeologist, and began looking at all kinds of late 19th and early 20th century science books. These led me, as most science histories lead, back farther, to Newton and his gravity, his wonder, his restless curiosity, and his bewildered religious questing.

I found myself reading about orbital decay, the Martian canals of Percival Lowell, the apocryphal hibernation of birds, polar exploration, the golden ratio. At the time I saw no threads running through my library wandering, but looking back now, I can see a common preoccupation with exploration, regardless of the journeys’ outcome. The song “Another New World” tells of a troubled voyage to nowhere, and the narrator of “Southern Pacific” reminisces while on a train into the unknown wilderness. “Lantern” and “Long Shadows” are about getting lost in the lonesome valleys we all have to walk at times, while “Lark” finds visions of the universe available through telescopes on the same mountains where ecstatic visions have always taken place. Looking out across the drifts of nothing, I discovered these songs buried deeply.

The band and I recorded whenever we could, mostly in Maine at Sam Kassirer’s Great North Sound Society and also a bit at Dawn Landes’ Saltlands Studio in Brooklyn. Over the course of a year “Change of Time” and “Rattling Locks” grew to their present mammoth size and “Orbital,” a song about nature’s manifold encirclings, found its way through three different versions. Several songs went through numerous incarnations before being cut all together. “Folk Bloodbath,” a song I’ve been trying to get right for a long time, finally snapped into focus under Sam’s watchful eye. Zack played instruments I’ve never even heard of, Austin went places on the guitar and banjo that I’d never conceived of, and Liam, as usual, was a tectonic bedrock of, well, rock. We’re a good team, my band and I, and much of what we learned making Conquests we were able to expand on So Runs the World Away. On the whole, the songs are larger and more detailed and feel to me as if they were painted in oil on large canvasses.

So Runs the World Away marks the beginning of a new period in my life. I’m not a kid anymore —the hand to mouth days are gone, hopefully for awhile—I have a career I love and that I’ve fought for, and I have an astounding cast of friends and family and listeners who continue to help me to fulfill my love. My deepest thanks to

all of them for hanging in with me longer than the shadows.”

Lyrics

Change of Time

I had a dream last night
I dreamt that I was swimming
And the stars up above
Directionless and drifting
Somewhere in the dark
Were the sirens and the thunder
And around me as I swam
The drifters who’d gone under

Time, love
Time, love
Time, love
It’s only a change of time

I had a dream last night
And rusting far below me
Battered hulls and broken hardships
Leviathan and Lonely
I was thirsty so I drank
And though it was salt water
There was something ‘bout the way
It tasted so familiar

The black clouds I’m hanging
This anchor I’m dragging
The sails of memory rip open in silence
We cut through the lowlands
All hands through the saltlands
The white caps of memory
Confusing and violent

I had a dream last night
And when I opened my eyes
Your shoulder blade, your spine
Were shorelines in the moon light
New worlds for the weary
New lands for the living
I could make it if I tried
I closed my eyes I kept on swimming

(rough seas, they carry me wherever I go)

The Curse

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
Her 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

Southern Pacifica

Southern Pacific
Red, white and blue
Where are we running to?
Over the wide plains
Over the wide plains
Take me to someplace new

Remember me to Roxy Anne
You know she’s still lovely
Tell her I was on the move
The last time you saw me
That you only saw the back of my head

Climb through the timbers
And I’ll breath the dust
Of cosmos and wild rose bud
And thunder the unknowns
In the phosphorous white glow
Of saber-tooth bones in the dusk

Remember me to Roxy Anne
You know she’s still lovely
Tell her I was on the move
The last time you saw me
That you only saw the back of my head

Remember me to Roxy Anne
You know she’s still lovely
Tell her I was barely there
The last time you saw me
That you only saw the back of my head

Southern Pacific
Take me to meet
Whatever is hunting
For me…

Rattling Locks

There was a time I had the right key
Rolled the tumbler slid the bolt on every wandering eye I caught
But something has changed this is all wrong
I’m out here in the cold with a wet face rattling your locks
There ain’t nothing new about the world
That I ain’t learned from just standing here in this spot

Ain’t nothing new about the world
That I ain’t learned from just watching you go by
I tell myself people are cold and strangers pass
Separate themselves from love by building walls a hundred thousand miles high
Frostbite and heartsickness ain’t neither one of them so bad if you can understand the reason why

Black hole, black hole, are your eyes be empty as they look
Black hole, black hole, are your two eyes as empty as they look
All along I thought I was giving you my love but you were just stealing it
Now I want back everything you took

I had a dream that I was dying
But it wasn’t a nightmare I was real peaceful as I fell
And if I was falling into heaven
Heaven must be hotter than the Bible tells
I woke up sorry I was living
Rather than rattling your locks I rather spend another night in Hell

Folk Bloodbath
Lyrics by Josh Ritter
Tune “Louis Collins”, Traditional

Louis Collins took a trip out West
And when he returned little Delia’d gone to rest
The angels laid her away
Louis said to Delia, “That’s the sad thing with life”
“People always leaving just as other folks arrive”
The angels laid her away.
When the people heard that Delia was dead
All them gentlemen they dressed in red
The angels laid her away

The angels laid her away
Laid her six feet under the clay
The angels laid her away

Louis went downtown for a new suit of clothes
Gonna dress up for Delia like a fine red rose
The angels laid him away
He bought a ten-gallon Stetson it was oxblood red
Then Stackalee shot Louis in the back of the head
The angels laid him away
Stackalee said to Louis, “Oh now, don’t you grieve”
“I’m sending you to Delia you won’t ever have to leave.”
The angels laid him away.

The angels laid him away
Laid him six feet under the clay
The angels laid him away

The Judge was a mean one, his name was “Hangin’ Billy Lyons”
He said, “You always been a bad man, Stack, you’re gonna hang this time”
“And the angels lay you away.”
And the Jailer said to Stackalee, “What’s the problem with you?”
“Oh, Jailer, Louis Collins ghost brought Delia’s with him too.”
The angels laid him away.

The angels laid him away
Laid him six feet under the clay
The angels laid him away

They buried little Delia in the churchyard deep
Louis Collins at her head, Stackalee at her feet
The angels laid them away
And out of Delia’s bed came briars, out of Louis’ bed a rose
And out of Stackalee’s came Stackalee’s cold lonely little ghost
The angels laid them away
And I’m looking over rooftops and I’m hoping that it ain’t true
That the same God looked out for them looks out for me and you
The angels laid them away.

Lark

The golden ratio the shell
The stairs ascending round themselvcs
The trees rustle as if to kneel and listen
To the heartbeat of a lark or the lark in my heartbeat

The oxygen in priestly green
The answers dressed in labrynthine
The telescopes atop the mountains of ecstatic vision listening
To the heartbeat of a lark or the lark in my heartbeat

I am assured, yes I am assured yes
I am assured peace will come to me
A peace that can yes surpass the speed yes
Of my understanding and my need

The meteoric warp and wend
In counterbalance to the sparks ever ascending
The arrow time shoots forward though it moves through repetition
To the heartbeat of a lark or the lark in my heartbeat

What is it drives the driven snow?
Upon whose temples will I rest my weary hopes now?
The rain distills down steeples fills the ears of lonely church mice with the
Heartbeat of a lark or the lark in my heartbeat

I am assured yes I am assured yes
I am assured peace will come to me
A peace that can yes surpass the speed yes
Of my understanding and my need

Lantern

Give me light for my lantern
Give me light for my lantern give me light
Be the light in my lantern
The light in my lantern tonight

It’s a hungry world out there
Even the wind will take a bite
I can feel the world circling
Sniffing round me in the night
And the lost sheep grow teeth
Forsake the lambs and lie with the lions

Where the living is desperate
Precarious and mean
And getting by is so hard
That even the rocks are picked clean
And the bones of small contention
Are the only food the hungry find

Where the thistles eat the thorns
And the roses have no chance
And it no wonder that the babies
Come out crying in advance
And the children look for shelter
In the hollow of some lonesome cheek

And the sky’s so cold and clear
The stars might stick you where you stand
And you’re only glad its dark cause
You might see The Master’s hand
And you might cast around forever
And never find the peace you seek

For every cry in the night
Somebody says, “Have faith!”
“Be content inside your questions”
“Minotaurs inside a maze”
Tell me what’s the point of light
That you have to strike a match to find?

So throw away those Lamentations
We both know them all too well
If there’s a Book of Jubilations
We’ll have to write it for ourselves
So come and lie beside me darling
And let’s write it while we still got time

So if you got a light hold it high for me
I need it bad tonight hold it high for me
Cause I’m face to face hold it high for me
In that lonesome place hold it high for me
With all the hurt that I’ve done hold it high for me
That can’t be undone hold it high for me
Light and guide me through hold it high for me
And I’ll do the same for you hold it high for me

I’ll hold it high for you cause I know you’ve got
I’ll hold it high for you your own Valley to walk
I’ll hold it high for you though it’s dark as death
I’ll hold it high for you and then gets darker yet
I’ll hold it high for you though your path is blocked
I’ll hold it high for you through the thieves and the rocks
I’ll hold it high for you keep you safe from harm
I’ll hold it high for you until you’re back in my arms

The Remnant

I know who you are old man keep running
I caught your trail as you left the pines
Out into the fields where you couldn’t hide nowhere
Just a thin stitch up against the rising line
And up through the blue I knew the stars were tumbling
Up through the blue I knew the stars were tumbling

I know who you are old man keep running
I tracked you down by the look in the eyes
Of a thousand gone faces pressed against their windows
Horses hiding in the willows til the storm passed by
And a fine gray dust seemed to settle on the future
A fine gray dust seemed to settle in between
Your hat and the dapple of my appaloosa
The only living things that I could see
And up through the blue I knew the stars were tumbling
Up through the blue I knew the stars were tumbling

I know who you are old man keep running
I walked across the bottom of the lake below
Your boat and did you know that when you landed I was watching
As the sky turned dark as the eyes of a foal
And I’ll know you by the shift of the wind in the cobwebs
The sawdust swirls in the fins of the bullheads
The craters that you made when you lay down dreaming
Strange constellations that you gave new meaning
By the teeth marks you made on bones from the ice age
The smell of the cinder burning slow in your ribcage
Listen in the distance you will hear me like your shadow
Footsteps soft as the tread of an echo
And up through the blue I knew the stars were tumbling
Up through the blue I knew the stars were tumbling

And the ground will open out into a mouth below us
And the mouth will open out into the empty sky
And the whistle as we hurtle through the halls of onyx
The only sound around us as we go by
And I’ll follow you out through the wells of charcoal
Moonlit stones around the cones of a black hole
Through the fields where grow the Ever and Forever
The tessellated blooms with the voids at their centers
Through the million rooms in a bead of luminesence
The filaments on the looms of dimension
The pillars of creation where they make the planets
The billion tiny teeth that tear the charge from your atoms
In a trillion tiny bites they’ll eat the meat from the pearl
And throw your soul away a cold grey little world
And nothing that is hidden will be revealed
And nothing that is hidden will be revealed
And nothing that is hidden will be revealed

See How Man Was Made

Please
Man ain’t supposed to live alone
No that ain’t what he needs
He needs to find a home
With someone else who needs a man
A man who needs a home
Man ain’t supposed to live alone

Please
You can see how man was made
He was made to need a home
And home is just a place
A place without a man
A man who needs a home
Man wasn’t made to live alone

Another New World

The leading lights of the age all wondered amongst
Themselves what I would do next
After all that I’d found in my travels around
The World was there anything left?
“Gentlemen”, I said, “I’ve studied the maps”
“And if what I’m thinking is right”
“There’s Another New World at the top of the World”
“For whoever can break through the ice”

I looked round the room in that way I once had
And I saw that they wanted belief
So I said “All I’ve got are my guts and my God”
Then I paused, “and the Annabelle Lee”
Oh the Annabelle Lee, I saw their eyes shine
The most beautiful ship in the sea
My Nina, my Pinta, my Santa Maria
My beautiful Annabelle Lee

That spring we set sail as the crowd waved from shore
And on board the crew waved their hats
But I never had family just the Annabelle Lee
So didn’t have cause to look back
I just set the course North and I studied the charts
And towards dark I drifted towards sleep
And I dreamed of the fine deep harbor I’d find
Past the ice for my Annabelle Lee

After that it got colder the world got quiet
It was never quite day or quite night
And the sea turned the color of sky turned the color
Of sea turned the color of ice
‘Til at last all around us was fastness
One vast glassy desert of arsenic white
And the waves that once lifted us
Sifted instead into drifts against Annabelle’s sides

The crew gathered closer at first for the comfort
But each morning would bring a new set
Of tracks in the snow leading over the edge
Of the world ‘til I was the only one left
After that it gets cloudy but it feels like I lay there
For days and maybe for months
But Annabelle held me the two of us happy
Just to think back on all we had done

We talked of the Other New World’s we’d discover
As she gave up her body to me
And as I chopped up her mainsail for timber
I told her of all that we still had to see
As the frost turned her moorings to nine-tail
And the wind lashed her sides in the cold
I burned her to keep me alive every night
In the lovers embrace of her hold

I won’t call it rescue what brought me here back to
The Old World to drink and decline
And pretend that the quest for Another New World
Was well-worth the burning of mine
But sometimes at night in my dreams comes the singing
Of some known tropical bird
And I smile in my sleep thinking Annabelle Lee
Has finally made it to Another New World

Orbital

So it was that everything
That went to make up everything
Was wrapped up tight inside a grain
Of great insistence
Then someone gave the great command
All things paired off for the dance
The great to small the small to grand
Down to this instant

Ooh!

The hawk around the field mouse
The love around a lover’s mouth
I find my mind is settling down
In circuits round you
The angels round their crowded pins
The amber-waved electrons spin
In planetary transits
Round the ones they’re bound to

Ooh!

Who do you circle round
Who is it circles round you
Is it circles round you?
Who is it circles round you
Do you circle round who
It is circles round you?

The ghost around the one it haunts
The want around the thing it wants
The way the mind just wanders off and then returns to
The thought around the second thought
Love or gravity or law
Whatever name it’s got it’s got me
Circling round you
The guess around the second guess
The hornet round the hornet’s nest
The wheel time the wheel fate
The light that bends itself through space
The light that with it carries time
Which also bends in the same line
Relative to point of view
So when I catch a glimpse of you
Every time you come around
The room lights up
And time slows tooooooooooooooooooo!

Long Shadows

I’m not afraid of the dark
We’ve been here before
Fallen on hard times, honey
We’ve fallen on swords
But if a long shadow
Falls across your heart
I’ll be right here with you
I’m not afraid of the dark

I’m not afraid of the dark
When the sun goes down
And the dreams grow teeth
And the beasts come out
Cast their long shadows
Every time that they start
I’ll be right here with you
I’m not afraid of the dark

Out on the hills the hounds are baying
Out on the moor the foxes run
To stay alive until the light has faded
Then they pray for light that seems so long to come

I’m not afraid of the dark
So if the stars get scarce
And you reach for him
And honey he’s not there
Just a long shadow across your heart
You can reach for me
I’m not afraid of the dark

I’m not afraid of the dark
When the sun goes down
And the dreams grow teeth
And the beasts come out
Cast their long shadows
Every time that they start
I’ll be right here with you
I’m not afraid of the dark