Thursday, April 29, 2010

think of them as an immense invitation

The Tango/Richard Zolan

So Gigbot and Fuel/Friends hosted a listening party for (my hero) Josh Ritter's new album So Runs the World Away, a few days ago. As we crowded around a dimly lit table at the Meadowlark, sharing pizza and jokes, the album that I had been listening to in my car just that day decided it wasn't done surprising me. And it played this song. I mean...more than played this sucked the reality out of the room and threw me into the story Ritter was ornately illustrating.

It's a folk tale about a mummy who wakes up and falls in love with his curator. A woman who brings him from the depths of the red clay back to the world and causes his heart to resume beating. But their love is cursed, and the life she gave him, he takes from her until she fades into a shell.

What makes my eyes constantly well up when this song is played is the sense of loss from both sides. The mummy was cursed, and yet his love for her was so genuine he couldn't bring himself to believe that it couldn't win out over it all. And she had brought him back to life; how could something so miraculous be so destructive? How could their timeless, fathomless love be their undoing?

Musically, it's played as a waltz, which conjures up images of a spinning Ingenue in a white flowing dress being led by a smoothly stepping mummy, aged bandages like ribbons stirring up dust in a room lit by sunrise or sunset.

He opens his eyes
Falls in love at first sight
With the girl in the doorway
What beautiful lines
Heart 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
Under mires of stone
The dry 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 answered 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 ?bull rushes?

In New York he is laid
In a glass covered case
He pretends he is dead
People crowd round to see him
But at night she comes round
And the two wander down the halls of the tomb
That she calls a museum
But he stops to rest
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
Then he makes corrections
It's his face on her book
More come to look
Families from Iowa
Upper West-Siders
Then one day it's too much
He decides to get up
Then as chaos ensues he walks outside to find her
She is 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 is obscured
In a sandstorm of flashbulbs
Rowdy reporters

Such reanimation
The two tour the nation
He gets out of limos
Meets other women
He speaks of her fondly
Their nights in the museum
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
Then one day the dry fig of her heart stops its beating

Long ago on the ship
She asked why pyramids
He said "Think of them as an immense invitation."
She asks "Are you cursed?"
He says "I think that I'm cured."
Then he kissed her and hoped
That she'd forget that question

It's a tragic story, one that lays me down so completely because it is not in any way trite, contrived, or cheesy. Josh Ritter just wrote a song about an Egyptian mummy and awoke this deep sense of lovelorn grief in me. No part of this song, or this album, or this artist, ceases to amaze me. It's a record that so blatantly and breathlessly showcases the indelible mark Josh Ritter can put on music, and on people.

So the World Runs Away is out already in Ireland, but will be released here on May 4.

The Curse- Josh Ritter