Friday, October 19, 2007

It's late, and I'm title-less, and all I can think of is "Ritter-rific." I'm sorry.

Well, that poll didn't yield a lot of results, but that's OK. You'll get brain lint another time; right now I want to talk about Josh Ritter.

First though, I have a grievance to air. Mapquest? You are dead to me. DEAD, I say. Enough of you and your useless, confounding directions, your ridiculous attempts to draw the shortest distance between two points as a jagged diagonal line across side streets and small alleyways instead of taking me down well-known roads that create a more logical route. I know that missing piece of Interstate where a bridge used to be makes your job a bit more complicated these days, but do you really think the best way to get me to the West Bank is on tiny, poorly marked streets on a University campus that were never intended for through-traffic? Because if you ask me, that's just plain dumb, and I think the many pedestrians carelessly meandering about in the area would agree.

I can't hold myself to this, of course. I know I will continue to take the abuse, to circle near the river aimlessly, to be Mapquest's bitch. Why? Because when I use the alternative, my directions invariably begin three miles from the start point I've identified and/or include roads currently closed for major construction. I can't win, dammit. I'm forced to remain with Mapquest or resort to an old-school paper atlas. No thank you.

This rant is my way of getting to the fact that I did find my way to the Cedar Cultural Center on Wednesday night, no thanks to Mapquest and whatever useless and evil hamsters keep it running. And luckily, it was a show worth the frustrating and convoluted journey. Thank you, Josh, for that.

I first saw Josh Ritter back in 2003 (2002? 2004? Frankly, it's all just one big long year). I went over to Fine Line for his set on the recommendation of an out-of-town friend who said, "I'm a sucker for 'boy-plus-guitar,' and he's one of the best I've heard lately. He's coming to your city, and you should go." So my friend Lisa and I went, where we joined a lackluster smattering of attendees, many of whom had likely wandered in sight unseen with no clue what they were paying a cover for that night.

We each bought CDs and then stood in a rather short line to have them signed. And Josh Ritter was, hands-down, the friendliest, most grateful and enthusiastic musician I've spoken to before. That might mean more if I'd actually met more than a handful of musicians in post-show signings, but I think it holds true nonetheless. "Thank you so much for coming!" he gushed. "How did you hear about the show?" "Thank you for coming!!" he said again. He had promotional postcards for his album on hand, and we had him write one to the out-of-town friend who'd sent us there. "Stefanie is gorgeous," he wrote, "And Lisa is the belle of the ball."

"I've never been the belle of the ball before!" Lisa mused. Frankly, we were both smitten.

The next time I saw Josh play, it was in the same venue, but a year or two later. In that time, he'd become big enough abroad to inspire Irish tribute bands and apparently respected enough here to warrant drunk frat boys belting out lyrics on a significantly more crowded dance floor. But through all that, the man seems as enthusiastic about playing, as genuinely thrilled to have an audience, as self-deprecating in his amusing stories as he did in that sparsely attended show as an unknown. And for that, I have to sort of love the guy, in a "he's like your friend's adorable little brother" sort of way. The music industry has far too many jaded, self-important assholes. I refuse to believe Josh Ritter will ever be one of them.

Anyway, this is supposed to be a Friday Five, so I'd best be getting to the enumerating, I suppose. For lack of any "Five Fun Facts about Josh Ritter" or "Five Annoying Things about the Josh Ritter Show," I'm just going to go with five of my favorite lyrics from his songs. He is a soulful lyrical genius, after all--a Lyrical Gangsta, I suppose, if a nice boy from Idaho could ever qualify as a Gangsta in any way.

These are almost all from Hello Starling, simply because that's what I listened to on my way to work this morning, but you should check out all his other fine work as well. And you should see him live at your next opportunity. Guinness Girl agrees with me.

  1. From Kathleen: "All the other girls here are stars--you are the Northern Lights." I've always loved this line, as well as another one from this same song: "Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied."

  2. From You Don't Make It Easy Babe: "Trying hard to love you; you don't make it easy, babe." It's not so much this line I love, but the memory of the story Josh told to precede this song at the first show I saw. He'd been driving across the country, through the flatlands and miles and miles of boring landscape, and he told the crowd that at one point, somewhere in Nebraska (sorry, -R-), he couldn't help but start singing that line to the state. I think of it every time I hear this song. Incidentally, I also really like, "Oh the heart has no bones you say so it won't break, but the purpose of loving is the pounding it takes," which has nothing to do with Nebraska, but is poignant anyway.

  3. From California: "I'm alone, but I'm not lonely." This is sort of my mantra... you know, along with that whole kayak thing.

  4. From Snow Is Gone: "It's been a long time coming but now the snow is gone." My affinity for this one is more about the vibrancy and enthusiasm in this song than about the lyrics themselves. Anyone in Minnesota or Wisconsin surely appreciates the sentiment. "Play this song and you will really believe spring is upon us," one reviewer at Amazon wrote. True, sure, but I think it's also not just about snow clearing and spring coming. Dusting off the old and breaking way for the new goes beyond that, I think, in this case.

  5. From Come and Find Me: "You don't know it's right until it's wrong; You don't know it's yours until it's gone; I didn't know that it was home 'til you up and left." I don't really have anything more to say about this; it just resonates in some way, I guess.

So. Josh Ritter. Check him out, particularly live. This isn't a music blog for a reason (namely, that I suck at describing music or musicians in any meaningful way), but I just thought I needed to share that with all of you.


-R- said...

I have never driven across Nebraska and would not recommend it to anyone. I had to drive three hours west of Omaha once, and it was soooo boring.

I shall look up Josh Ritter on iTunes. I really liked the one song I heard on the radio.

-R- said...

PS I use Yahoo Maps. Mapquest sucks!

Jess said...

Have you tried Yahoo Maps? That's what I use and it's usually pretty good.

Stefanie said...

R and Jess--OK, that's two votes for Yahoo Maps. I'll have to try that next time. (Actually, I should try it right now just to see if they give me a better route to the West Bank. That should be a good test, I think.)

metalia said...

Oh, Mapquest has been dead to me for a while now. Thank God we got GPS, or else I'd have actually had to (*gasp*) force myself to learn how to read a map. :)

Anonymous said...

I like the alternative (gmaps), but only because they seem to be updated more frequently. And in Boston, even when you try to go the same route it is often entirely different with construction and detours and bizarre rotaries that seem to spring up out of nowhere.

But then again, if you don't already know where you're going in Boston, chances are you shouldn't be driving there at all.

Anonymous said...

Oh, NPW could write my tragic song of woe. I was so hopelessly lost in Boston on Friday night when Mapquest told me to take Essex street and there was no Essex to be found. Damn you! The worst part was that I knew no one should ever navigate Boston without GPS and a Sherpa, but I did it anyway.

lizgwiz said...

I know I would like Josh Ritter, based on what I've heard, and my pre-existing love for guys/chicks with guitars. I don't know why I haven't checked him out yet. That line about the heart tangled up in knots IS a great one.

Anonymous said...

I guess I am a bit more in love with the fact that you quoted the "Hot Stepper"

Stefanie said...

Metalia--Josh Ritter actually told a cute little story about his GPS system during the show Wednesday, and after my ridiculous misguided journey getting there and back, I think maybe I should invest in one myself.

NPW--I have friends who swear by Google, too, but for some reason, Google Maps hates me and WANTS to lead me astray (you know, even more than Mapquest apparently does).

Noelle--Point taken. I shall never attempt to navigate Boston on my own. Thanks for the tip.

Liz--I know; I love that one. I didn't even notice that line until I looked up the lyrics one day, but now it's one of my favorites.

Monkey--I did? Um, I really wish I knew what you were talking about, but unfortunately, I do not. :-(

Stefanie said...

Monkey (again)--OH! The "lyrical gangsta" thing, right? Yeah, I so don't have any real street cred. Pathetic.