Responsibility and the Arts: Josh Ritter
The critically acclaimed singer/songwriter discusses his creative process, life on the road and a performer’s duty toward the audience. Head here to sign up for Josh Ritter’s newsletter and get free MP3s, and here for upcoming tour dates.
Brought to you by Liberty Mutual’s The Responsibility Project
This is a transcript of the film, included for screen readers and the visually impaired.
Do a little bit of this song called, "Lark"Ö
...which is a little song about peaceÖpeacefulness [begins playing guitar]
For me, when I was growing up, ÖI've considered songs to be, sort of, an engine for solving problems.
Ya know, they're like a little pill that you take.
[Singing] "The golden ratio the shellÖ"
I feel a total responsibility to my audience. [Singing]
Everybody knows the right thing and the wrong thing to do. All you can do is speak to the good impulses in people.
If you're very lucky you get one little phrase that gets into like a conciousness
and somebody else down the line will hear it and it will help them to understand their lives at a certain moment.
[Singing] "ÖThe answers dressed in labyrinthineÖ"
I think of writing songs like you're working in a laboratory.
[strum of guitar notes]
You're putting together an animalÖya know.
[Howls like a dog]
And you're likeÖAnd you'veÖAll the joints work the way you think they should and everything.
[Audience and Ritter howl and laugh]
You put the mouth on, and you make sure it doesn't scare the children and like, you know, doesn't snap at people.
And then you throw it out on stage and it's just a totally different animal.
When I went to college I was originally studying biology.
Thanks to a..an organic chemistry exam, that went pretty array, I realized I wasn't going to be a scientist, ya knowÖ
and I called my parents and said I'm not going to do this. I'm going to study American history through folk music.
[Singing] "Öof my understanding and my needÖ"
In the last 10 or 12 years, I'd say I've spent at least half my time on the road.
A lot of shows, and a lot ofÖa lot of milesÖ Ya.
[Singing in background] "...The meteoric warp and wentÖ"
We would start withÖwith...trying to eat for freeÖat, ya know, gas station rest stops.
[Singing] "...The arrow shoots forward though it moves through repetitionÖ"
I never knew there was so much cat hair in the world until I start sleeping on people's couches.
[Singing] "...Upon whose temples with I rest my weary hopes now?"
Everybody has an idea of what they want to be. The person they want to be.
And if we're lucky in our jobs, for moments we can be that person.
Hello. [unseen person] Hello
How's it going? -Good. How are you? -Good. Good.
The ambition has always been the same. It's to go out and take those chances that people offer youÖ
Öand take them in a new direction, and continue doing what makes you happy.
If I can make myself happy doing itÖ
[Singing] "...I am assured that peace will come to meÖ"
then there will other people who will be happy with me doing it.
[strum of guitar notes]
I'll do this song. It's called "Long Shadows."
I think it's a miracle when people come, after a long day's work.
Ya know, they come out of the house, they get in the car, it's raining, ya knowÖ
ÖUhÖand they come down to a show, to sit there in the dark with strangers.
That'sÖthat's, that's the miracle of my job.
[Singing] "Ölong shadowsÖ"
You're not the center of attention. You're like a..a... grace note in somebody's life.
[Singing in background] They will take the time to let me be a part of their life
uh, and that's where the trust isÖ. ÖYa know. It's that you're giving someone a square deal.
To be allowed that space of time is a real blessing that's granted by the person that's listening.
[Singing in background] "ÖEvery time that they start. You can reach for me. I'm not afraid of the dark..."
Hello! [Audience claps and cheers]
Tonight is the chance to play tomorrow. Ya know, and tomorrow is the chance to play the next day.
[Singing] "...Out on the hills the hounds are baying. Then pray for light that seems so long to comeÖ"
What I live for and what I find is most important to me, is the time that I'm actually on stage.
Everything leads up to that moment when you can go on stage and do what you're really supposed to do.
[Singing] "ÖYou can reach for me. I'm not afraid of the dark. I'm not afraid of the dark..."
You're not thinking about your life, you're not thinking about anything elseÖ
...You'reÖyou're not thinking about something that was bothering you, you're justÖyou're just on stage, ya knowÖ
And everything else just drifts away. Ya.
Ya. [Audience claps and cheers]
Thank you very much!
[Laughs] Thanks for coming. Thanks for sticking aroundÖ
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