Discovery

A frequent commentary chronicling the creative and intellectual
excitement of discovery at Washington State University.

Brought to you by Washington State Magazine

The Ritters Josh and Bob Talk About “The Curse”

Josh Ritter headed out to be a scientist but became a singer-songwriter.

His parents are longtime Washington State University neuroscientists, as well as the people Josh credits with being “the single greatest influence on my music.”

The worlds of science and music combine in “The Curse,” a song on Josh’s latest album, “So Runs the World Away.” Brought to video by drummer-puppeteer Liam Hurley, it’s the love story of an archaeologist and a mummy. In the hands of a nuanced writer like Josh, or in the mind of a nuanced thinker like his father Bob, the story is prone to varied interpretation.

Somehow that came up during a recent dinner with the parents Ritter as we researched a recent feature for Washington State Magazine on their lives and work. Bob said he thought of the song as a parable of science—the investigator embraces a subject for a lifetime but grows old and passes. Meanwhile, science continues apace.

“That song is like a person that has her career and the career kind of consumes her. In other words, the mummy is dead. She finds the mummy, displays the mummy and becomes so involved with the mummy and spends her life with the mummy. The mummy kind of comes to life and of course she gets old and dies. That’s the way I see that song. The science goes on. The mummy goes on. But the investigator becomes a thing of the past. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just the love and the attention she devotes consumes her and makes her discovery a household word.”

We asked Josh to comment on his theory, and since we were working on a personality profile, we asked what kind of eclectic mind might have such an interpretation. His response is indirect but intriguing.

“The luckiest people get a vocation.  They are called to do the things they do, to commit our lives to specific endeavors.  Often they themselves are the only ones hearing the voice and what they do seems crazy to other people, but they do it anyway because they are called and because they love it.  The world is filled with these people who have been lucky enough to find their vocation.  They find it because we are influenced by the people who have come before them.  Science is no monolith, it’s the continuing process of discovering and passing down knowledge from hand to hand over the course of millennia.  They’re light-bearers, and this, in the grand scheme of things, is about the best thing any of us can hope to be.”