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  • Rich Kassirer

Lyrically Speaking: Josh Ritter's Lantern


Last week, I posted lyrics of Joni Mitchell’s “Furry Sings the Blues,” basically because I really dig the song. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that it might be cool to ocasionally posted lyrics to songs and say a few words about why they rock my world.


To be truthful, I’m not a huge lyric guy. Don’t get me wrong, I love when a song makes sense, when an artist truly is inspired and puts words to things I could not dream of doing. But usually, it’s the music that hits me first, then the lyrics. I will say that if the lyrics are crap, cliched or boring, forget it — the song doesn’t get much play by me.

So here goes, my second in an occasional series of lyrics that kill me.


Trying to pick one Josh Ritter tune to highlight the lyrics is like eating one potato chip. Near impossible. In fact, at the end of last year I declared his “Thin Blue Flame” as the song of the decade (still believe it so) and posted the lyrics because they are so brilliant.

Anyway, here are the lyrics to his song “Lantern,” off his newest album “So Runs the World Away.” Even without the music, this song reads like poetry.

 I mean, who else out there is writing lyrics like this: “Where the thistles eat the thorns/and the roses have no chance/and it ain’t no wonder that the babies come out crying in advance/and the children look for shelter in the hollow of some lonesome cheek.”

The whole song is filled with brilliant, literate, and even profound insights into one man’s need for love and understanding.


"Lantern," by Josh Ritter

Be the light of my lantern, the light of my lantern, be the light be the light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight be the light of my lantern, light of my lantern, be the light I need light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight

It’s a hungry world out there — even the wind’ll take a bite, and I can feel the world circling, sniffing around me in the night and the lost sheep grow teeth, forsake the lambs and lie with the lions


And 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


I’ll need light from my lantern, light from my lantern tonight light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight


Where the thistles eat the thorns, and the roses have no chance, and it ain’t 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 it’s dark cause you might see the Master’s hand you might cast around forever and never find the piece you seek.

I’ll need light from my lantern, light from my lantern tonight.

Be the light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight

light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight


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 jubiliations, we’ll have to write it for ourselves, so come and lie beside me, Darling, and let’s write it while we’ve still got time


So if you’ve 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 a 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 I’ll do the same for you, and hold it high for me

I’ll hold it high for you ’cause I know you’ve got ‘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 past seems lost I’ll hold it high for you through the thieves and rocks I’ll hold it high for you, I’ll keep you safe from harm I’ll hold it high for you, until you’re back in my arms

Be the light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight be the light of my lantern, the light of my lantern tonight be the light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight be the light of my lantern, light of my lantern tonight


This video is from Tarrytown, N.Y., where the crowd surprised Josh and the boys with glow sticks during the song. Check out the expressions on Zack’s face and the fact that Josh had to basically stop and restart the opening lyrics because of the surprise. Classic.




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