I usually have my ipod set to shuffle–like the best radio station ever because it only plays what I like–or I listen to podcasts. But for the last couple of months, I’ve been listening to a Josh Ritter playlist I made almost nonstop. It’s about two hours long. When it ends, I just start it over again. I’m not sick of it yet. So you could say I’m a tiny bit obsessed with Ritter’s music.
I did a post for this song way back when it first came out in 2012 but didn’t comment on it other than to say that it (along with most of the rest of Josh Ritter’s catalog) makes me really happy. I feel like I want to say something about it now, but I’ll be honest. I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this one. We could end up someplace. . . interesting.
There’s something luminous about “Joy to You Baby.” It is sad, melancholy even. A meditation on a lost love, on broken hearts and missed chances. “There’s no ghosts in the graveyard. That’s not where they live. They float in between us, what is and what if.” An ode to what was and what might have been if only things had been a little different. It’s a sad song, yes, but that sadness glows with a light that I can only describe as holy.
Special note: I have no idea what Ritter’s religious beliefs are, or if he even has any. All I know is that from the content of many of his lyrics, he’s clearly pretty familiar with belief and believers, whether he is one or has lived among them. When I say that the light I hear in this song is holy, I mean that in the most general definition of the word. It is holy in the sense that imparts some sense of a greater power than this mere mortal coil could ever possess. Something closer to the sound of pine trees whispering in the wind or vast twinkling brilliance of a starlit night.
I love the way this song makes me feel. Sad, yes, but happy, too. Forgiving and generous. Open and free. Loving someone can be an amazing experience; losing love can be just as awful an experience (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction). But letting go of that love, even after it has died, is a whole different beast. Letting go of the sadness and anger is like letting go of a boulder. You become weightless, free, flying: “And joy to the many, and joy to the few. And joy to you baby, and joy to me, too.”
I’m not much for love these days, largely because it’s never really gone my way. But the tenderness, grace, and yes, sadness, of “Joy to You Baby” makes me feel like all that heartache in the past was worth it. That the tears and the emptiness and the loneliness was nothing more than the equal and opposite reaction to the happiness and warmth and contentment that came those few times it did work. Or the price I willingly paid for the pleasure of dreaming and aching for an unattainable person. Yes, sometimes even the ache of unrequited love can be pleasurable. To quote another Josh Ritter song, “I’d rather be the one who loves than to be loved and never even know.”