16 Oct The Temptation of Adam

This is the first in what will be an ongoing feature on the blog, courtesy of an interesting new service called This Is My Jam. The point of the site is sort of a vignette, anti-playlist approach to sharing music, which I love. The Internet has given us a glut of content, and most of our swollen iTunes libraries and Spotify accounts have tracks in them that we rarely listen to, if we’ve ever even heard them. This Is My Jam focuses on a single song at a time, and I’ll be using it to highlight and discuss songs that have impacted me as a songwriter.

So let’s start off with a bang, with what is one of my favorite songs of all time: Josh Ritter’s The Temptation of Adam.

I credit Temptation with awakening my love for story songs. Before first listening to Ritter in 2007, my exposure to narrative songwriting had been limited to the “she stepped out of ‘er front door” sentimentality that populates country radio. But I was amazed by Ritter’s capacity with words – listening Temptation’s unlikely premise unfold in a remarkable display of pace, rhythm, emotion, and clever allusion. I had never heard a song that engaged my brain and emotions so fully at the same time.

With the pick-up line “if this was the Cold War, we could keep each other warm,” Ritter initiates a nameless protagonist’s pursuit of the beloved Marie, set in an underground missile facility while they wait for the nuclear apocalypse. I love the way he balances headier references (e.g. Kubrick, Curie, atomic half-life) with the simple details of a relationship – misjudged first impressions, starry-eyed infatuation, crossword puzzles. The melody is evocative and haunting in its gorgeous simplicity, and the dominant-7 three chord into the six gets me every time.

What continually impresses me about Temptation is that despite its outlandish aims, the song works from start to finish. It showed me how well-crafted imagery can be used as a means to an end, rather than an end unto itself. Countless artists have written a beautiful line and fetishized it, but when Ritter sings “my eyes get washed away in chain reactions” you almost lose it in the swelling strings. I deeply appreciate the way his lyricism serves the story, serves the song. I hope to accomplish the same in my writing, whatever themes I tackle.

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