Josh Ritter: The Guitar Is America

"The idea of America is that we all have our own unique voices...and that’s the same as guitar. Guitar is not an instrument that's stuck in a canon, or stuck in a particular form." As an instrument of democratic self-expression, the guitar has been Josh Ritter's best friend. Having once taken an aptitude test that predicted he'd be "an undertaker or a plumber, or somebody who worked in the woods," Ritter instead found his voice as one of today's most acclaimed folk rock musicians. He shares that voice, both in conversation and song, in his Big Think interview.


With his sixth studio album, "So Runs the World Away," debuting today, Ritter discusses the changes his songwriting has undergone since his early career and the effortless quality—like that of a perfectly tailored suit—he strives to achieve in each song. As a special demonstration, he breaks out his guitar and plays a single off the new album: the mellow, lyrical "Change of Time."

Ritter also reflects on the current upheaval in the music industry, pointing out that tanking album sales have forced musicians to rock harder in concert, since "that's the only way now" to make money in the business. And while he marvels at the connection a show can create between performer and audience, he offers a few wise words to Twittering rock stars who try to maintain that connection 24/7 online: "Don't overstay your welcome."


Image courtesy Mike Ritter.
Related Articles

Human skeletal stem cells isolated in breakthrough discovery

It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.

Image: Nissim Benvenisty
Surprising Science
  • Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
  • These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
  • The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Keep reading Show less

How exercise helps your gut bacteria

Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.

National Institutes of Health
Surprising Science
  • Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
  • Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
  • Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
Keep reading Show less

Giving octopuses ecstasy reveals surprising link to humans

A groundbreaking new study shows that octopuses seemed to exhibit uncharacteristically social behavior when given MDMA, the psychedelic drug commonly known as ecstasy.

Image: damn_unique via Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Octopuses, like humans, have genes that seem to code for serotonin transporters.
  • Scientists gave MDMA to octopuses to see whether those genes translated into a binding site for serotonin, which regulates emotions and behavior in humans
  • Octopuses, which are typically asocial creatures, seem to get friendlier while on MDMA, suggesting humans have more in common with the strange invertebrates than previously thought
Keep reading Show less