Song of the Day: 'Girl in the War' by Josh Ritter

“Girl in the War” is the first track on Josh Ritter’s album The Animal Years. Ritter’s soft and tender voice lends deep compassion to one of folk music’s best songs. Ritter, an underrated talent, provides a song-writers utopia and music lover’s nebulous wonder at the meaning behind one of the most spellbinding songs I’ve ever heard.

If you do a quick search you will see that there a lot of people who have theorized as to the meaning of this song. Scouring their viewpoints is downright fascinating. The range of meanings serves as a conjuring of imagination and realization of self-reflection. So much of this song’s interpretation depends on who, and where you are as a person, when you hear it. The double entendres are what creates its mystical appeal.

“Girl in the War” speaks of a conversation between two men, Peter and Paul, as Peter struggles with what actions to take as he witness someone (something?) he loves slowly being taken away from him. She is on the edge of extinction; he is struggling to save her, and trying to figure out by what means or extremes he should go to accomplish it.

He questions if it is a karmic revenge that he is reaping as the result of an unknown sin. He wonders if the philosophies that have piloted his life are what have led to this war. The war he is speaking of remains a bitter mystery.

Is this an anti-war song, cleverly evoking the imagery of the “homeland” as the “she” being referred to? Are these the tragic confessions of a man whose “girl” is battling a war against an ailment, an illness that he is powerless to save her from?

Every time you hear it, a new revelation can be deciphered as to its meaning. Either of these possible scenarios or another one you might come upon, is further proof of the indelible use of words that Ritter uses to describe abstract, and yet profoundly personal confessions. 

This song also features an enchanting musical interlude, as the gentle twinkling of what sounds like a mandolin courses through the song like oxygen to what has been a breathless experience. The closing lyrics “But I got a girl in the war Paul her eyes are like champagne/ They sparkle bubble over and in the morning all you got is rain” is a possible insight leaning you closer to an explanation, all the while guiding you towards another.

Having listened to this song countless times, one thing can clearly be gleaned; this song is a war unto itself.

Special thanks to my sister, Chelsea, for getting me into this song in the first place.