"Monster Ballads" as written by and Josh Ritter....
Radio waves are coming miles and miles
Bringing only empty boats
Whatever feeling they had when they sailed
Somehow slipped out between the notes

Out on the desert now and feeling lost
The bonnet wears a wire albatross
Monster ballads and the stations of the cross
Sighing just a little bit
Sighing just a little bit

And I was thinking about what Katy done
Thinking about what Katy did
The fairest daughter of the Pharaoh's son
Dressed in gold beneath pyramids

Out on the desert now and feeling lost
The bonnet wears a wire albatross
Monster ballads and the stations of the cross
Sighing just a little bit
Sighing just a little bit

Ones and zeroes bleeding mesa noise
And when you're empty there's so much space for them
You turn it off but then a still small voice
Comes in blazing from some vast horizon

And I was thinking about my river days
I was thinking about me and Jim
Passing Cairo on a getaway
With every steamboat like a hymn

Out on the desert now
I'm feeling lost
The bonnet wears a wire albatross
Monster ballads and the stations of the cross
Sighing just a little bit
Smiling just a little bit


Lyrics submitted by EffulgentEnnui

"Monster Ballads" as written by Josh Ritter

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, DUCHAMP, INC

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Monster Ballads song meanings
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19 Comments

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  • +3
    General Commentsome things i was thinking about this song:

    1. "i was thinking about my river days, i was thinking about me and jim" probably a reference to huck finn, which fits right into the journey motif.

    2. "ones and zeroes" the two numbers of binary code, which make up computer programming. could be josh is saying that to him the music on the radio has become reduced to some static formula that makes him empty more than moves him like music is supposed to.

    3. "i was thinking about what katy done, i was thinking about what katy did" i bet just a cute reference to the bugs called katydids. he probably couldn't resist after writing "what katy done."

    4. this song, as well as many others on the cd, has a ton of references to Egypt. i don't know why, just bringing it up.

    this song is so lovely.
    infinitepet85on August 16, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General Commentoh WOW, love this song and intend to use it with my students to illustrate the use of allusion.

    i think it's about a journey, maybe literal, maybe metaphorical, and the way that when you're travelling your mind wanders--the very real spiritual nature of journeying. the stanza "ones and zeroes" has a reference to the 'still small voice' which s what the king james bible says that god is--was it isiah? god is not in the earthquake or the hurricane or the fire, but in the still small voice -- which is what he (in the song) hears when he turns off the radio (bleedng mesa noise).

    stations of the cross refers to the road to golgotha when jc carried teh cross up the hill a la the passion of the christ. the wire albatross also represents jc i think--via the rime of the ancient mariner. th river days i _think_ references huckleberry finn. anyway great song.
    wookie007on January 09, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentKaty is a slang term for the MKT (missouri-kansas-texas) railroad, which fits with the Twain ref. I think the song is about how things lose their authenticity over time. He uses music and religion as examples of things whose meaning and feeling have "slipped out between the notes."
    AndMilesToGoon February 06, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI take this song much more litterally, which is how I tend to take a lot of Josh's music, as beautiful imagery that acctually refers to something that he experienced- So to Monster Ballads~ I think he is writing about driving through a mountinous part of the country, probably through the dessert with some heavy emotions, probably nostalgia mixed with a bit of lonliness, as he searches the radio dial for a song to listen to in which he can feel connected again to whatever it is that we all hope to be connected to when we search for the right song to match our mood on the radio as we drive... however, the radio brings him only "empty boats" that while they may have had "feeling when they sailed" ie may have been the right song at the right time, it has "somehow slipped out between the notes", so I think that the Monster Ballads are actually those loud metal ballads by bands like White Snake and Guns and Roses that sometimes dominate the airwaves in really small boarder towns... and the "Stations of the Cross" would refer to the channels on the radio that play either Christian Music or some combination of preaching and Christian Broadcasting which are also common fare when you are on the road. Neither of which seem to be hitting the spot for Josh as he is out on the dessert now, and "feeling lost" thinking about times when he was with people that he loved... I love this song.
    femmemachinaon April 12, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWow, I love this song. Admittedly, I don't quite understand all the religious imagery as I konw next to nothing about that subject, but the whole feeling of the song is inescapable. It's gorgeous.

    Just one thing, infinitepet85, I always thought "I was thinking 'boug what Katy did" was a reference to the book 'What Katy Did' by Susan Coolidge. I haven't read it for ages, but Katy seems to find salvation in being a good person and in religion which would fit in with the rest of the song. I don't know - could be the bugs, but I've never heard of them since we don't have them in Australia.
    xanyaon October 06, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI agree with infinitepet85 about the Huck Finn reference.

    "And I was thinking about my river days
    I was thinking about me and Jim
    Passing Cairo on a getaway
    With every steamboat like a hymn"

    Josh is eluding to Cairo , Illinois , which was a major Steamboat port in the 19th Century. It also is the the destination of Huck and his Slave friend Jim in the Adventures of Huck Finn , they wanted to take a Steamboat north to freedom.
    Sockeyeon February 26, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI take this song much more litterally, which is how I tend to take a lot of Josh's music, as beautiful imagery that acctually refers to something that he experienced- So to Monster Ballads~ I think he is writing about driving through a mountinous part of the country, probably through the dessert with some heavy emotions, probably nostalgia mixed with a bit of lonliness, as he searches the radio dial for a song to listen to in which he can feel connected again to whatever it is that we all hope to be connected to when we search for the right song to match our mood on the radio as we drive... however, the radio brings him only "empty boats" that while they may have had "feeling when they sailed" ie may have been the right song at the right time, it has "somehow slipped out between the notes", so I think that the Monster Ballads are actually those loud metal ballads by bands like White Snake and Guns and Roses that sometimes dominate the airwaves in really small boarder towns... and the "Stations of the Cross" would refer to the channels on the radio that play either Christian Music or some combination of preaching and Christian Broadcasting which are also common fare when you are on the road. Neither of which seem to be hitting the spot for Josh as he is out on the dessert now, and "feeling lost" thinking about times when he was with people that he loved... I love this song.
    femmemachinaon April 12, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis entire song (from the 1st line to the last) refers to Mark Twain's book Tom Sawyer Abroad (a 3rd sawyer/huck book) also told using the first-person narrative of Huck Finn. In the story Huck, Jim, and Tom sail across the Sahara Desert and on through Egypt in a hot air ballon (hence "the bonnet wears a wire albatross"--metophoric). One verse relates back to the book Huckleberry Finn (the best book ever!).. Which is probably where the title Monster Ballads came from (a continuation).

    Great story! Give it a read. And yet another amazing song by Ritter.. Best new talant to come along since Dylan! Keep up the magic.
    someonenooneon January 19, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Commentwords cant express my feelings for this song or better yet the feelings i get from listening to this song.
    tbsbrandnewdcjewon September 10, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthe song you wish more people would hear. Great analysis in the previous posts regarding just how deep and meaningful this song is, really grows on you and is now my favorite song on the album, which is saying something. A piece of art.
    cmckinleyon February 11, 2007   Link

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