From 2004 until now, an oddly gentle-seeming, yet troubled musician and armchair philosopher has been exposing his thoughts and emotions to us all in exchange for our reactions to his interpretive dance-laden, heart-warming performances, and perhaps enough “folk bucks” (Misty himself has referred to his money in this way in past interviews) to get by. Josh Tillman a.k.a. Father John Misty, delivers us a mixed bag of moods in his music ranging from happy Psych ( “I’m Writing a Novel” from Fear Fun), sad Indie -Folk (“Bored in the USA” from I Love You, Honeybear), and even good-timey up beat Pop sounds (“True Affection” from I Love You, Honeybear). His lyrical output is often hyper self-analytical, touching, funny, and brings to light esoteric clues to his audience about what may be the thrust of his own and possibly many of our behaviors and tendencies (why we collectively fuck up).
Last year, Misty released by far his darkest album to date Pure Comedy. On this album, he’s poking fun at “the masses” while at the same time begging us to reevaluate how we go about perceiving each others’ differences. On the track “Two Wildly Different Perspectives” he highlights the absurdity of our reasons for engaging in conflict that is reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them”. One side says “Y’all go to hell”. The other says “If I believed in God, I’d send you there. But either way we make some space. In the hell that we create. On both sides”. ‘Nuff said. The title track “Pure Comedy” is a scathing review of human history and of where humanity stands in the present.
“The comedy of man starts like this; our brains are way too big for our mothers’ hips. And so, Nature, she divines this alternative. We emerged half-formed and hope that whoever greets us on the other end Is kind enough to fill us in. And, babies, that’s pretty much how it’s been ever since”.
He points out the innocence of our origin, and how the only thing we rely on in the beginning is someone reading to us the “rules of life”. The song expands from this point, pointing out that the continuation of our childish need to simply belong is running us all off a cliff (“Comedy, now that’s what I call pure comedy. Just waiting until the part where they start to believe. They’re at the center of everything. And some all-powerful being endowed this horror show with meaning”).
The lyric “it’s like something that a madman would conceive” is sung with a raving passion, pointing out how unbelievable it is that we seem to refuse to at least grant each other our basic humanity in the name of team sports like base level philosophies.
The album is comparable (more Floyd comparisons, sorry) to Animals by Pink Floyd. It transcends our bullshit with an almost punk rock intensity at times. It’s as if Misty wants to spit in all our faces as much as he wants to hug us. That’s real frustration babies. However you personally choose to interpret Father John’s message, the heartfelt sound of the music is sure to stir the thoughts and feelings of just about anyone who dares to listen.
“Mr. Tillman” is Father John’s newest offering. Sonically this piece goes into somewhat different territory than what we’ve seen so far. The general Folkiness of his sound is still there; however, he takes a slightly more dare I say Art-Pop or maybe even Post-Punk approach to this one. The bass guitar is in the forefront and the chugging acoustic guitar is reminiscent of a slowed down trippier early R.E.M. or maybe even the Talking Heads a la “Psycho Killer” (this being a fully Father Johnified take on these sounds). Lyrically we see a return to Misty’s self-analysis as he humorously confesses his sins.
“Mr. Tillman, good to see you again. There’s a few outstanding charges just before we check you in.” Father John has just given the opening statement to the trial he is about to put himself through! This line sets the tone for the rest of the track. It might be worth pointing out that Misty has been very open about his struggle with anxiety and depression and uses some unusual methods of medication. Tillman revealed recently that he takes a micro-dose of LSD daily and that method seems to work for him. One can imagine that such a method would produce preferable side effects when compared to say, Prozac or the like. In previous work, he has hinted that he suffers from paranoid thinking (“Before they put me to work in a government camp. Before they do my face up like a corpse and say “get up and dance” from “Fun Times in Babylon” off the album Fear Fun). While these are all simply poetics, it gives us evidence of the kind of mind that is capable of dreading impending doom of some sort (albeit quite productively!). He seems to have a sense of humour about every aspect of his living existence that would require having the ability to step outside of himself and just shake his head at his own tendencies to the point of laughing at himself while exclaiming “Oh, you! What kind of pickle have you gotten yourself into this time?” This is Father John’s magical formula.
“Let’s see here, you left your passport in the mini fridge. And the message with the desk says here the picture isn’t his.” Apparently, things have gotten a little out of hand while on tour. Perhaps Mr. Tillman got a little high on the show and decided that for better or worse it was necessary to get crazy drinking airplane bottles and eating Halloween sized bags of candy. Maybe leaving the passport in the mini fridge is symbolic of his defeat in being successfully drawn into the decadence that is the hotel mini fridge. Is he trying to throw off the hotel staff by giving them a picture of someone else attached to his name? Or is it just that his look changes so often the hotel staff think it’s someone else? This must be some sort of inside baseball reference for a tactic and/or common occurrence regarding passports meant for those more in the know. One can only guess.
“Don’t leave your mattress in the rain if you sleep on the balcony. Okay, did you and your guests have a pleasant stay? What a beautiful tattoo that young man had on his face. And oh, will you need a driver out to Philly? Jason Isbell’s here as well and he seemed a little worried about you” So, the hotel staff seem mildly annoyed but are still concerned with Mr. Tillman’s needs as a guest. Jason Isbell (a fellow singer-songwriter of Drive-By Truckers fame who seems to be a friend) knows that something is up with Mr. Tillman. He’s seen him go down this road before.
The chorus: “I’m feeling good. Damn, I’m feeling so fine. I’m living on a cloud above an island in my mind. Okay babe, don’t be alarmed this is just my vibe. No need to walk around. No, it’s not too bad a climb” Mr. Tillman seems to be apologizing for his ways either to his significant other, his audience, himself, or perhaps all of the above making whoever is being addressed “babe”. He understands that he has a confusing and at times alarming vibe, that others may not always be capable of comprehending and he’s coming to terms with it out loud. He’s saying “Listen, my vibes are solid, but they might actually be too complex for you to handle right now. Just chill.” The climb not being too hard seems to be saying, “It might seem like there’s a struggle ahead, but it’s not going to be as bad as you’re imagining” The clouds may look dark ahead, but once it hits it’s going to be milder than you think. It’s the calming of the babe. Considering the incoming last verse of the song, it’s wise of Mr. Tillman to have prepared said babe for what will happen next.
“Mr. Tillman, for the seventh time. We have no knowledge of a film that is being shot outside. Those aren’t extras in a movie; they’re our clientele. No, they aren’t running lines and they aren’t exactly thrilled. Would you like a regalo on the patio? Is there someone we can call? Perhaps you shouldn’t drink alone.” Is this some sort of “You’re all a bunch of fucking slaves” Jim Morrison type of booze-fueled outburst at the hotel staff and fellow clientele where misty is accusing everyone of being an actor in a movie figuratively speaking? Or is he calling the front desk nervously asking if he is being surrounded by extras because he finds their behaviour so predictable that it’s starting to eat away at him to the point that he needs to take it up with someone to check his own sanity? The “regalo” (a gift?) is offered to calm him down. Possibly a tarp to throw over the mattress on the balcony? They ultimately end up suggesting he may be suffering from alcohol psychosis and that he should perhaps not drink alone.
The song concludes with a repeat of the chorus. Again, repeating his explanation of himself through these trying times. It’s a “Listen, I tell this to everyone so let me say it again. Sometimes I get weird man! Just bear with me!”
This track is giving us a taste of what will hopefully end up being a real eclectic and strange album. It seems the new Father John Misty album of which the name has yet to be revealed to the public will have a mixture of the darker elements and lighter elements of the previous albums with some added quirk. An obvious prediction perhaps, let’s hope an accurate one. With the serious lack of self awareness affecting so much of our culture, Father John Misty’s output is more relevant than ever before. The man can take us on a roller coaster of comedy and tragedy, and he should!