JOSH TILLMAN is King of the Trolls. After leaving Seattle mountain-monk band Fleet Foxes, Tillman moved to Los Angeles and underwent a grand transformation. In 2012 he released his solo debut, Fear Fun, under the moniker Father John Misty. But Misty isn’t just a name, it’s a character: a suited prophet who seems to fancy himself some sort of obnoxious cultural savant, with a moral compass locked on true north and x-ray vision that can permeate any societal structure, straight through to the feeble foundations of our corrupt institutions.
Since then it’s remained largely unclear where Misty stops and Tillman begins, especially on his 2015 follow-up, I Love You, Honeybear—a record that vacillates between genuine-sounding professions of love and sour assessments of humankind. “My ambition, aside from making an indulgent, soulful, and epic sound worthy of the subject matter,” he explained in a 1,680-word self-penned promotional bio, “was to address the sensuality of fear, the terrifying force of love, the unutterable pleasures of true intimacy, and the destruction of emotional and intellectual prisons in my own voice. Blammo.”
During a rant at a New Jersey music festival last month, Tillman referenced a song off the album, “Bored in the USA,” in which he sings about capitalism, materialism, and the passage of time. “I always thought that it was going to look way more sophisticated than this when evil happened,” he said. “When the collective consciousness was so numb and so fucking sated and so gorged on entertainment... How entertaining should this be right now, with a fucking battleship in the background and this shit on TV, how fucking fun should this be? How fucking fun can it be? Can it be real in any sense? Like, I cannot play ‘Bored in the USA’ for you right now. No no no, because guess what? I soft-shoed that shit into existence by going, ‘No no no, look over here, it’ll never actually be that bad because we’re too smart.’ And while we were looking in that direction, stupidity just fucking runs the world because entertainment is stupid! Do you guys realize that?”
Tillman’s taken his peculiar Misty antics offstage, recently to the Stereogum comments section to search for his “diamond encrusted YSL brooch in the shape of a parakeet,” an LA juice shop, where he claims to have stolen a rose quartz crystal, and now to the market, where he is selling Kanye-inspired “Life of Padre” apparel and, coincidentally, rose quartz earrings. There’s artful irony in Tillman’s Misty act, but his rhetoric intoxicates the same upper-middle class Americans he satirizes and encourages them to drop their expendable income on his music and merchandise. Irony isn’t so radical if it profits from the same system it critiques, Father.
Last year, following the release of I Love You, Honeybear, I wrote him into some nonsensical apocalyptic fanfiction (originally published at (klc-theumbrella.tumblr.com)—because that’s what Father John Misty embodies.
PICTURE THIS, FRIEND:
It’s 11:59 pm on the atomic clock and the world is going to shit. Everything’s on fire, mutant bloodthirsty pigs are killing innocents, most stores are out of Pizza Lunchables, and let me tell you Twitter is BLOWING UP.
Knowledge has spread that a group of wealthy and elite so-and-sos have set up an escape plan on a gigantic cruise ship known as the Serene Pleasure that’s docked in Los Angeles. However, their caravan of luxury RVs falls in a sinkhole before they reach the harbor. This means that scores of plebeians storm the ship and are able to escape destruction, at least until the mutant bloodthirsty pigs evolve into winged pig-fish. But a lot happens before then.
They’re amazed to discover that they have escaped certain doom and fallen into the cushiony lap of a mistress called OPULENCE. They are seated at round tables with menstrual-blood-red tablecloths and are served lobster tails as they set sail to the secret island the wealthy so-and-sos had purchased in case of apocalypse.
As the guests sit in awe with tails sticking out of their already agape mouth holes, they spiritually awaken to the sweet sounds of a player piano straight out of an Old West boomtown and the sensual strumming of an acoustic guitar.
They are shocked to behold a gangly man fingering this acoustic guitar as he is lowered via suspension cords to a circular stage in the middle of the ship’s dining room. The man is infamous cult leader Father John Misty. He is wearing a bedazzled blue sparkle suit and his hair is coiffed ever-so-perfectly despite the present situation. “The weather outside is frightful...” he quips as the ship shoves off and the fiery city once known as Los Angeles fades into the sunset.
Father begins singing lullabies specifically crafted to soothe the existential woes of those with time to contemplate their impending mortality in the event of catastrophic worldwide devastation. “But everything is fine/Don’t give into despair/’Cause I love you honeybear,” he sings while gently stroking the face of an elderly man.
A mariachi band appears for his next ditty, one he calls “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins).” A group of playful hippies in flowing white gowns comes out to dance with the guests and throw roses in the air, as if to make the world ending the most positive experience possible. For the next few songs the mariachi band is replaced by attractive backup singers who “ooh” and “ahh” at all the right moments.
The blessed Father gathers himself and retires his showman façade for the next song, “When You’re Smiling and Astride Me,” which bares his emotions to the point of vulgarity. He’s not only naked, he’s skinless, so transparent you can see the blue glitter blood running through his veins. The audience is not amused; who has time for petty musings about LOVE in times like these?
This metaphoric nakedness continues through the angsty number “The Ideal Husband,” in which the Father admits to every sin he’s ever committed. But oh sweetie, you’re not in confession; there isn’t even a priest aboard the Serene Pleasure. The guests are in stitches over “Bored in the USA,” which chronicles the misfortunes that led to the birth, death, and ghosthood of the “American Dream.” Cue the fudge lava cakes! Truly decadent.
This ironic laughter is silenced with “Holy Shit,” which brings them back to the reality of the sad end of it all. The worst part, though, is that they weren’t even all that happy before the apocalypse. Was the world all that great before the shit hit the fan, with “mobile lifestyle, loveless sex,” or “isolation, online friends”? Where “no one ever knows the real you, and life is brief”? Women in white leather catsuits hand out blue Kool-Aid, and Father sits on the edge of the stage so he’s spiritually AND physically at the same level as his audience.
In “I Went to the Store One Day,” Father reminds everyone why life’s worth living. “For love to find us of all people/I never thought it’d be so simple.... All ’cause I went to the store one day,” he sings. The always cliché “LOVE” strikes again, this painfully heartfelt ballad proving that it’s hard to talk about real, true, deep LOVE without sounding like a puke factory. Father reminds them how much joy and suffering have come from this one thing, LOVE, and how this source of so much emotion must therefore be their ticket into the next dimension. LOVE, he says, is actually a giant lizard creature named Zubpion who at any moment will swoop down from the heavens and rescue their poor souls.
At that moment he instructs all aboard to drink their blue Kool-Aid, and sure enough Zubpion flies down from the clouds and brings the Serene Pleasure into a whole new kind of consciousness, man. And they all lived happily ever after, probably.