From Pure Comedy, out now on Sub Pop.
I know I know I know, a thirteen-minute hymn to your own hyper-awareness (a “10 verse chorus-less diatribe”) is self-indulgent horseshit. It’s impossible to argue with that.
Try to forget for a sec what a bloated self-righteous asshole Josh Tillman has become, and just listen to the song. Listen to the string arrangement by Gavin Bryars and think of “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me” or “The Sinking of the Titanic” and just listen.
“Leaving LA” is arranged, performed, and recorded perfectly. It sounds great. It’s a beautiful song even if the sentiment is bitter.
Tillman claims to assume this song will cost him some fans. The “teenage rosebuds” and “college dudes” will “all jump ship” and think, “I used to like this guy but this new shit makes me want to die.” I dunno. Maybe. I’m a couple decades past being a college dude, and I’ll admit I prefer the manic hedonism of Fear Fun over the grumpy cynicism and misanthropy of the more recent stuff, but I’m guessing his core fanbase knows exactly what they’re getting into.
What I find fascinating about Father John Misty in general and this song in particular is Tillman’s quest to find some kind of balance between his onstage persona and his true self. I don’t think that’s a put on. I believe him. I think he honestly struggles with this dichotomy. Maybe everybody in showbiz does, but Tillman is unusually open about it.
A couple of lines illustrate this. Take a look at this couplet:
A little less human with each release
Closing the gap between the mask and me
Think about that. You’d think that if he’s closing the gap between the mask (Father John Misty, the demonic clown character) and his real self (Josh Tillman), then he’d be becoming more human, not less. So is the mask more human, more real? Or is he losing himself and becoming more like his persona?
So why is it I’m so distraught
That what I’m selling’s getting bought
At some point you can’t control
What people use your fake name for
It seems like Tillman is embarrassed of anybody who buys into his shtick. But at this point there’s nothing he can do about it.
Josh Tillman is a phony. But on the other hand he isn’t a phony because he’s a real phony. He believes all this crap he believes.
It’s easy to dismiss him as just “another white guy in 2017 who takes himself so goddamn seriously” and he’s acutely aware of that (obviously), but there’s a lot more to it than that. And since defining an agreed upon reality has become the fundamental issue of 2017, Father John Misty is an important artist for our time and his songs reflect our long national nightmare better than anybody.