Published on February 11th, 2015 | by Kelsey Simpkins5
Father John Misty: Antichrist of the 21st Century
Read JP’s review of I Love You, Honeybear here.
Father John Misty could have easily titled this album, “Everything Is Doomed,” in reflection of his scathing musical critique of modern American living. But Josh Tillman chose, I Love You, Honeybear.
The opening title track completely condemns the world, and yet celebrates it for the love which makes it bearable. This conflict permeates the entirety of the album, pitting contemporary consumer culture against a profound and explicit experience of love. Cliché and taking offense have no place in this battle, although beauty abounds in every corner.
Amidst lush and full sensual instrumental sounds, Tillman sings, “Fuck the world… it may be just us who feel this way.” This object of his desires is clearly one above the rest, who he would even “wanna watch the ship go down with,” referring to only the end of the entire world. He confronts this end of the world, or perhaps end of culture, concept head-on, with: “Everything is doomed and nothing will be spared, but I love you, Honeybear.”
The way Father John Misty approaches the “but” in this phrase is essential to understanding his message. It isn’t the same mind-numbing ‘love/lust/sex to avoid the mess that is your life’ message that the pop stars and top 40 radio stations have been pumping out for the last decade. That would sound a bit like… “Everything is doomed, but let’s bang tonight! Who cares about tomorrow, we might not see each other even again. YOLO!”
Father John Misty commits where no one else will – on the edge of the crumbling cliff that is American culture – and says (my words), “Everything is doomed, obviously (idiots), this whole thing got real fucked up and now we live in post-modern meaninglessness and it would be easy to take advantage of constant immediate pleasure and buy into the way love is supposed (sold) to be and be expressed but GOD DAMMIT I still feel REAL THINGS for you and they may not save us, they may not save the world, and I don’t know what tomorrow is even going to be like, BUT. I love you, let’s do this.” Father John Misty proclaims that love is independent of culture, of crisis, and of catastrophe. This blunt and at times, crude, ‘love wins’ idea is a radical preaching – a lyrical salvation we have all been yearning for.
So to the 21st Century music industry, he is the Antichrist. Love, lust, and sex sell because they are believed to be substitutes, to solve problems, to save you from a boring hell of a life. They are sold as a drug, marketed as a painkiller, a treatment for the culture in which you feel slightly ill most days. Hell, they’ll even give it away for free if they can keep you hooked on it! Father John Misty makes fun of this wholeheartedly and with a good dose of sarcasm on his website, thought the music app “SAP.” Please do take a look.
So of course, in the middle of my commute on the interstate one morning, I heard “Chateau Lobby 4 (in C for Two Virgins)” for the first time. I immediately knew that something was different about this song, about this artist. Father John Misty sang, “People are boring, but you’re something else I can’t explain…” and I thought, “why yes, I thought this just yesterday…” And after an interlude of sweet mariachi music, he casually crooned, “What are you doing for your whole life, how about forever?” and my mouth fell open in amazement. “THAT’S how I would propose! Or be proposed to, rather, someday,” I thought, “This song is genius! Who the hell is this?!”
After discovering this was Father John Misty, I was not surprised when I remembered the recent confusion over his Letterman performance. I admire him both so much for this song and his performance, as with “Bored In The USA,” he sets a torch to everything and just lets it burn. This is truly a no apologies track. From the surprise and hilarity of automatic piano-playing keys, to the religious appeal of “save me white Jesus” while kneeling on top of the piano, he perfects what it is to be Father John Misty in person. And every time I listen, “Can I get my money back?” it hits me hard in the gut.
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The rest of I Love You, Honeybear is no less ruthless, comedic, or beautiful. In “True Affection,” he addresses the frustrations of societal communication eloquently, while backed by a danceable beat. “Strange Encounter” plays with the idea of mistakes that we would like to repeat, but are not sure how they fit into our lives past a certain point. Bluntly named, “The Ideal Husband” pursues the notions of how relationships should function, how they fail or often are dysfunctional, how we judge each other and ourselves. At the end of “Holy Shit,” he spells it out for you if you haven’t figured it out already: “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity, but I fail to see is what that’s gotta do with you and me.”
Now, maybe you aren’t as apt to existential crises as I am, or when your coffee hasn’t kicked in yet you are just unable to have a life-changing moment in your car on the way to work. But if you don’t have some kind of mind-altering or emotional experience while listening to Father John Misty, I don’t think we should be friends. And I worry a bit for you, but sadly there’s not much I could do.
True religious experience does not come from another human being telling you, convincing you that what they know will save you, that it is the way of life that works for you, and that if you don’t accept it, bad things will come to pass for you. In that same way, you cannot be told to have a personal musical revelation, and no amount of argument or threat over a musician’s genius, history, or popularity will convince you otherwise.
The phenomenon in which I discovered Father John Misty is unique, although I am suspicious that most first-time listeners of his music will discover it under similar mundane circumstances. It is Father John Misty’s debunking of the common, of the expected – his blatant rejection of the accepted way of talking about love and life that turns an everyday situation into both an existential crisis and blissful revelry.
Father John Misty continuously laments this search for some kind of cultural salvation within a captive and artificial society. Yet while with brutal honesty he critiques the numerous flaws, points out our widespread ignorance, and makes fun of the very way we live today in America; he brings us the most romantic album written since cell phones and one of most rewarding listening experiences of our lives.
“The album progresses,” Tillman states in his SubPop bio, “between two polarities: the first of which is the belief that the best love can be is finding someone who is miserable in the same way you are and the end point being that love isn’t for anyone who isn’t interested in finding a companion to undertake total transformation with.”
And transformation is truly the theme of I Love You, Honeybear; you will not come out the other side of it the same. Maybe not entirely sure what you just heard or understood, but not the same. I guarantee you won’t even read his conflicted proclamation made in the title track the same as when you did a few minutes ago.
Now, the Antichrist – as I have labelled him – should be the opposite of what will save you, or your soul. That’s the general assumption or (Christian) historical description. But it can also be looked as the opposite message of what is supposed to be the way to live and the way to love – it doesn’t have to be the devil, just different. (Although for the music industry, what is different IS the devil…) So while Father John Misty may sound like a bringer of bad news, or a musician with a twisted slant on things, he’s simply expressing the opposite of everything you’ve been told to feel. Through music, he liberates love from all modern assumption and association and hands it back to you anew, free of fear and the future.
“Everything is doomed and nothing will be spared, but I love you, Honeybear.”
Amen, Father John Misty. Amen.