Today the New Orleans resident who receives mail as Josh Tillman released a new short film and video previewing his upcoming album.
As Father John Misty, Josh Tillman is so serious that it's tempting to take him seriously. His poker face makes it hard to know how to take Pure Comedy, the 25-minute film that running point before the April 7 release of the album by the same name. Officially, the black and white movie takes us into the studio with him, where he leads small choirs, apologizes to the conductor of a string section, and sings with great passion, beauty and sincerity. These scenes don't go anywhere or add up to anything though, and their seeming pointlessness raises its own set of questions, particularly when intercut with scenes of Los Angeles on fire. Is Pure Comedy serious or "serious"?
Since Father John Misty always looks like a rock star in the mode of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen, nothing in his demeanor gives the game away. Like them, he always looks serious in a suit coat, a black or white dress shirt, black pants and boots, and like them, the humor in his music--if/when it exists--comes via context. His deep, single-minded commitment to his music only seems crazy when the camera cuts to houses burning down outside. See Pure Comedy here or on YouTube and you get one enigmatic experience; see it at FatherJohnMisty.com and cartoon Boy Scouts pull a Conestoga wagon across the screen next to and behind the movie's window. A muscle-builder Jesus totes his cross across the screen as two generalissimos on space balls bounce around.
The film ends with Misty climbing in the back end of a hearse as a woman announces:
Imagine if you will, as the album starts, that you’re way out in space looking at the earth and, though it’s impossible to “fall” through space, you start a free fall anyway in the direction of the bright blue marble. For the next 75 minutes you plummet toward the earth, losing more and more perspective on what an abstract and impermanent place our planet is, how predictably we step on the same rakes, slip on the same banana peels over and over again through the ages, quickly becoming more and more immersed in the very messy business of being a human – the dubious privilege of being here, the elusiveness of meaning, true love and its habitual absence, random euphoria and the inexplicable misery of others, truth and its more alluring counterfeits, the sophistication of answers that don’t make any sense, the barbarism of our appetites, lucky breaks and injustice, faith and ignorance, crippling, mind-numbing boredom, and the terror of it all ending too soon.
That comes from the liner notes for Pure Comedy, and they make clear Misty's dark vision. "Things are the way they are because this is how we, the human race, want them," he writes, but he's not without hope.
What I recommend is this: we return to the Vedic cycle and submit ourselves to the likelihood that many of us will end up getting eaten by bears. It’s only natural. What if instead of imbuing our expectations for the quality of our lives to include perpetual happiness, dream fulﬁllment, excessive painlessness, existential certitude, material wealth, and all variety of romantic stimulation, we were just grateful for every day that didn’t involve getting eaten by a bear? What if progress only meant literally progressing from one day to the next without getting violently dismembered by a 9-foot tall, 500-pound grizzly?
The video for the title track appeared on YouTube Monday, and it starts with a young Angela Hill starting a broadcast in front of an earlier logo for Channel 4's Eyewitness News. The video telescopes from the cosmic to the granular as it counts off the mess mankind has made of almost everything. Me, I think the way his vocal echoes mid-'70s Elton John adds to the dark humor, but individual mileage may vary.
He strings the video together with images from a Bosch-like illustration that also gives Misty his album cover and the figures who appear on his website. When he sings, "Where did they find these goons / they elected to rule them?" the screen shows us the face of Donald Trump, but by that point almost four minutes into the song, his election was already the clear subtext of the song and video.