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Father John Misty Is A Lot: The Night Josh Tillman Came To The New Yorker Festival

Do I love Father John Misty or do I hate him so much that I never want to hear him or anyone else ever say anything again for the rest of my life, especially if it’s some shit about Slavoj Žižek? A tough call. This is the question I was left with on Saturday night after watching Father John Misty’s New Yorker Festival discussion with Matthew Trammell, the magazine’s nightlife editor, at the Gramercy Theatre.

I am using “discussion” somewhat loosely. I think the only question I remember Trammell asking is, “What do you have nightmares about?” because I thought, “this!!!!!!!!!” as a private joke. But, no — I’m getting ahead of myself. Father John Misty, in conversation in front of an audience, was as witheringly mean, honest, funny, incisive, and charming and also handsome as he is in song. I think the correct amount of time to listen to him talk would have been 20 minutes.

The first 20 minutes of the 90-minute conversation were exceedingly enjoyable — perhaps too enjoyable. Why is Father John Misty so funny? He is funny and sharp in a way that unnerves me, personally. What follows aren’t good examples of this but are meant to give you a sense of “the room.” He opened with the joke “First ever Ted Talk!,” and, I will tell you, the crowd loved it. He followed it quickly with a joke about how he’d decided to dress like an “off-duty confederate general,” which, I will tell you, the crowd also loved, even though to me it just looked like he was dressed like every picture of Father John Misty I’ve ever seen. Then he said, “I cannot believe you guys bought tickets to this.” Damn — killing the crowd with laughter drawn from the uncomfortable realization that they may have made a poor decision, monetarily.

He made me laugh out loud many times even though I was trying to have a negative, or, well, let’s say a critical attitude. Seems like he is too funny.

What prompted Trammell’s nightmare question was a discussion of Father John Misty’s “Maybe, Sweet One, You Won’t Have Nightmares Tonight,” a lullaby he wrote for a Late Show With Stephen Colbert segment. “His show is horrible,” Father John Misty explained, adding that he thinks even Stephen Colbert himself would admit it is horrible, which I think maybe is not true. “They do this horrible bit at the end of the show where someone sings him a lullaby, which is so dumb.” His song was cut from the horrible, so dumb segment, for reasons he believes were related to lyrical content. The song focuses mainly on burning a pile of dead birds in a yard and is much better than I’m making it sound; I suggest listening to it if you haven’t already. It is very good.

Trammell brought up FJM’s Grammy nomination for his 2015 release, I Love You, Honeybear, in the “Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package” category. The Recording Academy awarded the nomination even though the deluxe packaging physically warped the vinyl, forcing Sub Pop to issue replacements. “On the most fundamental level it was horrible packaging.” He lost to Jack White. (Of course, he said, “the guy invented the steam engine.”)

The discussion that followed was an analytical, philosophical, nihilistic, cynical jumble of ideas and criticisms familiar to anyone who has listened to an interview with Father John Misty or talked to a man in a bar. It’s difficult to summarize, so here are some things in a bulleted list.

  • “Holy Shit” articulated a question about marriage that he has not yet solved. At this point, he is a horrible husband. Has he gotten better? “No. I don’t believe in progress.”
  • Slavoj Žižek said something about how you have to begin Christian to become Atheist, which I’m sure related to something.
  • Father John Misty grew up on explicitly corrective Christian music (“don’t touch yourself”) and sees his music as corrective.
  • “Judd Apatow is the worst,” which is true.
  • “Characterlessness is the new ideal.”
  • “Everything is false on stage.”
  • Kanye West’s fashion line is bad.
  • Satirical news is very bad.
  • “All truth lies at the heart of violent contradiction.”
  • “Irony is like preparing blowfish, if you fuck it up people are gonna die.”

As a New Yorker Festival group, we watched a clip from Father John Misty’s performance at WXPN’s XPoNential Music Festival in Camden, New Jersey this past July. The set came the day after Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention speech and featured, primarily, a rant about the problem with entertainment: “Stupidity just fucking runs the world, because entertainment is stupid. Do you guys realize that?”

The response to the rant wasn’t great, and on Saturday night FJM admitted it was dumb, sort of, while defending its message. “If it’s going to be subversive, it’s problematic,” he explained, adding “whatever the fuck I do onstage is my show” and making it clear that he didn’t take the money the festival was originally going to pay him, anyway (“30,000 dollars”) — a criticism a lot of people had, as he left the stage only halfway through his set. There were audible gasps from the crowd when he talked about those who complained about his decision to speak instead of sing, describing them as automatons driving home, thoughtlessly listening to music, only to get home and watch TV. Speaking to them, and to us, he said: “You don’t deserve anything. You do not deserve anything.”

Then his chair broke in a comedic moment! Entertainment is “stupid,” yeah right.

The New Yorker Festival 2016 - Father John Misty Talks With Matthew Trammell And Performs Live
CREDIT: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

Something I realized, which I also realize often when reading blog posts, is that it’s hard listening to someone you mostly agree with when they are being so exhausting about it. Damn. I’m willing to adopt a different opinion just to allow myself a reprieve from listening to this one so much! Entertainment is smart? I like Donald Trump? Wish my brain were the internet and my hand was a phone, because that’s what’s good? Anything!!!!!

Oh, then he played “The Memo” and another song that goes, “Some 10-verse, chorus-less diatriiiiibe,” and that was that. It was good.

Al Pacino and Dakota Johnson were there!