written by: Elisha bennet
The worst part about my love for Father John Misty is that I’ve watched too many interviews to refer to him as Father John Misty. It feels silly, he’s Josh. To everyone else, I’m silly; at least snobbish. But we’re talking about Josh Tillman, who said his take away from fame is "what people love about you probably doesn’t exist." Assumed upon and misinterpreted, Josh isn’t pretentious as much as authentic.
Toiling for eight years under his other pseudonym of J.Tilman, a stylistic compression of his name along with playing in Robin Pecknold's marquee band Fleet Foxes, he absconded from Seattle—and reality—in search of his idiosyncrasies through a trip down the West coast in his van that culminated with a naked climb up a tree while on mushrooms. Seemingly, a fitting trite origin story for purported captain pretension, Father John Misty emerged.
“I created some kind of untenable myth with my J. Tillman persona. It felt like I had created all these distortions around my perception of myself and what I am really getting at with the "Everyman Needs a Companion" thing is that in some ways every man needs this version of himself, this version that exists in his head that he identifies with, that he can live with. And, usually, that version is kind of false or dishonest because we're afraid to live with ourselves and are afraid of what we expect is our true reality so we kind of cultivate this "super" version of ourselves that we can live with.”
In Josh’s head, the math showed authenticity in J.Tillman, too whiny. He added that he would never be fulfilled as an accessory to another’s vision. The realization of himself is what he chooses. To be the snarky, cocksure, droning man that he is. A mushroom filled Mara confrontation in a tree, possessing comfort in himself Josh descends further down the coastline to Los Angeles where he itched to exercise his newfound ethos. Here, he wrote a book which mutates into songs, as detailed in Fear Fun’s ‘I’m Writing a Novel”, while mockingly coping with the inherent theatrics of performance by creating the armor of Father John Misty.
Father John Misty is Josh’s companion, the vessel that he is able to communicate through. Plainly stated, he “never liked the name Joshua, I got tired of J”. Viewing the persona of Father John Misty as an authentic extension of Josh, not a character, endows him with the strength needed to overcome his inner struggles—which is something anyone can identify with. Nothing more than costume, Father John Misty is Josh Tillman and Josh Tillman is Father John Misty.
“Joseph Campbell and The Rolling Stones
Couldn't give me a myth, so I had to write my own
Like I'm hung up on religion, though I know it's a waste
I never liked the name Joshua, I got tired of J
Everyman needs a companion
Someone to console him Like I need you.”
- Josh Tilman’s Every Man Needs a Companion
Too easily is he dismissed as an act or caricature of the guitar guy at the party, Josh’s albums as Father John Misty are each a concept album; difficult to parse without an appendix of his interviews. Fear Fun, a chronicle of a drug-addled playboy culminating in acceptance of a companion in his new persona which plays greatly into I Love You Honeybear’s epic ode to his wife Emma. His most recent album—Pure Comedy—can be taken as preachy, condescending, or dismissive; but doing so would be shallow.
Written at a time in his life where he and Emma became New Orleans' recluses—a form of outpatient rehab from Los Angeles for Josh—the subject matter is metaphysical and personal. Writing it off as liberal pulpit would be missing the message, a message of absolute disgust with contemporary human condition and the acceptance that we suffer through together. Dismissing the introspection as self-indulgent would be to view the album in a vacuum, not taking into context of how he came about to write the album. If you were to think Josh was pandering to the cultural climate you would be missing the greatest part, an authentic expression.
Authenticity has been what makes Father John Misty, not J.Tillman. His live performances are completely reworked to achieve his image of a "rock show." Josh shares himself through the absurd amount of press he does; even dropping into the Father John Misty subreddit for an unannounced and impromptu ask me anything (AMA) that the moderators dismissed as a joke. In summation, Father John Misty represents Josh finally finding himself.