Father John Misty, the Voice of a Reluctant Generation

Father John Misty (photo by Ana Viott)

I really don’t want to like Father John Misty. The enigmatic folk singer’s beard, skinny jeans, and gravitas punch you in the face with a “hipster Brooklynite” aura. You would expect Misty to gauge the “hoppiness” of craft beer and the quality of self-rolled cigarettes, Nietzsche, and flannel shirts, but he reacts with hostility to those monoliths of indie rock. Irony is one of the many idiosyncrasies that define Father John Misty, for the nom de guerre of one Josh Tillman.

Tillman as Misty presents a priestly presence—a friendly neighborhood pastor willingly welcoming his recurring congregants. His name, however, is steeped in something darker; a cultish religious upbringing left permanent scars on a young Tillman.

“I grew up being told by psychotic adults that I was filled with sin, that my experiences didn’t matter, and that I would die before I reached adulthood because we were living in the end times,” he told Pitchfork magazine last week. “I made a decision as a child that I would never let anyone tell me that I was invalid or inauthentic, or that my experiences were.” In just a few phrases, Father John Misty summarizes the feelings of a generation. Like Misty, many have grown weary of tired parables that hold no relevance in today’s world but have been used to malign and persecute minorities, women, and the LGBT community in recent years. For too long religion has been invalidating livelihoods and experiences, believing that a turn to faith will solve “problems” that aren’t even problems.

In his new song, “Pure Comedy,” Misty exposes the hypocrisy of religion with true sardonic wit:

Oh, their religions are the best
They worship themselves yet they’re totally obsessed
With risen zombies, celestial virgins, magic tricks, these unbelievable outfits
And they get terribly upset
When you question their sacred texts
Written by woman-hating epileptics.

Whether he’s crooning about subprime loans, blatant religious hypocrisy, “bedding” Taylor Swift in an Oculus Rift, or our primal instincts, Father John Misty has become the mouthpiece of a generation that has grown up during the Great Recession, religious oppression of minority groups, overwhelming technology, and a growing fear of just what that technology might do to us.

Every generation wonders about its place in the universe, but in these turbulent times the millennial generation is on the cusp of true adulthood, burdened by student loans and unaffordable housing, living vicariously through music, celebrities, and technology to cope with the looming reality that we are most certainly going to be worse off than our parents’ generation. But it is just that generation that continues to defile us and misdefine us as “lazy” and “narcissistic,” being blamed for living in mom and dad’s basement thanks to a housing situation they themselves destroyed.

Father John Misty is that voice in all millennials that holds both middle fingers up to those who choose to view us in a negative light rather than seeing beyond the cards that we were dealt. We get it—our generation is inundated with technology. We get it—we mindlessly check social media. We get it—you don’t think we have meaningful conversations with our peers anymore. But we understand that we are both addicted to technology and far more wary and terrified of its future impact than others.

These existential thoughts are what keep us up at night: striving to live in a post-racial, post-patriarchal world while simultaneously knowing that our preconceived notions about people come from a more primal place. Misty concurs with this notion, admitting to waking up in cold sweats over “repugnant aspects of what goes on in the male psyche when they are dealing with intimacy.” But it’s the willingness to admit this that fuels some hatred from the Left. “The thing that really disturbs me about the current liberal environment is how eager liberals seem to impress upon you how infrequently they ever have an incorrect thought,” he said in the Pitchfork interview. This moral absolutism is what many believe to have contributed to the rise of the alt-right. There is an unfortunate idea within the Left that strangely agrees with the conservative Christian Right, that a misplaced thought or idea is equitable to a misplaced deed or action. When Misty was a child, his Pentecostal cult taught him “that a sexual thought equaled sexual deed.” On the Left, it seems similarly as though many believe that an immoral thought equals an immoral deed.

Millennials have grown to distrust religious institutions, viewing them as immoral arbitrators, which has in turn led to a vehement backlash from religious institutions themselves. Regardless of how you view this clash, what we do know is that the human experience is something that must be cherished and shared. Despite all of his masculine bravado, Father John Misty wraps up the title track “Pure Comedy” by barely whispering, “I hate to say it, but each other’s all we got.”

Father John Misty’s album Pure Comedy will be released on April 7, 2017.