Father John Misty and rising above the Bleakness
Ideas of a "post-structuralist" or "post-movement" era have been around for decades. The thought that our modern world has become too fragmented and unstable for a single dominant cultural movement to emerge certainly seems more relevant today than ever before. Given this cultural climate, it's especially interesting to that certain powerful ideas still seem to germinate and manifest simultaneously across diverse cultural platforms - often without interaction or direct connection between the adherents.
Which brings me to Joshua Tillman a.k.a. J. Tillman a.k.a. Father John Misty, a young, extremely talented musician with many different names and an extraordinary sophomore album called "I Love You, Honeybear."
The album, according to the artist's own description, is a non-chronological story that covers quite a bit of time in his life. As such, there are some wildly varied ideas and perspectives that appear over the course of the record - sometimes even within one song. But at least to my ear, there is one central theme that emerges throughout the lyrics: the possibility of individual triumph over the bleak fog of postmodern thought.
Not to say that the album is at all "cheery" in a Pollyanna sort of way. We're not talking about the ostrich with its head in the sand... rather an informed and educated glimmer of optimism in response to the strangling, negative intellectual construct that has dominated the "enlightened" world for decades.
From the title track:
But don't ever doubt this
My steadfast conviction
My love you're the one I want to watch the ship go down with ...
Everything is doomed
And nothing will be spared
Oh I love you honeybear
As I mentioned earlier, there are a whole lot of ups and downs over the course of the album but this contrast, the idea of finding some brightness even while staying aware of the reality around us keeps peeking up. It is most clearly expressed within the last two tracks:
Oh, and no one ever really knows you and life is brief
So I've heard, but what's that gotta do with this black hole and me?...
Oh, and love is just an institution based on human frailty
What's your paradise gotta do with Adam and Eve?
Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity
What I fail to see is what that's gotta do with you and me
The final track contains the most straight forward narrative of the entire album, telling the story of meeting his wife which was apparently the main event that introduced some optimism into the cynicism that comes across in "Fear Fun" and parts of "I Love You, Honeybear."
For love to find us of all people
I never thought it'd be so simple
Overall this album is one of the richest I've come across in a very long time. I see some of the ideas emerging across various cultural platforms... song, writing, art, film. One of the earliest references that clicked in my head was in the brilliant "Good Will Hunting." Will had all of the book knowledge, all of the appropriate cynicism but none of the heart. His psychologist, played by Robin Williams, challenged him:
"So if I asked you about art you could give me the skinny on every art book ever written... Michelangelo? You know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling."
For all of the cultural movements that people have tried to give a name to and give life to (you can even find discussion of "post-everything"... c'mon now...), have any of these "posts" really offered a challenge or a counterpoint to the smug negativity that has hung over the academic & critical world since the 20th century?
Maybe it's not impossible for another movement to come to the fore. Maybe the right movement just hasn't come around yet. I, for one, like to think that there's still room.
One last lyric from the album. This is from track two:
"People are boring
But you're something else completely
Let's take our chances...
I haven't hated all the same things
As somebody else since I remember"
In the grand scheme of things today, it's a pretty sweet love song. And maybe that says the most about where we're at.