Back when I was in university, I managed to weasel my way into the Creative Writing program. I had always fancied myself a writer and managed to put together a serviceable portfolio that apparently impressed someone. Nonetheless, I often felt like a fraud in those workshops, even though I sometimes managed to create something by chance that I felt was new and real. Notwithstanding, I met some great people back then, likeminded writers-in-training, and we waxed pretension and separately dreamed of writing the next great novel or poem.
So yeah, I always laugh a little bit when Josh Tillman sings the line: “And I’m writing a novel because it’s never been done before.”
I honestly had never before thought about the word in that way: a bunch of pages bound in a sheaf, crammed with words that, strung together, weave tales of grandeur, angst, sadness, and glory. But it’s true. The whole idea of it was all very new at one point and each piece that has been published since is new its own way. And here is this singer, spouting this brilliant line of verse in a stream of conscious song, getting me thinking about the gall of all writers (or just us wannabes), thinking that we have something new to say to change the world.
Yep. This is how I fell for the music of Father John Misty.
I first perused the songs off “Fear fun”, the debut album under this moniker*, when I read that Tillman had previous performed with Fleet Foxes as their drummer. I started out by watching a few of his videos, which in themselves were a bit bizarre, and I must say that I was quickly hooked. The sound struck me as retro sounding but in a whacked out kind of way and the words were hilarious, especially the closer I listened and the deeper I crawled into the woven stories.
I then caught Father John Misty perform live at two separate festivals in 2012 and 2013, both appearances in support of this debut and found his onstage persona compelling and ridiculous. Tillman has since released three more albums since “Fear fun” and I have seen two more live performances and in that interim, he has honed his sound into something all his own, still keeping his storytelling lyrics intact.
Still, I feel closer to his debut than any of his later work, with “I’m writing a novel” being a tune that I always keep close. It’s jump jivin’ guitar and juke joint piano, old school folk rock and psychedelics and Josh Tillman spouting a nonsensical narrative that oddly makes sense and reads like a pretentious cautionary tale. It’s rock and roll for which to take drugs and imagine new worlds.
“Heidegger and Sartre, drinking poppy tea
I could’ve sworn last night I passed out in my van and now these guys are pouring one for me
I’ll never leave the canyon ’cause I’m surrounded on all sides
By people writing novels and living on amusement rides”
*Josh Tillman had previously recorded under the name J. Tillman but put an end to all that in 2009.
For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.