Father John Misty is one of the most fascinating figures in contemporary pop culture.
The elastic-limbed folk rocker, who will appear at the Orpheum on Sept. 18, has no shortage of people who hate him. Some find him to be a pretentiously self-serious and self-absorbed hipster dweeb. Other people — such as myself — like him precisely because of this. That is, the method commitment of former Fleet Foxes drummer Josh Tillman to play a character that seems to consciously embody some of the genre’s worst clichés in order to deconstruct them entirely.
Tillman himself says the answer is “somewhere in the middle.” But if this actually is some sort of Indie Kaufman performance art, one thing is true: Josh Tillman is the funniest person in the world. His lyrics are often laugh-out-loud funny, Zevonian in their frequent deployment of acerbic zingers. And his videos just amplify it.
Psychedelic, psychosexual and often downright psychotic, Tillman’s videos act as both companions and flights of fancy. They use unhinged chaos to portray his common themes: love, self-loathing, various existential quandaries. And they are, in large part, hysterically funny.
Ahead of his Orpheum stop, we’ve compiled a list of Father John Misty’s finest comedic moments, from the silly to the outright surreal.
“This is Sally Hatchet”
The video for “This is Sally Hatchet,” the eighth track on 2012’s Fear Fun, falls squarely into the “warped, demented chaos” category of Father John Misty videos. In it, a beautiful and mysterious woman takes a bleeding Tillman on a heavily-armed whirlwind adventure. Why bleeding? Because he’s a vacant-eyed pizzeria employee who just sliced his own fingers off! (Also, if anyone knows where to cop a badass military jacket like the one Tillman wears in the video, HMU.)
“The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment”
I Love You, Honeybear is my favorite album, full stop. “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment” is that 2015 record’s fourth track. It finds the titular Tillman painting a portrait of a one-night stand with someone who sounds like a real piece of work. In the video, Tillman plays opposite himself as both sides of this relationship, donning a floppy hat and taking an subtly feminine affectations. Perhaps this is Tillman acknowledging the perceived narcissism that goes with the Father John Misty character. Or maybe he just really liked the 1996 film Multiplicity.
“Total Entertainment Forever”
This Bowie-esque piano rocker is one of Father John Misty’s more star-studded clips. Macaulay Culkin, as Kurt Cobain, is crucified alongside a sax-playing Bill Clinton and, uh, Jon Arbuckle, the guy from Garfield. It’s all a riff on the concept of virtual reality and its ramifications on pacifying humanity, which fits in with the low-key academic undercurrent on the rest of last year’s Pure Comedy. And it also features another famous Tillman(n): Keep an eye out for a cameo by Sean Tillmann, aka Har Mar Superstar.
This year’s God’s Favorite Customer is Tillman’s most personal album yet. It nearly abandons the Father John Misty act entirely, instead focusing on how it’s impacted the real Tillman. “Mr. Tillman” sees the singer having some sort of breakdown, portrayed through his stay in what seems like a Las Vegas hotel stuck in a time loop. Think David Lynch’s version of The Shining. Plus, it pairs dark, surreal images with a song that’s actually one of Tillman’s most upbeat, coasting on a bouncy piano. Unfortunately, Jason Isbell, who has a history of comedic cameos in music videos and is shouted-out in the song, does not appear in the clip.
I have no idea how to describe this one, taken from another track off God’s Favorite Customer. It’s full of surreal animation, which often takes on a sophomoric bent, including people riding flying toilets and a man hugging a giant penis with a face. Occasionally Tillman’s live-action mouth shows up, sometimes in the form of a talking moon or a cigarette smoking ice cream cone. None of this makes any goddamn sense, which is what makes it so funny.
BONUS: “This is America”
Long before Childish Gambino stunned audiences with his video for a song called “This is America,” Father John Misty performed a song called “This is America” on the Adult Swim series Brad Neely’s Harg Nallin’ Sclopio Peepio. Created by cult web animator Brad Neely — the madman behind Baby Cakes and The Professor Brothers — the show ran for just one season. (Apparently Sclopio Peepio was somehow too strange even for Adult Swim.) But in that brief run, it featured Father John Misty singing a song about living in a dumb country, finding dumber ways to die, and *checks notes* Go-GURT.Father John Misty is performing with King Tuff at the Orpheum Theater on Tuesday, Sept. 18.