“If you can’t hold two ideas in your head at the same time, you’re not going to get what I do,” he said in April. He’d picked me up on Second Avenue in a livery cab, for a trip out of town. He had on black stovepipe jeans with a small hole in one knee, brown suède pointy zip-up boots, a black T-shirt, and a gray Lemaire overcoat. (“I don’t like sports, I don’t fix cars, so I just buy clothes,” he said.) He was pretzeled in back, a tall man in a small car. From time to time, he cracked his knuckles. “I try to avoid talking about the perception of me in the press,” he told me. “It creates this feedback loop.”
“I think most peoples’ idea of authenticity is pork pie hats and vests and banjos and whatever else, but real authenticity is just empathy, because everyone views their own experiences as being the golden standard for authenticity. If you can empathize with people and make them feel like what you’re talking about is somehow reflective of their own experiences, then you’ve won their vanity, and thus achieved authenticity.”
This is a quote from Father John Misty’s episode of Pitchfork’s Over/Under series, a series Josh Tillman jokingly referred to as a “twisted game” as he and his wife were asked to rate such concepts as self-control, marriage, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. This was Tillman’s explanation of “authenticity,” and though he never formally “rates” the concept, his answer may outline the biggest problem with Pure Comedy, his third album under the FJM moniker. It’s not necessarily Tillman’s polarizing personality (or character, as some call it). It’s not the album’s excessive 74-minute runtime, or even its questionable sequencing.
Put simply, it’s hard to empathize with someone who’s talking down to you.
Human civilizations have been entertaining themselves in disgusting ways all through human history — I mean, whether it’s lighting Christians on fire, or whatever. We have to consider that maybe there are ways in which we entertain ourselves now that are equally as disturbing. I think that that’s important — to not assume that everything about the way we live is the direct product of progress.
The fact of the matter is, I don’t want that to happen to Taylor Swift. That is the worst thing I can think of; that is so horrible. But again, this plays into progress, where like, the internet was supposed to be this new democracy, a utopia of information where everyone had a voice and we were all interconnected, and we would experience true democracy — and it turned into pornography, followed only by outrage. The tools represent some kind of technological advancement, but if we can’t act like more than angry ecstasy freaks with the most advanced technology in the world, then how much have we really progressed?
And if you don’t think that this virtual reality thing isn’t going to turn into sex with celebrities, then you’re kidding yourself. That face recognition stuff? I mean, there are people working on it right now. It’s absurd. Someone sitting with this headset on, you know? Oh God, it’s just, how many different ways do human beings need to masturbate?
So on the album there are more than a few songs where I’m saying ‘Is this progress? Like, is this really what progress looks like?’