A new song by Father John Misty dropped on the 23rd of January. ‘Pure Comedy’ – also the title of an upcoming album – has attracted a lot of attention in few days since, with its odd and beguiling video currently trending 7th top on YouTube. Once you’ve heard it, this will come as no surprise; it’s the sort of song which, for several reasons, lingers in the mind, demanding repeated listens.
Musically, the song is a kind of unorthodox six-minutes-long ballad, which my dad reckoned resembled some of Elton John’s work in the 1970s; unfortunately, I’m not too familiar with Elton’s back-catalogue so I’m unable to confirm or deny this report. The most prominent – and for two minutes the only – accompaniment to Misty’s powerful voice is the piano. These first two minutes are particularly meandering and enigmatic, with FJM airing various strange musings on the “comedy of man”, such as the “issue” that “half of us are periodically iron-deficient”.
It’s after these two minutes, in my opinion, that the song really begins to come into its own. The arrival of the drums makes the song feel more focussed, and this impression is reinforced by the lyrics. These begin to focus on more distinct themes, with FJM theorising on the human propensity to “start to believe they’re at the centre of anything”, and that some “all-powerful being endowed this horror show with meaning”, before seeming to reflect on the stubbornness of religious fundamentalists.
In the next verse, however, it becomes clear that these lyrics have an alternate meaning with explicit political relevance in Trump’s America. Interspersed with footage of Trump’s inauguration, Misty denounces his supporters as people whom “confusion… somehow makes more sure”, and demands to know “what makes these clowns they idolise so remarkable”. Trump, it is clear, is one of the “new gods” which we “mammals are hell-bent on fashioning”, so that we can “go on being godless animals.”
To me, this section is haunting and resonant. To stumble into one of the corners of the internet where Trump’s supporters are most vocal, whether on YouTube, Twitter or Reddit, is to find vast multitudes of people who genuinely do treat the new President with an ecstatic reverence and devotion. Indeed, the video’s use of appropriated internet memes such as Pepe is an obvious reference to Trump’s eager online army of willing subjects. I see Misty’s lyrics as a lament for humanity’s tragic love for being ruled over, a predilection which is surely to blame for the building up of the authoritarian states responsible for the unimaginable horrors of the 20th century. Our hope surely lies in our equally potent longing for freedom from oppression and the ability to decide our own destinies, as well as our empathy, which will be of paramount importance if we are to ensure the next decade doesn’t prove to be a farcical but equally tragic re-enactment of the 1930s.
The last two minutes of the song are simply stunning. Misty’s lamentations build up into a crescendo after his pointing out of the irony that “their idea of being free is a prison of beliefs, that they never ever have to leave.” The song ends on a note of absolute sincerity of the kind which seems especially potent in the music of Father John, with his propensity to sing from behind several layers of irony. After some final cries of angst regarding the tragic “comedy” of the moment we’re in, FJM reflects quietly, and to devastating effect: “I hate to say it, but each other’s all we got”.
The album ‘Pure Comedy’ is out on April the 7th, and at 75 minutes long is sure to feature more long-winded and idiosyncratic ramblings on various cultural, political and philosophical matters. On paper, this may not sound like the most appealing thing in the world… but, after listening to its title track, I can’t wait.