Personal Soundtrack

24 May

The Song

I’m Writing A Novel by Father John Misty


If you like your tales of surreal benders to come with a biting sense of humor and a soundtrack influenced by artists like Dylan and Creedence, then Father John Misty has a song for you.  “I’m Writing A Novel” is a literate, tongue-in-cheek account of one narrator’s drug- and drink-fueled experiences through a dreamlike version of Los Angeles.

Frontman J. Tillman is the former drummer for Fleet Foxes, and while Father John Misty has a bit of the same rootsy and mystical sound as Foxes, Misty’s self-titled debut album is a distinctly different musical beast.  When describing some of his mindset behind the band, Tillman has said “I like humor and sex and mischief.”  Living up to that billing, Father John Misty is filled with wildly diverse sonic touches and a sharp sense of humor that is totally unique.  Tillman is clearly having a great time getting out from the Hugely Popular Band dynamic of Fleet Foxes and is letting his own voice sound out.  And as songs like “I’m Writing A Novel” indicate, that voice is awesomely weird.

The song’s lyrical accounts of L.A. hop all over the city, stopping at landmarks like Laurel Canyon, Malibu, and West Hollywood, and offer up sarcastic, vivid images of a community of drinks, drugs, dreams, and art.  It could be 2012, or it could be 1969 – the free-wheeling spirit of L.A. in “Novel” is a timeless one.  Lyrics like “I don’t need any new friends, Mama / But I could really use something to do,” or “We could do ayahuasca / Baby if I wasn’t holding all these drinks” are slyly funny and brilliant ways to describe aspects of the unique and surreal land that Los Angeles can sometimes be.  If you’re looking for that kind of L.A., Father John Misty is an excellent host.

The Activity

It’s a little past midday, and the temperature sits comfortably above 80 degrees on another cloudless day in Los Angeles.  Your morning boredom had stirred you to venture out on a hike in the Laurel Canyon area – a decision you’re second-guessing as you find yourself deep within the canyon’s scruffy wilderness without a definite idea of where you’re going or how to get back to your car.  The air hangs heavily in the heat, and occasionally seems to shimmer in sync with the chirping and buzzing of unseen insects.

You didn’t think the heat would be a factor when you first started out, but now that you’re a couple of hours and one big water bottle down, a nagging feeling of wooziness has started to creep in.  You don’t want to pass out from heat stroke all the way out here, so you stop for a moment in a shady part of the gravelly path.  As you catch your breath, the faint sound of music starts up from somewhere farther up the trail.  Straining to listen, you make out a definite guitar tone, jangling along in a catchy melody that you’re instantly drawn to.  Not stopping to wonder if it’s all just in your heat-addled mind, you leave the safety of the shade and head towards the direction of this mysterious sound.  As you round a sharp turn in the path, you come upon a small clearing amid the low-hanging canyon trees, in which sit four long-haired and bearded fellows in varying combinations of jorts, tank-tops, or no shirts at all.  They are all smiling and plugging along on guitars, roughly matching each other as they play the same stomping guitar line.  The term ‘folkish rockish’ floats into your head, stays a bit, and then floats out.

The tallest of the group sees you standing there and stops playing.  He gets up and walks towards you, smiling the whole way.  The rest of the group continues their playing while he crosses the clearing and extends a welcoming hand.  “I’m Father J,” he says, giving you a firm handshake and offering what appears to be a bottle of water with his free hand.  “…but you can call me Misty.”

You take the water bottle thankfully and in your thirsty state, take a healthy drink without hesitation.  It tastes mostly like water, with a bit of a bitter aftertaste.  Whatever, it’s refreshing.  As you hand it back, Misty smiles even wider.  “You wanna take a ride out of here and go to a party?’

It’s probably the heat, but your head is starting to feel more and more  like it’s a bit disconnected from the rest of your body -you figure it would probably be a good idea to take a break from the great outdoors for a bit.  Before you can even finish nodding Yes, Father J has tossed you the water bottle again and shoots off into the brush, shouting “Be right back.”  A throaty roar sounds out from his direction after a few seconds, and shortly thereafter, a vehicle that looks like a beefed-up combination of an ATV and a golf cart comes shooting into the clearing.  Father J is at the wheel, and he nods at you to climb in on the passenger seat beside him.  You hop in, and he takes off through the brush, seemingly plowing through a no-man’s land, but with a distinct sense of purpose.  The blowing wind makes your mouth dry, so you polish off the rest of the water bottle without thinking.  “Great ayahuasca, huh?” Father J yells above the engine and the wind.  You’re confused.  “Aya What?”

Before you can clarify, Father J’s monster kart barrels out of the brush and on to an actual road, skidding into a breakneck left turn immediately upon impact with the pavement.  The road twists down the canyon, passing secluded driveways and discrete address markers indicating the presence of large homes or compounds set back among the brush.  Without warning and without losing speed, Father J pulls another breakneck turn, to the right this time, on to a dirt driveway that wasn’t visible until you were already on it.  The kart careens down this claustrophobic trail for several hundred feet before coming upon the front yard of an enormous canyon home.  Father J skids to a stop and hops out; you try to follow him but realize that your motor skills have been altered a bit.  Taking your time, you get down and stretch out, feeling like if you’re not careful, your feet could leave the ground at any second and you’d be hopelessly airborne.

The sounds of more music and the splashing laughter of a pool party can be heard from the house’s direction, and Father J puts a hand on your shoulder as you walk over.  “There’s a great new group playing tonight, got their first set of songs ready to go,” he says, handing over a neatly rolled J.  “Crosby, Nash, and Stills or something like that.  Here take this, it will calm you down in case things get touchy.”  You take it wordlessly, and as some vaguely familiar music twinkles from the house, you begin to get the distinct feeling that you are very, very far away from the L.A. that you call home.  Oh well, you think, as you continue concentrating on keeping your feet on the ground.  That will be something to deal with when you wake up.  And you trust Misty.


Bonus Father John Misty Track Covering Humor/Sex/Mischief in LA:



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