Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER
When Father John Misty took the River Stage at WXPN’s XPoNential Music Festival last night it became immediately apparent that wasn’t going to deliver a conventional set of pastoral folk rock ballads for an adoring crowd of dad rockers in khaki cargo shorts. “What the fuck is going on?!” he bellowed, refusing the guitar a roadie tried to hand to him. The bearded troubadour glided right past his mic stand with a long, lanky stride, and with a lit cigarette smoking between his fingers perched himself on a sound monitor, poised to confront the crowd. This was not the time for hymns. The pastor was about to preach.
American democracy has demonstrably devolved into naked fascism and raw farce, he said, and he could not and would not fiddle while Rome burned. No, he came to talk about despair. It was, he said, the only reasonable response to this moment, even if it was a “less sexy festival look.”
“Some people [came] to get some brief diversion from the heaviness of politics,” he noted, before chiding their complacency, “do you people realize we have an entertaining tyrant happening right now?”
“I am deeply off script right now,” he said, refusing to accede to the fans waiting anxiously for him to launch into his first song. “Are we just supposed to have a blues chili-off right now, and just wait for someone hilarious to say something hilarious that makes us feel better about it for a second? Do we think that our hilarious tyrant is going to be met with a hilarious revolution that is won by hilarious revolutionaries, and the whole thing is going to be like entertaining as fuck the whole time?”
Then Misty’s anger seemed to give way to disappointment of the profound and existential variety. “I always thought that it was gonna look way more sophisticated than this when fucking evil happened, when the collective consciousness was so numb, and so fucking sated, and so gorged on entertainment. I expected a less cliche evil. It’s not even good writing.”
Then Father John started-and-stopped his way through a new song that took to task his own prominent position in the entertainment industrial complex that long ago replaced religion as the opiate of the masses. He then honored a request for Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On A Wire” before surrendering the pulpit prematurely and exiting stage left.
The online response was massive and immediate. Dozens of concert-goers logged online to Tweet and comment on articles that posted on blogs and social media in near-realtime. “I get his eccentric nature, but that was terrible… Hey dipshit, [entertaining is your] freakin’ job! Get a real job and stop wasting my time!,” said one disappointed fan. “What a douche,” said another. “To come at everyone complaining is retarded, cus they paid to see a full set of father John misty playing music, not a 10 minute standup routine …. I would be pissed off too. Also no one gives a flying fuck about his life views and political stance… The only thing people care about is his music aka the only thing he is known for.” All of which only served to prove his point.
Art isn’t always comfortable. It’s not always fun. Sometimes it reveals inconvenient truths. Sometimes it’s brutally ugly, and sometimes it makes you squirm. Sometimes it’s a trainwreck from which you can’t bear to look away. Sometimes it’s a buzzkill. You should expect the best artists to sometimes use their platform to challenge you to think about or feel things you might not feel like thinking about or feeling right now. Because that is what true artists do. — JOSH PELTA-HELLER