A long time ago, in a place two neighborhoods away from where I now live, I dreamed of being a music journalist. It didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, but, as I’ve started work on a new book project, it’s been on my mind. So, in an attempt to get back to my roots, I’m starting a new series on this blog: Sunday Songs, where I go in depth about songs that have been on my mind for one reason or another.
A lot of (non-)ink has been spilled on the brilliance of Father John Misty’s recently-released sophomore album, I Love You, Honeybear, and rightfully so. Josh Tillman, the man behind the faux frock, created a masterful persona on his debut, Fear Fun where he spent an album in various rooms in Los Angeles, both taking in and taking shots at the scene. This time around, life got in the way of ironic detachment.
From the start, the thing that struck me about Misty was his inflection, the way to twist words as they came out of his mouth to make a vague phrase seem crystal clear. Take “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” and its opening line for example: The simple way he way he stretches the “Jesus” in “Jesus Christ, girl…” immediately conveys confusion and concern, even before he finishes the thought. In three words, he encapsulates my interactions with several of my favorite people of all time better than I could in 10,000.
Misty also excels at crafting legends. On another track from his debut, “Only Son of the Ladiesman,” he describes the bereft reactions of mourners at a funeral, observing “I swear that man was womankind’s first husband.” It’s the kind of outsized line that calls to mind a myth, the kind of line that could easily have been cut from Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys instead of winding up on a Sub Pop release.
If Fear Fun was about observing others’ feelings, I Love You, Honeybear is about coming to terms with expressing his own. Since his debut was recorded, Misty fell madly in love, and wound up writing an album all about those emotions, while still taking shots at the modern conventions surrounding them.
After more than a handful of listens, the album’s standout track remains “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),”1 Ostensibly his fourth attempt at committing the sentiments contained within to song, the track expresses Misty’s bewilderment and joy that such good fortune has come to shine on him, and how meeting this woman, now his wife, has changed his outlook on things.
The verse that caught my attention, where all of Misty’s charms come together, starts at 1:32 in the video above. Until that point, Misty has been dancing around the song’s point, seemingly making grand statements, only to retract them with the next line, and retract the retraction with the next. (“So bourgeoisie to keep waiting/Dating for twenty years just feels pretty civilian/I’ve never thought that/Ever thought that once/In my whole life/You are my first time”) Mariachi horns and strings swirl their way in and out of the song, seemingly at random.
And then, in that moment at 1:32, Misty recalls his first morning at his now-wife’s home, and the whole of the song comes together as the pretense drops. The horns and strings swell in unison, and backing vocals stop echoing his lines and start a momentum-building “Oh-oh-oh” chant as he sings with an increasing sense of triumph, “First time you let me stay the night despite your own rules/You took off early to go cheat your way through film school/You left a note in your perfect script: ‘Stay as long as you want’/I haven’t left your bed since.”
We’ve all had those moments, the moments where something that seemed like it might be a fling started to seem like an actual relationship. In Misty’s case, it appears to have been the beginning of happily-ever-after.
I recently received my copy of I Love You, Honeybear through Vinyl Me, Please, and it came packaged with a reproduction of the note Misty sings about. As a physical symbol of the emotional crux of the album, it seemed perfect, much like that verse in the song itself.