Tag Archives: hipster

Father John Misty and the Death of Cool

“Very evil people cannot really be imagined dying.”

Theodor Adorno

father-john-misty-live-oct-670

by Guy Walker

It’s always been the same. Musicians are those veiled effigies we look to for momentary reprieve from being alive. We demand to be entertained, like sticky-fingered children gripping onto lollipops, yelling at the monkey to be funny again. We go to concerts and music festivals with the same gluttonous exigency, herding ourselves around towering stages, gleaming up with glossed-over eyes at the chugging fog machines soaked in red light, anticipating the silhouette of our hero for the evening.

“Distract us from this catastrophe!” we cheer. “Take us on a journey, and make it rhyme!” as we clap our hands and shake our sweaty buttocks to the main chorus. But our love of amusement is nothing new. We’ve always said it. Plato scribed the hedonistic torments of our survival, that we’ve always needed human marionettes, dancing shadows against the light. In the medieval and Renaissance periods, jesters weren’t only used to amuse noblemen. At fairs and markets, they sung songs for the common folk, pulled never-ending ribbons out of hats, told jokes, eased the restless tension of being poor and having little prospects. They made the crushing hysteria of living under a monarch that much more tolerable. Today, we’ve brought Netflix in the bedroom, Youtube channels in our back pocket, and regularly attend concerts with the same intent of escape, soaking ourselves in Red Bull vodkas and MDMA. A blast of serotonin and idol worship—today we are free!

The machinery of entertainment smothers us. The cornfed paradise spreads on. Remember Franz Liszt and the hysterical fan frenzy that ensued when the Hungarian composer and pianist took the stage, now known as Lisztomania. In the mid-19th century, crazed fans would treat Liszt as a greased-up celebrity, making bracelets out of his broken piano strings, fighting over his handkerchiefs, gloves, even locks of his hair, collecting his coffee dregs into little glass vials. One lady resurrected his old cigar butt from the gutter and encased it in a locket surrounded by diamonds. We hoist musicians up on stages so they tower over us. We blind them with coruscating measure, leaving us all in the anonymous pathetic dark. God is dead, so we needed to manufacture new gods.

A century and a half later, the mania has only worsened. For the breed of ghoulish beard-entangled apathy, there is Josh Tillman, or as he is popularly know, Father John Misty. He’s one of the leading figures of the indie rock scene; or the indie folk scene; or folk rock. With songs such as “Bored In The USA,” “I’m Writing A Novel,” “I Went To The Store One Day,” he leads us along the meandering ennui of celebrity libertinage. He exerts great effort to come across as a pessimist, a son to Hermes, to seem deep in thought, tortured, enigmatic, all the usual attributes given to artists and contemplatives. But Tillman is more. He is the direct reincarnation of two classical figures: Julie Andrews twirling between wild dandelions, unable to suppress the libidinal volcano inside her; and Nero playing the fiddle as America falls into an entropic spiral of spectacle and misery, the parody of indifference swelling inside him. Tillman is ravished by the orgiastic features of life, but needs to wear a more putrid pixelated glaze in order to exist. It’s high-definition theater, and he’s caught in his own madness.

Josh Tillman is tall, lean, his face covered in a bushel of perfumed pubic hair. Yes, he may be hideous to look at, but he fashions himself as a mirror to Jim Morrison’s last drunken days in Paris, when he was the most self-indulgent, right before he died in the bathtub with chunks of half-digested Cheerios stuck to his chest hair. His look is a biological mishap—an extended phenotype of hipsterdom—what a nest is to a bird, Josh Tillman is to hipsterdom. His entire personage is a performance, as an aloof misanthrope, like a Dostoyevskian antihero who’s won our pity because he has one or two squabbling virtues left, because we want to see him go mad in front of all of us. His charisma is synthesized glee, like he’s dancing and making jokes so he doesn’t collapse in a puddle of his own drool and beg for forgiveness under a cloud of fireflies. All in all, he is the ideal figure of a cult leader (this is of course what musicians are). Jim Jones, David Koresh, Charles Manson—they were all able to command over their disciples, their screaming fans begging to drink Kool-Aid, piss, buckets of semen, anything to say they were by their leader’s side.

When Josh Tillman dictates over the mud-soaked peasantry from high on his stage, he’s weary of his own power. It’s not that he’s pretentious; it’s more that he’s exhausted from trying to seem pretentious. Under the guise of pubescent narcissism, with his spongey tendrils waving in a burning desert, Tillman makes an appeal to the hysterical crowd of disciples: “Fuck you! I hate entertaining you, and everything it involves. Also, I’m conflicted about my manbun!!” The crowd goes wild. Kids in skinny jeans yell “Hell yeah! I’m cynical too. I haven’t washed my socks for a whole week!” A twenty-something year old with rainbow colored John Lennon glasses turns to his friend, and comments simply, “Rad. He gets it … Here, hit this.” Tillman scowls at the crowd. They’re not getting it. I actually hate all of them, he thinks to himself. At that, young women lose strength in their legs, and faint one by one like dominos, like the gaggles who collapsed during the early Beatles concerts, their 1950’s chastity bursting into wanton cherry-nippled flames, pheromones of spring and dawn collecting into visible clouds above the stage.

In the end, Tillman will go mad. With cardboard cutouts of the Snapchat doggy ears and nose glued to his face, he exclaims to a crowd of invisibles, “I’ve read Norman Mailer! I can quote Nietzsche!! I think about serious matters!!” At the impenetrable silence, he looks out across the wilting cherry blossoms, pulls out his acoustic guitar, and sings a song about canvas shelters. And all the wild animals run far far away.


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The Hipsterdom of Decay

surfer

by Guy Walker

Imagine. You sputter your way north on the PCH in your 1972 VW bus—its teal-colored paint faded just enough, with morsels of ornament-sized rust dazzling the exterior, vintage surf stickers pasted randomly on the back window and bumper like a candid discharge of how authentic you really are. Your sun-baked arm is propped gently out the window, the coruscating morning breeze blowing your highlighted crusty tendrils so they tickle your nipples. You enjoy this, like when you allow a fly to walk along your arm, entangling itself in your arm hair because it secretly feels good. There’s a pretty girl beside you, also with her window down, staring contemplatively out at the drought-ridden hillsides pass by, but mostly she’s just staring at her epitomized reflection in the side-view mirror, her long hair whipping around her sunnies, her laissez-faire sex appeal cropped perfect for an Instagram post. There’s a stack of singlefins tied to the roof. A dog in the backseat. A folded Mexican blanket. A handplane and flippers. Go-Pros so you can document how similar to George Greenough you are. A bag of yerba mate, and an authentic gourd from Argentina. Kurt Vile is singing about his morning walks over the stereo. You have several tattoos blotted haphazardly around your arms and torso—one of them is ironic. You’ve done ayahuasca. And earlier this morning, you completed fifty sun salutations. You’ve made it, the poster child of cool. You’re a surfer and you look homeless. You’ve mimicked the various landmarks of unkemptness, and in doing so, achieved the granule celebrity of surf hipster.

And yet, we know we’re simulacral surf explorers, fabricating a sense of untethered adventure, going on little forays into sunny horizons and then scurrying back home to our assigned parking spaces and IPAs on draught. While every detail of cool is in its place, we still vaguely recognize we’re in a pit of vacuous simulation, feeling that we’ll be caught, that our cover of ‘not caring what others think’ will be exposed as fraudulent. Surf hipsterdom is just the current ephemeral trend, everyone aching to be an individual, to be sought after and unique. So we surf twin fins, homemade alaias, shoot with film, listen to Dick Dale, and mimic the schizophrenic styles of Alex Knost and Robin Kegel, who mimic the likes of Phil Edwards and others, who surfed the way they did because of their heavy boards, because the physics required them to. Edwards—one of the favorites in the history of California surfing—threw all his weight into turning his boards, throwing his hands up in the air just to keep his balance, thus creating his iconic style that many of us copy unnecessarily today. And perhaps I’m critical because I’m as guilty as anyone. I’ve tried my entire adult life to stand out from the rest, to shape my own surfboards, most of which are singlefins with bright abstract resin tints. I wear tattered retro wetsuits that don’t make any practical sense. I’ve grown my hair long and kept some form of hair on my face. It’s a pallid effort to single yourself out from the herd, to declare yourself an individual, until we’re all the same psychedelic cliché, like the tie dye shirts of the 60’s, everyone twirling in unison, crazed that they are a bright light in the universe.

Surf hipsterdom is a hobby for the young who are not that young anymore. We’ve grown up slow, stylizing ourselves as the innovators of nostalgia and not much else. Jay Adams—the idolized skateboarder from the Zephyr Team in Venice Beach—was iconic and celebrated because he was a cute child with long blonde hair, and didn’t know any better. He’s an important figure because he pushed skateboarding to a new level, perhaps without entirely realizing it. But before he died, he was an undesirable figure: inarticulate, uneducated, drug-abused, in and out of prison. To skate like him today, in many circles, is considered rebellious and alternative. It says you don’t care about competitions, you’re more elevated than that. But as far as the momentum of progression and innovation is concerned, it’s elementary and trite—it’s a sweet gesture, but you won’t be taken seriously.

Surfers and skaters today want to rehash everything that once was, digging through archival landfills of fads, resurrecting innovations that are now so old and pretending they’re new. Surfing and skating are unique in this respect. We don’t use smoke signals to communicate—we take pictures of our lunch on Instagram. We don’t wrap our genitals in large leaves and holler at the moon—we wear acid-washed jeans and sing pop songs. We don’t worship a white man with lightning bolts in the clouds—we adulate a woman with a fat ass who sucked a dick on camera. We’ve evolved. But more and more surfers are returning to ancient times, gliding on alaia surfboards—those primitive slabs of wood the Hawaiians surfed a thousand years ago. They walk hand in hand back in time, awing at the romance of nonfunctioning relics.

The hipster as a whole, admits he is merely the resemblance of something desirable. By definition, he is a cold naked body wrapped in a tailored rag of cotton. Maybe a beard too. We scoff at Kylie Jenner for puffing up her lips so she isn’t quite her flat-lipped chubby self, but how many shitty jawlines hide under the beards of hipsters? How many ugly pea-shaped heads take refuge under unwashed man buns? And more so, how many cruelly uninteresting men and women are disguised in torn jean jackets and nose piercings? We hipsters are the product of insecurities and unimaginative fuckery. We’re playing Halloween, dressing up as artists, intellectuals, creative-types, when the vast majority of us are merely shoving along, the dank humidity of life weighing heavily on.

There is something genuinely enjoyable about meandering up a coastline in an old car and a stack of surfboards, checking on various surf spots along the way, hoping to find one all to yourself, to feel like a penniless frontiersman for once. And maybe that authentic want of adventure spills into the contents of our day-to-day, as we try to communicate to others that this is what we do, that we’re carefree and not showered, that we surf waves. Our Instagram filters are vintage and sophisticated, and so is our reality. But a true frontiersman is exploring something new. It’s venturing into the landscape of innovation, without all the paralyzing vanity that wants to come along.