BUT WHAT’S YOUR PARADISE GOT TO DO WITH ADAM AND EVE?
In dark times, it’s only natural that we turn to those closest to us for comfort.
But how do you balance the warmth of human connection against the growing sense of dread gripping the world? Can we really do it without looking over our shoulders? I brought in the new year surrounded by my friends, family, and new fiance, yet WWIII was brewing outside our window. Can we still find pleasure at a micro level, while everything at macro level goes to hell?
This is the tension at the heart of Father John Misty (AKA Josh Tillman)’s 2015 opus, the only semi-ironically titled I Love You, Honeybear.
Much of the lyrical content, the major key arrangements – hell, even the liner notes and album art – all point to Tillman’s highly loved-up state of mind when making this record. Head over heels for his then newly-wed-spouse, Emma. On track after track, but perhaps nowhere more so than on Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins) and album closer I Went to the Store One Day he boldly professes his love.
At times, Tillman’s balladry feels almost myopically smitten, as if he can’t see beyond their bed:
“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,’ and I haven’t left your bed since.”
Before closing Chateau Lobby #4, wondering:
“what are you doing with your whole life?
How about forever?”
And yet elsewhere the record is brimming with social anxieties.
Whether railing against middle class American life on Bored In the USA, the absurdity of the infotainment era on Holy Shit, the irritating linguistic habits of a conceited acquaintance on The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apartment, or even his own character flaws on The Ideal Husband, Tillman has little good to say about anyone or anything beyond his wife.
The title track juxtaposes the cloying term of endearment ‘honeybear’ against a literal apocalypse. Tillman sings:
“Unless we’re naked, getting high on the mattress,
While the global market crashes.
As death fills the streets we’re garden-variety oblivious.
You grab my hand and say in an “I-told-you-so” voice:
“It’s just how we expected it.”
Everything is doomed,
And nothing will be spared.
But I love you, honeybear.”
Beyond the misanthropic sarcasm, there is a distinctly barbed nihilism here. A defiant turning of ones back to a hostile world, honing in on just one person instead. Let the world go to hell, he seems to say; it doesn’t matter so long as we have each other.
And is that what love, friendship, and human companionship is for? A way to deflect our attention away from our certain doom? To stick two fingers up at the apocalypse together?
I don’t agree.
But to be fair, depending on the mood/song that you find Tillman in, he might not either.
While much of his cynicism remains throughout, by the time we reach penultimate track Holy Shit, his view seems to have softened. The relationship is no longer a direct challenge to an explicitly hostile hellscape, but rather an oasis of calm, separate and distinct from a more recognisable (if still absurd) world.
He acknowledges that society seems to be geared towards pointing out its own depressingly transactional nature, but also recognises the fact that this shouldn’t diminish the warmth of true, human affection:
“Oh, and love is just an institution based on human frailty.
But what’s your paradise got to do with Adam and Eve?
Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity.
But what I fail to see is what that’s got to do /
With you and me.”
The album closes with I Went to the Store One Day, a placid, contemplative telling of their chance encounter and a tender imagining of their old age together.
I Love You, Honeybear opens with two lovers jeering at the end of the world. But by the end of its runtime, Tillman can see a future again. A long and tender one, with a world that carries on without him.
So if the world seems cruel and doomed, perhaps you could try turning your focus to your friends and loved ones. Take comfort in their companionship. They may have all the solace you need.
Love, friendship, and the apocalypse.