Chianti and God's Favorite Customer
Or, “How dark comedy and beautiful depth create Padre Giovanni Misty”
Pull the cork, Cue the music
How does one define dark comedy or “gallows humor”? Is it laughing at your own pain? Is it taking a serious subject like: violence, or drug use, or mental instability and finding the silly side of it? Or is it like the obnoxious Supreme Court definition of “porn”: you know it when you see it? To me it is all of the above.
Josh Tillman, aka Father John Misty, aka J. Tillman, aka my soul brother from another mother (I might have made that up… I’ve never met the man so…) comes into his 4th studio album, “God’s Favorite Customer”, with a personal touch; something that was missing on a previous album, “Pure Comedy”. Missing, in the sense that “Pure Comedy” was so much more about the world around him at that time. Coming out shortly after we, on a societal level, had been dropped into a world post-election of Trump as president. Talk about creating a dark comedy…
The album begins with “Hangout at the Gallows,” and acts as a thesis statement; First demonstrating that when the sun rises so does Noah and his world ending flood. And the only person to ask about it is… Jesus, himself. The lyrics continue in similar fashion:
Whose bright idea was it to sharpen the knives? Just twenty minutes 'fore the boat capsizes. If you want an answer, it's anybody's guess. I'm treading water as I bleed to death.
This sets the tone for the whole album. It ping-pongs back and forth across the tracks; between the super serious mental health issues and the moments of clarity that J. Till-money seems to be experiencing. Put into a narrative, this album is that of man struggling trying to find his place in a dark world that he doesn’t want to be in, his companion and “muse” who is also struggling to help him find his way while retaining her identity her self-worth, and her love for him, and the humor of all this bullshit that exist today. “Hangout at the Gallows” tries to setup this idea that we define others by these base ideas “your politics” or “your religion”. And almost challenges this person he’s talking to:
Oh you want to hang out at the gallows… well you better get up pretty early ‘cause they do, if you think you’re gonna be able to hang with them.
We move into “Mr. Tillman” from here; the first single from the album, whatever that is worth these days. It’s a comical look at the pain he may or may not have inflicted on a poor hotel concierge during a long stint in a hotel (oddly this a dream of mine after hearing how many of my music heroes holed up in hotels and turn out great albums). It is there to lighten the load for other songs to come (I’m talking about you, “The Palace”) and to reinforce the idea of balance.
In my (expert?) opinion, “Just Dumb Enough to Try” is probably the most out of place track. Not in its lyrics or tone or anything. It just doesn’t fit between “Mr. Tillman” and “Please Don’t Die” This would have worked better to me later in the album, when he seeks redemption from his companion, his muse. Because that is what this song is about; he wants her to stay and that he is going to do better. Then again, as I write this, maybe that is the point… he makes these grand gestures while also boasting about how much of ladies’ man he is, and the goes on to fail in the coming tracks.
“Date Night” plays into this braggadocio. Basically, how fucking cool he is and all this shit, but it’s all reactionary to this new dating world that he attempts while separated. Spend some time in Los Angeles, or around anyone who thinks they’re a fucking big shot and you’ll hear similar lines;
Come on, I bet you know most of my friends, They're some real exclusive dudes, From just around the bend, They're playing demos, Oh, they're wearing Dries
“Please Don’t Die” is one of two songs on this album that pass back and forth between narrators; between J. Till-dog and “The Companion” (which I assume is his wife, but for some reason want to keep saying companion). He’s on a bender, she is pleading with him to pull it together because of;
All these pointless benders, with reptilian strangers
She pleads that he is everything to her. All the while he is self-aware but helpless in a way, helpless to do anything about the state he continuously finds himself in. On a personal note, the lines
Oh my god, you're so naïve, you'll leave this world in a drunken heave, who'll make the arrangements, baby, them or me?
Then we come to “The Palace”. A despondent tune. Beautiful piano and vocals that have a clear space to them start the track; you can feel the “solitude,” for lack of a better term. The song slowly swells from there; up right bass, classical guitar, strings, and some winds. It is one of the most direct song in terms of imagery. The song slowly turns to toward the realization that he knows he is at fault for everything and he realizes how in over [his] head he is, and at the end of the day, he needs her in order to be complete.
Then, like a bolt of fucking lightning, “Disappointing Diamonds…”! Slamming piano, and drums. To pick the whole album back up with some of the strangest metaphors ever to describe perfect love.
An oil tankard at sea, this love’s contaminated me.
The idea that love doesn’t have to be perfect or even this pretty “The Beatles” version of love, in fact, this fast 2 minute and 23 second song, answers its own questions:
Does everybody have to be the greatest story ever told?
Fuck No! I didn’t ever think I could describe a song as rhetorical, but this is it, baby!
Then we come back down again, into the title track. J. finds himself lost again. I almost feel like this song is a flash back. Like “Disappointing Diamonds…” is this triumphant success and they’re back together, and this is a moment where he recounts the time when he was most lost and drove him to go back to the hotel and send that text to her phone saying he was ready to come home, in “The Palace”. This is a fascinating song about asking for answers from a deity that he swore off long ago; when he was “God’s Favorite Customer”. When I think about the song title, a question comes to mind; How many times have you said to ‘God’, “Help me out here and I’ll give you X, Y, or Z?”
“The Songwriter” switches the voice back to Emma Tillman, turning the tables on J. Tillman and how much he has exposed of their life together and exposing her so much to the public. Is this writing an act of redemption or is this a plea for forgiveness by J? Are they different things? Truly one of the most somber tracks.
“We're Only People (And There's Not Much Anyone Can Do About That)” brings this album full circle. This album, and all his previous albums, spend so much time pontificating the “human condition,” and the final point that it comes to is;
We’re only people
and that is basically all that we can be. We’re just going to do all these things and… fuck it… to err is to be human… What the fuck?! This the dark comedy of it all; people are just going to be people, and there is nothing we can do about it.
The line to cap off this whole Oscar Wilde wet dream of an idea that is this album and its dark comedy sensibility is:
I think the end of it all may look a lot like the beginning.
Chianti… Once Chianti was considered a cheap, straw basket cradled red wine that only went with Italian food in a mom-and-pop Italian restaurant; nothing you would take home and show off to family and friends. These days, with this region that has history that dates back multiple millennia, this idea couldn’t be further from the truth.
Located in what is technically “central” Italy, or Tuscany as some might call it, Chianti is probably the known wine region from Italy as well as its trademark “Black Rooster” or “Gallo Nero” symbol. Isn’t foreshadowing fun… It is an expansive land that stretches from the sea and far inland, as well as running long latitudinally. And like most wine regions it has its regulations; it must contain at least 80% Sangiovese with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and other less know varietals that are allowed to be blended. There are also different aging requirements that lead to determining the different quality levels (the basic Chianti, Chianti Classico, and Chianti Classico Riserva).
Narrowing down the flavors of Chianti isn’t hard, but it isn’t easy either. It is easy to say things like: red fruits like sour cherry, and herbs like oregano, game/meat like salami but that isn’t fair to the wines. That is almost just naming what goes into Italian food. Which, is not to say, that it’s wrong. There are very strong arguments to be made that wine styles develop to meet their surroundings; very nature/nurture. “What grows together goes together.” There is more to Chianti. From the packaging to the aroma, to the way it hits the palate, to the way you think about it. It’s got acid, it’s got tannin, it’s got minerality like other red wines but this wine, has its own acid and its own tannin and its own minerality.
The intense tannins upfront are not unlike “Hangout at the Gallows.” They are big and swell in the mouth and stick with you. Then before you know it, this acid shows up, (Mr. Tillman) to start balancing the ledger in your mouth; the “palate ledger” if you will. Then the focus shifts to the drying in the back of your mouth, “Just Dumb Enough to Try”. Then the red fruit shows up dancing and skippin’ around with his buddy, acid, “Date Night”. Then Chianti lingers around, keeping you thinking about what you just tasted, or what lasting impressions it made on you, “Please Don’t Die” and “The Palace”. The cycle continues on and on as you drink through this magnificent bottle; every sip a symphony! Though, that might be an exaggeration and I also don’t recommend drinking a whole bottle of wine in the thirty-eight-minute run time that this album is… unless you’re a professional like myself.
And this is how we discover Padre Giovanni Misty. Not by being blackout drunk, rather, realizing these factors that play together. The Gallow Nero and the gallows humor, the punchy piano of “Disappointing Diamonds…” and the punchy fruit and acid, the dark tannins and earthy qualities of both the wine, and the record. A wine, and a man, still misunderstood or just dismissed by the populous at large; Padre Giovanni Misty.
I didn’t set out on this post, my first post, saying: “I’m going to connect these two things.” No, it was a feeling; something internal. In the same way that you sometimes cannot define dark comedy or what that beautiful intrinsic thing about Chianti is. This is something I encourage you to do; go out and find pairings, and tell me about them. Thank you for reading or watching this. Please continue to join me on this weird journey as we discover… something…
Really have to work on that sign off…