“Leaving LA,” a new song that Father John Misty played on BBC Radio’s Lauren Laverne show today, is easily the most ambitious single composition he’s ever attempted on record. “A creation myth or a 45: you’re going to need one or the other to survive,” he sings. “Where only the armed or the funny make it out alive.”
Over the 13 minutes of “Leaving LA,” Josh Tillman rewrites and scrutinizes his own myth. The song begins and ends with the songwriter’s 2014 move from La La Land to New Orleans, recasting his escape to the South in apocalyptic terms: deserted streets, dogs running wild away from their masters. In between, Tillman touches on a near-death experience he apparently had as a small child, “Pitchfork bands” that “sound like dollar signs and Amy Grant,” and the reaction he fears his fanbase might have to hearing songs like the one he’s playing: “Some ten-verse, chorusless diatribe plays as they all jump ship, ‘I used to like this guy / But these new songs really kinda make me wanna die.'”
In a brief interview snippet from before he played “Leaving LA,” Tillman revealed that he’s been working on it for the last three years. Googling some lyrics reveals that it is the same long song he played in a much-discussed set at Philadelphia’s Xponetial Fest last year, on the day after Donald Trump’s Republican National Convention address last year, which otherwise consisted mostly of speaking angrily about the state of the world and the numbing power of entertainment. After finishing the song on the BBC today, Tillman opted for laughs instead of bullets as his survival tactic. “Of all the white men with acoustic guitars that you’ve seen come through these gates, that’s gotta take the cake,” he joked with Laverne. “That was the whitest, most acoustic thing you’ve ever seen.” Listen to “Leaving LA” at the BBC’s website.