In Josh Tillman’s song “Leaving LA” off his 2017 album Pure Comedy, the third album under his stage name Father John Misty, Tillman spends ten verses singing about his problems with LA culture and his grown distain for a place he once idolized. Having spent the last half of the decade writing hits for big names in the music industry such as Beyoncé, Post Malone, and Lady Gaga, by the time he wrote this ballad he had grown tired of the city and its culture. He sets up the song by telling about his house in the Hollywood Hills and how it could collapse with the inevitable “big one” earthquake. The first critique of the “L.A. Phonies” comes at the end of the first verse as he plans to leave the city “under the gaze of billboard queens; five-foot chicks with parted lips selling sweatshop jeans” as he paints the skyline covered of nothing but advertisements of artificial people selling cheap products, a much more pessimistic view of the city than he used to have.
As he states in verse 5, “I dreamt of garnering all rave reviews” and wishing people would talk about him by saying “He’s a national treasure now, and here’s the proof; In the form of his major label debut”. He used to dream of the fame from the city but was not expecting the exploitive reality that came with it. In this reality, he is only as good as his first album debut numbers and he becomes “a little less human with each release” as the city changes him and doesn’t want him for him, but only the money that can be made off him. The next verse goes back to his present in Los Angeles, where he is making money through music and is successful yet wonders why he is unhappy. He comes to the conclusion that his stage persona is barely himself anymore and is being controlled and crafted by others in the industry. This leads him to reflect on his old days in the city, following the common path of many aspiring artists who want to make it in Los Angeles as he is “washing dishes, playing drums, and getting by”, meaning he is working at a restaurant and playing gigs on the side to scrape by as successful in the city. Yet even though he talks about playing the drums to get by, he states he true passion is with singing and the vocals.
The final verse of the song takes us back to the present once again. He readies to leave the city on New Year’s day at 6 in the morning. As he stands on Sunset Boulevard, he is reminded of the end of the world due to how empty it is. However it is in that moment that it hits to him as he is about to leave the city that the issues he’s trying to escape are within, and even though the city and the music industry caused them, they will not disappear just by walking away from it all. Tillman’s examination of the self-centered LA lifestyle features a unique perspective coming from an artist who has been hurt by the city. By telling his issues and tale in a nearly 15 minute song with no chorus, he makes a song that the city cannot profit off of on radio, unlike his previous songs he’s written for major musicians.