David Berman (Silver Jews, Purple Mountains) Dead at 52
August 7, 2019 4:35 PM   Subscribe

The beloved poet and singer-songwriter returned this year with a new album and was about to begin touring.
posted by misterbee (61 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ugh. So sad. He was a great songwriter, brilliant phrase-ist, and wonderful poet.
posted by dobbs at 4:52 PM on August 7, 2019


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posted by JimBennett at 4:57 PM on August 7, 2019


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God dammit
posted by dta at 4:59 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Ah fuck.
posted by penduluum at 4:59 PM on August 7, 2019


It's too nice a day to read a novel set in England.

We're within inches of the perfect distance from the sun,
the sky is blueberries and cream,
and the wind is as warm as air from a tire.
Even the headstones in the graveyard
Seem to stand up and say "Hello! My name is..."

It's enough to be sitting here on my porch,
thinking about Kermit Roosevelt,
following the course of an ant,
or walking out into the yard with a cordless phone
to find out she is going to be there tonight

On a day like today, what looks like bad news in the distance
turns out to be something on my contact, carports and white
courtesy phones are spontaneously reappreciated
and random "okay"s ring through the backyards.

This morning I discovered the red tints in cola
when I held a glass of it up to the light
and found an expensive flashlight in the pocket of a winter coat
I was packing away for summer.

It all reminds me of that moment when you take off your sunglasses
after a long drive and realize it's earlier
and lighter out than you had accounted for.

You know what I'm talking about,
and that's the kind of fellowship that's taking place in town, out in
the public spaces. You won't overhear anyone using the words
"dramaturgy" or "state inspection" today. We're too busy getting along.

It occurs to me that the laws are in the regions and the regions are
in the laws, and it feels good to say this, something that I'm almost
sure is true, outside under the sun.

Then to say it again, around friends, in the resonant voice of a
nineteenth-century senator, just for a lark.

There's a shy looking fellow on the courthouse steps, holding up a
placard that says "But, I kinda liked Reagan." His head turns slowly
as a beautiful girl walks by, holding a refrigerated bottle up against
her flushed cheek.

She smiles at me and I allow myself to imagine her walking into
town to buy lotion at a brick pharmacy.
When she gets home she'll apply it with great lingering care before
moving into her parlor to play 78 records and drink gin-and-tonics
beside her homemade altar to James Madison.

In a town of this size, it's certainly possible that I'll be invited over
one night.

In fact I'll bet you something.

Somewhere in the future I am remembering today. I'll bet you
I'm remembering how I walked into the park at five thirty,
my favorite time of day, and how I found two cold pitchers
of just poured beer, sitting there on the bench.

I am remembering how my friend Chip showed up
with a catcher's mask hanging from his belt and how I said

great to see you, sit down, have a beer, how are you,
and how he turned to me with the sunset reflecting off his contacts
and said, wonderful, how are you.
posted by gucci mane at 5:00 PM on August 7, 2019 [27 favorites]


This world is like a roadside inn and we're the guests inside

And death is a black camel that kneels down so we can ride

And when the dying's finally done and the suffering subsides

All the suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind

All the suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind
posted by robotmachine at 5:02 PM on August 7, 2019 [15 favorites]


My friend Ryan wrote this longform article on the Silver Jews.

I like what I know of them and I’d been excited to listen to Purple Mountains. I really wish it was under better circumstances.

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posted by pxe2000 at 5:03 PM on August 7, 2019


there's so much compassion and love for humanity in a song like this. he just released one of the best records of his career. he was about to go on tour. he was gonna record an album in europe with stephen malkmus. he had plans. he seemed excited about the future. how the fuck does this happen.
posted by JimBennett at 5:06 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


I know I've read his words more than heard his music, but I can't think of where I did so. I was a great respecter.

Cool little interview from a month ago.

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posted by rhizome at 5:07 PM on August 7, 2019


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posted by montbrarian at 5:08 PM on August 7, 2019


Well shit.

I'm gonna shine out in the wild kindness
And hold the world to its word
posted by lumpy at 5:13 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


"The light of my life is going out tonight without a flicker of regret." Was just listening to that yesterday with utter admiration.
posted by trbojanglesm at 5:13 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]




Joe Pernice says it was suicide.

Not surprising, but, Fuck.
posted by dobbs at 5:25 PM on August 7, 2019


I did an FPP once on Berman's dad, Doug Berman, who through his political evil, caused his son a great deal of pain. I'm furious Dr. Evil outlived his son.

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posted by zachlipton at 5:26 PM on August 7, 2019 [8 favorites]


I know I've read his words more than heard his music, but I can't think of where I did so.

His book of poetry Actual Air has been stolen permanently borrowed from me twice.
posted by axiom at 5:29 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Good article from July.
posted by dobbs at 5:32 PM on August 7, 2019


I hate that even before someone said it in the thread, my default assumption for "died as he was about to do something hard and visible and complicated" is suicide. I've been there, and I get it, and I wish I didn't.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:34 PM on August 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


What the fuck. And I was just talking about how excited I was about going to see him in Chicago just weeks from now.
posted by dis_integration at 5:35 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


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posted by thivaia at 5:45 PM on August 7, 2019


And you've got that one idea again, the one about dying.

One of these days these days will end.

The dead know what they're doing when they leave this world behind.

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posted by sy at 5:53 PM on August 7, 2019 [6 favorites]


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posted by helloknitty at 5:57 PM on August 7, 2019


I was just listening to the Purple Mountains album the other day and feeling like it wasn't coming from an entirely great place. It's good stuff, but I found the songs about his ex a little on the raw, preoccupied side. It's going to be really hard to listen to it again any time soon now. It's so very sad. It just seemed like he couldn't find peace and was always teetering on the edge.

American Water, the Silver Jews album, is probably one of my all-time favourite records. In the way I appreciate music, I usually don't care too much about the quality of the lyrics. I just want the music to sound good and interesting. But Berman's writing was some of the best and really elevated the music. He was so glib and clever, but could also go heartfelt, joyful, and dark. There are so many verses of his songs that have constantly cycled through my head since the 90s. I live in Austin, and whenever I pass through Dallas I hear:

O Dallas, you shine with an evil light
Don't you know that God stays up all night?
posted by picea at 5:59 PM on August 7, 2019 [5 favorites]


Fuck.
posted by nikaspark at 6:03 PM on August 7, 2019


Berman's dad, Doug Berman, who through his political evil, caused his son a great deal of pain

Oh my god. How awful...

.
posted by sallybrown at 6:07 PM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


Arrrgghhh. I'm devastated. God DAMN it. I'm too upset to even quote his work. Fuck everything.
posted by gwint at 6:11 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


I didn't know his catalog all that well, but Trains Across the Sea is a favorite song. I'm sad.
posted by wordless reply at 6:18 PM on August 7, 2019 [3 favorites]


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posted by droplet at 6:34 PM on August 7, 2019


This one got me hard. American Water was knowing him and knowing that someone else ... I don't know how to finish that. His new single this year had the refrain, "All my happiness is gone" and just, ... I. .. .
posted by jjray at 6:35 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]


Love his mind, spent a lot of nights drinking with friends listening to the Silver Jews.
posted by PHINC at 6:38 PM on August 7, 2019




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posted by lowest east side at 6:58 PM on August 7, 2019


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posted by ghharr at 7:09 PM on August 7, 2019


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posted by fitnr at 7:23 PM on August 7, 2019


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posted by virago at 7:23 PM on August 7, 2019


Sleep on your back and ash in your shoes
And always use the old sense of the words
Your third drink will lead you astray
Wandering down the backstreets of the world
On the last day of your life
Don't forget to die
The things that you do
Will always make your mama cry.

posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:28 PM on August 7, 2019 [2 favorites]


PS zachlipton, I remember your excellent FPP on Dave Berman's execrable father, who is Richard Berman. I work for a newspaper, and we regularly receive astroturf-y op-ed submissions that bear his unmistakable imprint.

Doug Berman is a public radio producer (and a friend of a friend). Nothing I've heard about him leads me to believe that he is a conscienceless spinmeister.

posted by virago at 7:31 PM on August 7, 2019 [8 favorites]


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posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 7:41 PM on August 7, 2019


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posted by amery at 7:49 PM on August 7, 2019


I saw God's shadow on this world
I could not love the world entire
There grew a desert in my mind
I took a hammer to it all
I took a hammer to it all
I saw God's shadow on this world

posted by dobbs at 7:54 PM on August 7, 2019 [1 favorite]




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also fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck
the man had shit to do
posted by es_de_bah at 8:55 PM on August 7, 2019


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We all have shit to do. In light of the rumors about the cause: If you are in pain, please seek help. You are connected to so many people. We care about you. You are not alone and your needs are not a burden. Dying is fucking scary and you don't have to do it yet. Please let the world show you how it can wrap you in love. The MeFi Wiki has a page called ThereIsHelp with resources. Know that the people you leave behind will miss you, no matter how you go. They may or may not understand, depending on their own experience. But the world will miss you.
posted by bilabial at 9:02 PM on August 7, 2019 [14 favorites]


Ugh.

I dunno.

His music could be so dark, but there was always a light shining through.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:42 PM on August 7, 2019


I feel I should say something better than my previous comment, so I'll say this: A person is many things during their life, and David Berman did, in fact, approach perfection occasionally. He was honest and often brave. His kindness and sensitivity were naked. His love for Cassie was emblematic. His struggle with mental health issues and addiction was ultimately tragic but often heroic and, at worst, revelatory, because he told the truth about it.

And when he wasn't dealing in the extremes, David Berman breathed dancing life into the most banal and tired parts of modern minutia and experience. He made you look at the crap in front of you and imagine it from the perspective of an alien, or an animal, or a God, or just some human being with a different set of eyes. He refused to let the world be mundane. His words and songs were a gift in that way. To learn to find a game in the most tedious situation, that's what he taught his fans. We'll always need more of him than we got, but we can still live by the best of his example:


I'm going to shine out in the wild kindness and hold the world to its word.

posted by es_de_bah at 9:47 PM on August 7, 2019 [10 favorites]


Sad news. RIP David Berman.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:45 PM on August 7, 2019


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God damn it. American Water has always been a kind of lodestone to me, and random little snippets from it constantly bubble up from my unconscious. Windex tears roll down the robot's face / he never felt a mother's embrace. Berman was one of the few musicians who I thought was actually a good poet, too, in addition to his mastery of the clever couplet. The new album is really good, but I remember feeling very worried for him when I first gave it a serious listen, there's a lot of very raw and plainly-expressed pain in it. I was really looking

Nights That Won't Happen, from the new album. Here's Berman discussing every song on the album, which is now pretty painful to read.
posted by whir at 11:47 PM on August 7, 2019


Doug Berman is a public radio producer (and a friend of a friend). Nothing I've heard about him leads me to believe that he is a conscienceless spinmeister.

My sincere apologies to Doug Berman for somehow channeling the credits section of Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me into this. Yes, I meant David Berman's father Richard Berman.
posted by zachlipton at 3:44 AM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


My husband is a big David Berman and Silver Jews fan. My first gift to him was a record of American Water (he had all the albums but was getting into listening to records). The first poetry we read together was from Actual Air. Sometimes around the house we sing Smith and Jones Forever to each other. Like jjray above we also listened to the new single and "All my happiness is gone..." and had a long conversation about that. We had been planning to see a show in the upcoming tour.
posted by frobozz at 5:16 AM on August 8, 2019 [2 favorites]


He refused to let the world be mundane.
Perfectly stated, es_de_bah.

This is devastating in ways I can't fully wrap my mind around. I was just emailing with him slightly over a week ago. He was gracious and encouraging. What pointless suffering.
Songs build little rooms in time
and housed within the song's design
is the ghost the host has left behind
to greet and sweep the guest inside
stoke the fire and sing his lines
posted by AndNeverWell at 5:21 AM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


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Yeah, this is a really, really hard one to process. I was going to spend the day listening to Silver Jews music, but... it's too soon.
posted by cottoncandybeard at 6:44 AM on August 8, 2019


I believe that stars are the headlights of angels
driving from heaven to save us to save us
look in the skies
they're driving from heaven into our eyes


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posted by jomato at 6:55 AM on August 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


I think, if you want to do a relisten that isn't just a crying jag, Tanglewood Numbers is the most upbeat of his albums.

I sometimes just let out a "Punks in the beerlight, TOULOUSE LAUTREC" at inappropriate times, just to see the stares.
posted by dis_integration at 7:03 AM on August 8, 2019 [4 favorites]


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oh fuck. i have been listening to Purple Mountains on repeat for weeks.
posted by HumanComplex at 7:12 AM on August 8, 2019


Oh man, this whole Purple Mountains record plays like a suicide note now.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:00 AM on August 8, 2019 [1 favorite]


The Baffler compiles some of the writing he did for them.
posted by rhizome at 1:11 PM on August 8, 2019


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posted by Miss T.Horn at 2:06 PM on August 8, 2019


This is very sad. I encourage everyone to go out and listen to Purple Mountains. It's among his best work.
posted by zeusianfog at 2:38 PM on August 8, 2019 [3 favorites]


god damnit
posted by hototogisu at 2:47 PM on August 8, 2019


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posted by silentbicycle at 8:44 PM on August 8, 2019


shalom
posted by not_on_display at 12:58 PM on August 9, 2019


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