To David Berman
Like a lot of fellow music fans, I was pretty shocked and saddened by the loss of musician David Berman this week.
Berman’s music for most of my life was an elusive one. One that I never truly, fully cracked. He was always one of those secret handshake types of an artist and I felt like I was just missing something.
I had played American Water and Tanglewood Numbers a decent amount at my job as a record store clerk while in college so I wasn’t a total novice. I use to get mad how we would cross-file Silver Jews in our Pavement section. I wasn’t even super familiar with him at that point but I knew he would walk into our record store and see that section and I could almost see his vast disappointment in advance.
For a long time, this was sort of my experience with him; a casual observer and listener. An appreciator but not a devotee. During my peak of concert-going, he became a sort of ghost as he retired Silver Jews.
When I met my girlfriend a year and a half ago, Silver Jews was definitely amongst some of our earliest convos in terms of shared musical interests and obsessions. At this time, his work came back into my musical mind, with a different focus.
It's sort of funny when artists and albums sound different as we get older. Nothing has changed with the actual composition of the music. The listener may have changed, in variety of ways. For me, getting older made David Berman’s music sound better. I finally felt that connection that wasn’t there a decade before.
Flash-forward to this summer when he released his brand new album under the moniker Purple Mountains. This time, there was no doubt or hesitation in terms of my thoughts about the music. It’s one of those albums I loved right away. One that gets better with each listen and with analyzing his lyrics more and more.
Reading about his addictions, attempted suicide attempt, and more recently, the death of his mother and divorce from his long-time partner, you could sense the heartbreak in his words. However, I found an odd positivity amongst the sadness. It felt like witnessing his therapy session.
With the sad news this week, I revisited a recent interview he did with the Kreative Kontrol podcast and you can just hear the sadness, anxiety, and doubts that were in his mind in the wake of his latest release. Coming back to music, something he turned away from, in the face of a daunting amount of truly sad shit. Now in retrospect, it's an even tougher listen.
And with Purple Mountains, his last songs will take on a different meaning. Like countless artists before him that have died before their time, the words will now come to represent something much different. However, I am going to attempt to separate this sad ending away from his work.
The news is still too fresh to process it fully at this point. Even though I would never consider myself in the upper echelon of fans, I still feel a lot from his passing. In a way, sort of discovering something a little later in life and appreciating it in more recently can bring on a whole different set of feelings and emotions.
This wasn’t an artist that I had forgotten about or one that I didn’t care about anymore (not that forgetting or not caring would have made it any less tragic). I was excited to see him in a couple of weeks at his show in Brooklyn. With my girlfriend. The person who is the upper echelon. The person who truly reopened that door for me.
I’m sad that it won’t happen now. I’m sad we won’t get more music from him. It’s tragic in a lot of ways. And jesus, he definitely went through a fair amount of terrible stuff in his life.
And while I’m sad, I am happy that moment finally came with me and David Berman. I am looking forward to a lifetime of revisiting his work and words now. I'm happy to finally say that I am a fan.
Rest easy David.
“Now people are good and people are bad
And I'm never sure which one I am
So come in out of the storm
What you need is an imitation of home, alright”
“What if life is just some hard equation
on a chalkboard in a science class for ghosts
You can live again
but you'll have to die twice in the end
in the end/ we'll meet again”
“I want to wander through the night
As a figure in the distance even to my own eye
Have you ever rented a room
Have you ever even rented a room”
“An anchor lets you see the river move
But now that your evil dreams came true
There on your face
A row of teeth he'll come to replace”
“I love to see a rainbow from a garden hose
Lit up like the blood of a centerfold
I love the city and the city rain
Suburban kids with biblical names”
“As a way of getting in touch with my origins
every night I set the alarm clock
for the time I was born so that waking up
becomes a historical reenactment and the first thing I do”