This one’s particularly hard for me to process.
As you may have noticed, I just reviewed Purple Mountains, the fantastic self-titled debut from David Berman’s new band earlier this week. The album’s only been out for about a month, but it’s already become one of my most listened to albums of the year as well as one of my favorites. I’ve just been listening to it constantly, because the lyrics are so god damn funny and wise and raw, where you know that the person writing them was clearly brilliant but also in a lot of pain (hence, my not-so-subtle review title).
Because the album is so open about David Berman’s depression and self-described failings, it makes everything extra heartbreaking. It’s also heartbreaking because this new album compelled me to go back and listen to all the Silver Jews records, which I think I took for granted for a lot of years. Berman was never the most famous or beloved figure in ’90s rock, but for a certain type of music fan, he was one of the most singular. Revisiting Silver Jews, I keep (unsurprisingly) finding myself being struck by how effortlessly clever and profound Berman’s lyrics are. Which of course is a thing tons of lyricists strive for, but so few pull off as well as Berman did. It’s no wonder he was a published poet in addition to being a rock singer.
I equate Silver Jews with a period in my early 20s when I was listening to a lot of ’90s indie rock, and as a guy more obsessed with lyrics than the average music listener, I couldn’t help but be struck by how easily a Berman line could stick with you. I think of a song like “Trains Across The Sea”, which for a long time I could sing from memory despite the chord progression being extremely simple and unwavering. But I think more than anything, Berman was one of those singers who by singing about his alienation and loneliness, made you feel a little less lonely. I’m out of town right now, so I’m without a car. But I know if I wasn’t, I’d be honking for Berman tonight.