Sad days, People.
I really hope you all are taking care of yourselves and your minds.
It’s quite enough that that world is on fire and our culture is imploding on a day to day basis without a beautiful artist taking his own life but that is what happened. Again. The risk of being so sensitive, empathetic and troubled by the struggle that it becomes unbearable is something that many of us have had to reckon with. We fight the fight.
I did not know David Berman well. I didn’t know him at all, really. We spent a couple of very intense hours together in Nashville a few years ago. I came to his music late. Fairly recently. Within the last ten years. Everyone who knows his work and loves it has loved it since the beginning. The mid-nineties when the first three Silver Jews records came out.
I had listened to some of his stuff a few years ago and was very taken with him as a person. I felt we were kindred spirits somehow but he couldn’t hold in what I spend so much energy trying to manage. The inescapable dark weight of existence when the eyes you are looking through feel the futility of it all, yet grab onto the simple habits and charm of humans just trying to get by.
The songs are all touched. He was one of the acute navigators of the darkness using a turn of phrase and mind-altering packets of words to spark light and humor into the slog, into a song, a poem.
Years ago, when I was mildly obsessed with him as a human, I reached out to him in Nashville where he was living. I was doing shows down there and he and his wife came out to one of my shows. I asked him if he would be on the podcast. He said he wouldn’t but he would tell me his story. I think it was the next night or maybe after a show when the two of us drove to a restaurant in his car. It was late. We were two of only a few people there. I ate. He talked. He told the story of himself. His struggle with his truly awful father and his inability to accept or integrate the idea that they could be of the same genetic construction. He talked about his complete paralysis creatively in light of what his father unleashed on the world. What he told me that night was a tale of mythic proportion, almost Greek in nature. He talked of his spiritual search and his struggle to find a way through and a way to conquer or at least make right or correct the sins of his father (you can look him up - Richard Berman - I don’t want to give him the space here).
It was a harrowing emotional tale. Fraught. I could feel his anger and hurt profoundly.
We kept in touch a bit, not much. I hadn’t really thought or heard about him in years and then a new album appeared, ‘Purple Mountain.’ It was pure Berman. Really personal and really tight and really great. It came out like a month ago. I listened to it. It was perfect. It was Berman at his best. It was all there. The darkness being managed by the words, the thoughts, the humor, the pithy, fun tunes anchored in the heaviness.
So, I reached out to the guy I once talked to a long time ago. On July 18th I wrote:
‘The new record is great. if you want to come on the podcast it’s an open invitation.
Three hours later he wrote back:
i wld be happy to do your show
after a little more time has passed
say this winter or spring when ive
had time to reflect on what its been
like to jump back in the pool after
eleven years sequestered inside.
ill give you better material, and be a more charismatic guest, no doubt,
after ive had time to make these necessary psychic adjustments;
i dont want to "show myself" when im still in the
process of making them...
On August 7th he hung himself in Brooklyn. He was 52. He was a beautiful artist. A true poet. Here’s a short one from a while back from one of his two collections of poems that were published.
And the Others
Some find The Light in literature;
Others in fine art,
And some persist in being sure
The Light shines in the heart.
Some find The Light in alcohol;
Some, in the sexual spark;
Some never find The Light at all
And make do with the dark,
And one might guess that these would be
A gloomy lot indeed,
But, no, The Light they never see
They think they do not need.
Rest, David Berman. Rest.
Today on the show I talk to Bashir Salahuddin about GLOW and his two new shows. Great guy. Smart, funny. On Thursday I talk to the amazing character actor Stephen Root. Great talks.