Remembering David Berman

David Berman in Nashville in 2005. Michael Schmelling

Here is an excerpt from another “profile of courage” that appeared in The New York Times, in this instance written by . To read the complete article as well as others, please click here.

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This past spring, my oldest friend was hurting. I didn’t know how badly. I only knew that in late-night emails, he would spill forth with relentless self-doubt and anxious solitude, of torpor and bad sleep. Comfort came rarely. I’m thankful that he found some, as did many others, in the music of David Berman, a troubled but unflinching songwriter and poet bittersweetly well suited to offer understanding to those at risk. “I feel like David was a fireman who was going into the burning building to report back and explain what it felt like to be in the middle of that fire,” said his wife and former bandmate, Cassie Berman. For my friend, those reports were immediately useful. “Berman’s channeling his suffering into creative output,” he wrote to me about the most recent songs he’d heard, though he could’ve been referring to any of Berman’s work. “And he’s managing to stay connected to people, and funny. I’m appreciating the brain scramble.”

Sadness and spiritual longing may have been the emotional pedal tones of Berman’s music, which had its genesis in the same late-’80s University of Virginia and then the Hoboken-area social milieu that helped birth the indie-rock touchstone Pavement — early on, Berman’s band Silver Jews was often erroneously regarded as an offshoot of that group — but they were far from the only ones. Silver Jews’ loping, increasingly country-leaning songs were mystical, whimsical and funny, even at their most bleakly existential. Actually, that’s when they were funniest. Delivered in Berman’s warm barroom drawl, the line “I am the trick my mother played on the world,” from “Send in the Clouds,” somehow splits the difference between Nietzsche and Rodney Dangerfield. And as befits a writer who published a well-regarded collection of poetry in 1999, “Actual Air,” Berman, a slender, scruffily bearded soul who loved his Judaism and Johnny Paycheck, could craft images of bleary-eyed grace. His song “Random Rules” was a favorite of my friend: “I asked a painter why the roads are colored black/He said, ‘Steve, it’s because people leave and no highway will bring them back.’” As Berman put it in his poem “Self-Portrait at 28,” “I am trying to get at something/And I want to talk very plainly to you/So that we are both comforted by the honesty.”

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

David Marchese is a staff writer and the Talk columnist for the magazine.

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