RIP David Berman

Saying “goodbye” to the Rebel Jew of the Silver Jews who instilled a sense of wabi-sabi in many.

The earth has not completed a full rotation since the news that David Berman left this mortal coil reached the general population.

Yesterday evening, I found out the news via my friend Stu. For roughly 30 seconds, I thought it was a cruel joke but genius PR ploy by Drag City on the heels of the Purple Mountains tour.ย  David’s date of death had not been added to his Wikipedia page, which gave me hope despite the Google news panel confirming over and over again– like a grotesque carousel– that he was, and is, dead at 52.

Sam and I were in a bit of a spat at the time, and I could not tell him this news in the middle of a fight. I waited for him to get home to break the news.

When Sam arrived home, we discussed the issues troubling us. He apologized, and I told him it was okay. The tone of my voice– and my history of saying I am okay when I am not okay because I am trying to eventually be okay– told him differently. He asked me “Are you really?”. In truth, I was incredibly drained. Fights always drain both of us, but the most recent news had knocked my feet out from under me– especially as I considered the most likely reality of how David Berman died. My thoughts were working feverishly to answer questions: “Should I let Sam find out on his own? Will he take this as hard as I am? How do I even say this?”.

The Silver Jews have been a part of the identity Sam and I have created together for as long as we have been together, together-ish, and not together in between togetherness. When we had only been together a handful of months, I asked Sam if he would come to a Silver Jews concert with me– the first and only Silver Jews concert either of us would see (One Eyed Jack’s, New Orleans, September 2008). Thank God we went to that show.

The first Silver Jews song I ever heard was “Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed” (likely played by my brother and/or Jay at the back office of Exit/In). It was unique, and at a time, in the summer of 2007, when I was both angry and not taking anything seriously, it was the perfect rebellious, depressive, and generally pissed-off tune at a time I needed it.

The Silver Jews came on my more academic-minded radar when, in December 2007, a 19-year-old rode along with a 23-year-old Matthew Parker while he ran errands in his old Buick or whatever grandpa car that’s huge and cushy. He turned on American Water. I was forever a fan with the first notes of “Smith and Jones”. It had such an impact on me that I remember the moment incredibly clearly.

Me holding a Silver Jews t-shirt my brother gave me. I framed it because it was too big for me to wear, but I loved it so much I wanted to keep it. David Berman created the sketch on the t-shirt. | April 2009

As I moved through different phases of my life, different songs and albums have had different meanings to me. During college, I was pretty pretentious about my love of the Jews. David Berman’s dead pan delivery is not for everyone, and some people downright hate it. Thus, I embraced it. However, I also found respite in Berman’s almost catatonic, at times, delivery of lyrics as– I didn’t know it at the time– I was suffering from unaddressed mental illness.

As time has passed and my own health and mental health has improved, I identify more with The Silver Jews more love(-like?) songs. There are a few in particular that I attach to Sam, and I found out last night, he attaches to me. I suspected this, but it is the first time we have ever discussed it aloud.

The Silver Jews love songs are much more accessible to the average partnership. One thing Sam and I do really well accepting that neither of us is perfect– even to the point that in our wedding vows he acknowledged my need to nap (I am a forreal asshole when I am tired). I do not want to share all of our secrets, but we are messy and complicated at times (something most of you can relate to). David Berman acknowledged this all while performing alongside Cassie, his wife at the time, his bassist and occasional vocalist for the Silver Jews. David Berman provided validation to the wabi-sabi sort of relationship and life Sam and I have, and I believe it makes us all the stronger for it.

I ensured Sam that it was okay again before awkwardly blurting out “So did you hear the bad news!?” (I KNOW, I KNOW- WORST CHOICE OF WORDS BEFORE DELIVERING BAD NEWS). He looked alarmed and said “No, what?”, and I managed to sputter out “David Berman is dead. He was only 52.” He gasped a little and looked hurt, and I felt horrible for inflicting the same horror the Google news carousel inflicted on me. Exhausted from our argument, our eyes both teared up a little as all of the dust settled.









We felt worse considering that Berman likely committed suicide. However, the writing had been on the wall, even in this article from just a month ago. Berman’s latest solo project and album, Purple Mountains, was full of outright depressing lyrics and titles (“All My Happiness is Gone” is pretty on the nose)–despite upbeat instrumentals. He and Cassie were separated (“She’s Making Friends, I’m Turning Stranger“). He was isolating himself. He was no stranger to suicidal thoughts and drug addiction. I, along with many others, wish there was something any of us could have done for him after all he has done for us with his music, his artwork, his poetry, his honesty, and his advocacy for goodness. Although I did not know him, I loved him and cared for him, and I hope that in the end, he knew people loved him. I am taking solace in these lines from his Purple Mountains album:

Have no doubt about it, hon, the dead will do alright,
Go contemplate the evidence and I guarantee you’ll find,
The dead know what they’re doing when they leave this world behind.

Berman’s legacy is one that will live on and probably become larger after his death as people find out how wonderful he was. He was influential to so many and shunned the spotlight and opportunities to profit in favor of more pure versions of his pursuits or entirely different pursuits all together. All the while, he was so vulnerable. I love you, man. Rest easy.

To celebrate his life, visit David Berman’s (on behalf ofย  Purple Mountains) AMA from just a three weeks ago. He also had a personal Reddit account he used for fascinating political discussions. He shared one joke on r/jokes that got downvoted to 0. It was dark and sad as hell, but as he has mentioned in interviews, he used humor and comedy to balance the darkness he felt. He was doing what he could.


If you are feeling suicidal, please call 1-800-273-8255 or chat here. I have called and used the chat before. So please feel no shame. You are not alone. I will tell you, ironically, there is sometimes a wait for someone to chat with someone. If there is, don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend, family-member, or even a stranger. Hell, comment here if you need.

Author: Keelin Billue

Chicago-based writer by way of Alabama, New Orleans, and Nashville. Writes primarily about music, sports (sort of), and the topics that piss people off at work and family holidays.

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