On David Berman

In the surrealist worlds that Silver Jews frontman David Berman coaxes us into entering, it smells like beer most of the time, but then there’s a light shower and we’re rewarded with a grandiose view of Virginia, fields and fences all bathed in yellow light. We think of the things in water and the things in the sky. We recall machines and transportation. This is what he gives us. This is what we are invited to receive.

And when we look at David Berman, we can see all those things inside him, and it all just makes sense. In a recent interview for Pitchfork TV, Berman reads “Top 10 Redneck Moments,” and he shows us what we want from him: attention to oversights, cynicism, and quickness. He plays a few songs in front of the camera, balancing fleeting moments of “hamming it up” with a seeming discomfort about the whole thing. And watching these things, I begin to feel like Berman is trying to get at something he didn’t care as much about before.

The evidence becomes clear when you open up the jewel case for their release from early summer, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, which came with an insert of “silver chords” and a booklet of lyrics with chord progressions. So maybe it’s the sobriety, or the way of getting older, but David Berman wants to make music for everyone to listen to. It’s not a novel concept, but there’s something that seems sincere and important about Berman’s mission. There’s something riding on this, and I can’t put my finger on it.

Then I listen to the last part of the interview, and he says it, and I can’t believe that he’s saying it. He’s trying to speak to the young people because there are things he knows that are important. That will help us. Because there is some crisis up the road, and he sees it coming. “I will be your general if you want to be my privates. But first we have to start now, before the crisis.” And we realize that this album is no longer a gift of strange worlds. It is his token, his treaty, and his bid for our trust. And I’m caught between degrees of disillusionment in the world, and my question over his sincerity is only a passing thought, because if there’s anyone I would like to follow, I think I would like to follow David Berman, wherever that would go.

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