March 16-22, 2006
Music : ArticleSilver Lining
David Berman of the Silver Jews is on a completely different trip.
City Paper: Do you remember the first, worst, strongest reaction to your name?
David Berman: The name "Berman" always reminded me of yellow snow. I didn't like it.
CP: I meant the name "Silver Jews." OK. What challenge does teaching still hold?
DB: I lost a lot of memory over the years, so I'm short on knowledge. But I like to think I might have a little more than a regular portion of wisdom by now.
CP: Since you started the Jews as a sort-of improvisational unit, how is it now that there's such a regular-ol'-band form to what you do? I mean, I remember that you didn't even really like playing out livesave your own poetry readings.
DB: Rollins grew his hair out and found what? He just went back to short hair, well, didn't he? I sat back and watched all these people go through changes. Very few of these Lollapalooza people have excelled after age 30, personally or professionally. Most of them are clowns as adults. Oafs. Painted, wrinkled freaks. The coming decades will be filled with these carcasses. I'm on a completely different trip. What I do, what I'm doing here, is not kid shit.
CP: How much has having your wife, Cassie, with you made playing out possible?
DB: It's too much to discuss. It's unthinkable without her.
CP: Your book, Actual Airso emotionally bold, so rich in its use of historical imagery. How did that come together?
DB: I had a friend who had a little mag called Open City that I used to publish poems in. My friend, Rob Bingnam, had an in at Grove, and was sure he could get my book looked at and seriously considered, since his mother was a part owner of the press. Well if it is "it's who you know," it wasn't back then, because we couldn't get anyone's attention in the poetry department there. After a season or two, Rob decided to start Open City Books and put it out himself.
CP: Everyone seems to think the Jews came into their own with 1998's American Water. Why that record?
DB: It took me four years [before that] to learn how to make the music more interesting. I was new when I started out.
CP: There's a godliness to "There Is a Place"the whole "I saw God's shadow on this world"
DB: where butchers, executioners and funeral directors meet.
CP: I don't mean this to sound coy, cloying or funny: What effect did your suicide attempt have on your writing?
DB: None that I know of, as that day doesn't resonate for me any more than the other horrible things I did in those years. What I've learned since that whole era has re-juiced what I do with more heart. I hope.
CP: So what's your motto then?
DB: Es ist bitter und schlecht wann der rabim ist unrecht!It is bitter and bad when the public is wrong!
Silver Jews play with The Baird Sisters, Tue., March 21, 8 p.m., $13, The Starlight Ballroom, 460 N. Ninth St., 866-468-7619, www.r5productions.com.