Three days away from his first tour in over ten years and less than a month from the release of his comeback album as Purple Mountains, David Berman is gone. Berman’s longtime label, Drag City, tweeted news of his passing yesterday. Berman led his group Silver Jews from 1994 – 2008, releasing six studio albums over that time including the widely acclaimed American Water. Starting out with collaboration from University of Virginia classmates and Pavement founders, Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, Berman forged his own path. His songs were noted for his wry rhyming couplets whose sharp observations were sometimes masked by loping alt-country pacing. That made the effort of picking them out all the more rewarding for diehard fans, of which there are plenty
Berman famously pulled the plug on his musical endeavors and Silver Jews after one final concert at Cumberland Caverns in Tennessee in January 2009. (This writer had tickets for their Houston show in 2008 that was blown away due to Hurricane Ike). He pretty well stayed off the radar for over ten years. Berman published two books of poetry along the way (Actual Air during his recording days and The Portable February after) and started his personal blog, Menthol Mountains, in 2011. Berman’s discord with his D.C. lobbyist father and bouts with drug use, depression, and attempted suicide are well documented and acknowledged by the artist.
It certainly came as a surprise and a welcome return, when it was announced in early 2019 that Berman was returning with his first album in over a decade under the moniker Purple Mountains. Released last month, the album is frank, funny, and heartbreaking all at the same time, but Berman’s wit remained fully intact. The opening track, ‘That’s Just The Way That I Feel’, openly detailed his lost decade with revealing lines like, “I spent a decade playing chicken with oblivion, day to day I’m neck to neck with giving in.” Maybe the candor was unanticipated, but Berman revealed more of himself in these final days than could have been imagined and maybe that is the gift he left us with. Hopefully, he has found peace at the end of the road.