Darkness & Cold
(achtung! Warning! this blog post is perhaps just me thinking out loud and getting sentimental, and may therefore be of limited value to anyone else)
I found out yesterday, while walking with a friend in my neighbourhood oasis, Volkspark Friedrichshain, that David Berman, of Silver Jews and Purple Mountains, died from suicide last week.
I brought him up, because my friend and I were talking about going to see some live music, and since I started listening to the Purple Mountains record a couple of weeks ago, this being the first new music David Berman had released in over ten years, I've been crossing my fingers and wishing upon a star that he would add some European tour dates. I mention that excitedly.
And so I find out he's gone.
I have a very personal relationship to his music. It feels like Silver Jews soundtracked my life. Or, at the very least, the thirteen year old stretch of my American Life.
The first man I fell hard for, this was in New York, he was from California, introduced me to them by putting a song on a mixtape. Just the thoughts of mixtapes makes me all gooey inside, I think of how I used to lie on the living room floor (which was painted cobalt blue with yellow stars) in my rat-infested East Village apartment, soaking up every last word and guitar lick, looking for hidden messages (mostly of the professing-my-dying-love-to-you-Victoria-kind).
Mixtapes were like love letters back then. It gives me goose bumps to think about how much time and effort we would put into them! Making little cover drawings and crafting collages to illustrate the audio treasures. What are we doing with all that time now? Insta? Dulling ourselves by endless scrolling and surfing?!
David Berman's death also makes me think of Jeff (my first big 'love'). Where is he now? The bastard totally broke my heart back then, but he also introduced me to music that would change the course of my life. I would love to thank him for that. I would love to know that he's happy somewhere.
With clarity, poetry and humor, David Berman presented the most American of music, filled with beauty and sadness alike. The songs are littered with road trips, sad diners, sour weak coffee. Muscle cars and cowboy hats. Lonesome country roads and hard sad men with few teeth and leathery skins. Bad TV, cold beers and gas stations. Bodies of water. So much water. And I wanna be like water if I can, 'cuz water doesn't give a damn.
When Jeff and I broke up, and I was suffering what we call heartbreak, I don't know how many times I listened to 'Pretty Eyes' from The Natural Bridge album and cried and cried. The words helped me release my sadness somehow.
The elephants are so ashamed of their size, hosing them down, I tell them you got pretty eyes. And: I believe that stars are the headlights of angels, driving from heaven to save us to save us, look in the sky, they are driving from heaven, into our eyes.
And the lines from 'The Wild Kindness' off American Water, has always, always given me hope: I'm gonna shine out in the wild kindness, and spur the sin of giving in.
Later, during an extremely sad and confused period of my American Life -- towards the very end; my beloved New Orleans had been badly battered and bruised by Hurricane Katrina, my circle of friends had been smashed in its aftermath, and scattered across that big beautiful country. It seemed my days in the US of A were coming to an end due to visa problems. Against my will. I hadn't even set foot on the continent of Europe for years. My band had yet again broken up, and my rock'n'roll dreams were fading fast. I had lost my sweet and spacious apartment to the cruel supply and demand philosophy of capitalism. I was in limbo. I felt lonely and loveless.
And then Silver Jews announced a rare tour. Despite having a song called 'New Orleans,' our city wasn't on the list of tour dates. So my friend Celeste and I decided to take a trip, crossing Mississippi and Alabama and into Georgia.
As we drove for hours and hours, past amusement parks that had been twisted and contorted by Katrina a year before, and houses that looked like piles of match sticks, still not cleaned up in the aftermath of the storm, we chain-smoked, listened to the JOOS, Interpol, PJ Harvey and classic rock. We laughed a lot, stopped to piss a lot, and felt care-free and giddy for the first time in a long time.
We checked into a cheap but sweet B&B in Athens, dug through piles of dusty vinyls at some local record shop and then had dinner and drinks before heading to the club well before showtime.
I remembered Celeste saying to me, at some point after we had arrived: Are we the only women here?
And indeed there were very few women in attendance, something that is still puzzling to me.
At some point before the show, David Berman, along with Cassie Berman, Silver Jews' bass player and his wife, and William Tyler, then Silver Jews' guitar player, now very successful solo artist, passed through the club, and Celeste kind of grabbed DB, quite daringly, but at this point we both had several units of liquid courage under our vests, and said: Hey, we drove here all the way from New Orleans to see you! I don't remember his exact response, but it was friendly, probably something like a high five and a smile.
Later, on stage, they played 'New Orleans' and DB dedicated the song, to 'the two ladies who drove here from New Orleans,' and we were ridiculously pleased.
Around the same time, I was able to publish my first short story, in a now-defunct, but then, quite 'creddy' literary magazine called Open City, this magazine's publishing imprint had also released David Berman's sole book of poetry: Actual Air.
To be associated with him was such a fucking honor. Not one of my lines of writing could ever be as good as one of his.
I have never ever seriously thought about ending my life. There has been, maybe one or two instances, in New Orleans, at the darkest time in my life this far, when a thought whirled through my head: Maybe I should just die, because things will never get better.
And just having that thought frightened me.
Because everything changes. The bad times will shift into good times and vice versa. And it's so interesting to learn to flow through it all with more grace. And also, the world is such a breathtakingly beautiful place. Of course it's incredibly sad to take part in its destruction. And of course it's easy to feel helpless and hopeless.
David Berman did such a spectacular job capturing the raw beauty of nature and the sometimes touching, sometimes sad quirks of humanity.
It saddens me greatly, that he couldn't hang on any longer, so to see that the seemingly endless night eventually would turn into a beautiful bright morning with chirping birds and play of light.
It saddens me that suicide rates are on the rise. That depression is on the rise.
I strongly feel that it is one of my tasks in life, to try to change that course.
With the practice I have now, I feel that I have secured a bass line of wellbeing that I can't sink below. And I try to help others achieve that too.