Interview: David Berman of the Silver Jews

"My Morning Jacket--love the way it sounds. . . until you're on the subway, and you can concentrate on what he's saying, and all of a sudden, you're like 'Oh my God, this guy had no idea what he was doing, and he was just hoping to get this stuff by without anyone really noticing.' And he's done a wonderful job of it, because if you don't pay attention, you don't notice these terribly embarrassing things."

There are some things you should know about David Berman, if you've never listened to Silver Jews. Or even if you have. He's a romantic, while at the same time, hyperaware of his consciousness--it's not enough to say "self-conscious," because that connotes a degree of self-pity. It's different than that: he speaks his mind in a direct, unapologetically blunt fashion, quite the opposite of his oft-cryptic approach to writing song lyrics.

This June, the Silver Jews will release the excellent Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea on Drag City--their sixth full-length in two decades. Before that, they're going on a short tour with Israeli trash-rock trio Monotonix, an absurdly perfect pairing Berman describes as "such a wrong thing to do." Also, Berman is a poet and artists with his drawings recently selected as a part of the Dave Eggers curated caption-art show Lots of Things Like This."

A few days after Apexart had the opening reception, I had dinner with David and his wife Cassie, who now plays bass full time for the Silver Jews. I wanted to be a bit antagonistic, but was too smitten by their husband-wife glow.

VV: I was asked to talk to you about a documentary you were involved in.

David Berman: Mmmhmm. What was the documentary?

Cassie Berman: The Silver Jews documentary?


David: It only showed in three cities in America, in like one day.

Cassie: No, it went to South by Southwest, and a traveling little circuit.

David: Well, no one was blown away by it.

What was the gist?

Cassie: He hasn't seen it.

You haven't seen it?

David: A guy I knew, was going around with us in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and it's me going totally off the cuff, to lots of different people, all day long. And obviously, when you do that, its not as circumspective as when you are emailing, or things you half-way believe, or are poorly explaining...I find that to be the worst kind of activity, to be seen in films. It's like kissing babies footage; there were really sweet people that were really surprised that this band was in Israel, because of the tour there. The film is basically of these two shows, and it ends up on Wailing Wall- and apparently, I have an emotional experience where I was crying. And this one guy who wrote about it said to him, crying is porn, it's like his porn.

A reviewer wrote this?

David: Yeah, he was saying that crying is the forbidden; it's the worst thing you can see. Mick Jagger doesn't want you to see him cry; it's the last thing. Unless it's an important time for where a man to cry; I mean, maybe you'd like to see Abraham Lincoln with one tear or something, but I guess I'm kind of a crier. So, I knew if I saw that movie I'd tell him to take it out. But I didn't want to; that's such a wrong thing to do. Kind of like having Monotonix open for you.

When I find something that is the 180 degree wrong idea, then it's right for us. Because no one else likes that, and that's something I can be alone with. That's why I take pleasure in talking about things, spitting out just about anything, the "opposite George theory" of life--because to change your opinion, to change your luck--that's not working for me. It's sort of like having a wife who you know loves certain things that you never want to do. That you know would love that if you just would do that thing--something you hate. Ice skating. Hiking, for me.

Cassie: Camping.

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