The summer of 2019 has been filled with inner turmoil and a return to a depressive state that I haven’t felt in some time. I immediately retreated into a pattern of cleansing abstinence, a trick that I learned in my younger days when I was stronger and able to fool myself that the experience of depression somehow shaped a man, preparing him for more battles of the mind in the future.
But I’m older now. And with each passing year the folly of life becomes more apparent, along with the realization that I’m past the halfway mark. This is the downhill, the point where you begin to pick up steam, only to realize that the caliper brakes have become corroded over time. Life will end in an abrupt crash and not from a slow and steady reduction of speed that affords you the time to reflect on and repair those things you should have addressed before cresting the hill. In other words, I may have become too old and weak to keep fighting depression like this.
My summer of discontent began as a manifestation of personal doubt, professional tribulations and a natural self-loathing that comes from recognizing there’s very little on this planet that requires my involvement. Of course, America’s current political climate only added to the mix, providing an endless brickwall of sonic garbage for both ears, left ‘n right. The words “I want to die where the presidency died!” have become more than just a hipster reference about some drug-fueled indie-rock poet’s bad night, it became a clever suicide note that more people could consider leaving.
Around the same time, I began to think about David Berman. I’d like to believe that it was more than just a passing coincidence–after all, he’d been “retired” and out of the public eye for a decade and I’d heard no hint of his planned return. It was more about, “I wonder how he’s doing,” picturing him disheveled with too-big spectacles, lounging in a chair smoking and reading a book. I never met the man, but I projected enough to think that he resembled an old college roommate of mine, also a depressive sort. It’s amazing how we all seem to find each other with our sad fuck pheromones.
That’s part of it, I guess; the idea that if we all just channel the remaining light we have left that somehow we’ll have enough clarity to make it through the dark times. Then you learn that someone has fallen off and you realize the limitations of your mind’s own illumination.
Somewhere deep within the GLONO archives are boxes and boxes of VHS tapes. Throughout much of our teens and all of our 20s, Jake had a video camera and for long periods during those years, he seemed to video everything. Sometimes it was events in our lives, like graduations or birthday parties. Sometimes it was us being creative by making music videos of ourselves singing to The Charlatans. Sometimes--and this was a LOT of the time--it was just us sitting around his mom’s house or driving our friend Pat’s convertible (called The Soft Machine, natch) around our home town. Once, we climbed the fence surrounding an abandoned drive-in movie theater and Jake climbed to the very top of the giant outdoor screen. We did this a lot. We were bored in the midwest and a little infatuated with ourselves. It was cool and unique. It was before we all had a camera in our pockets. It was before selfie culture.
I think David Berman also has a bunch of these boxes in his basement. I think this video might be from one of the boxes way in the back. The tape holding the top closed is getting brittle and has pulled up a little from the surface of the two flaps holding the box closed. I wonder if he ever makes stop-action videos with his old Star Wars figures? We should compare notes.
Purple Mountains "All My Happiness is Gone" (Official Music Video)
Film by Brent Stewart and Matt Boyd. From Purple Mountains, due July 12 on Drag City. Single out now.
Jeez, has it really been ten years since David Berman pulled the plug on the Silver Jews? I guess it has. Wow.
Well he’s back and just as twisted as ever. The fact that one of the greatest lyricists in rock and roll spends the first two minutes of his public reintroduction strumming and humming wordlessly is quite a trick. I was fooled on first listen.
Spoiler: Once the song kicks in it’s as good as anything he’s ever done. Over a melody as poppy as “I Melt with You” by Modern English, Berman explores the idea of aging in a world where “the fear’s so strong it leaves you gasping.”
Friends are warmer than gold when you’re old
And keeping them is harder than you might suppose
Lately, I tend to make strangers wherever I go
Some of them were once people I was happy to know
As a fellow sufferer of the middle-aged-white-guy blues I can vouch for the accuracy of this sentiment.
I guess I am moving over to another category. Screenwriting or Muckraking. I’ve got to move on. Can’t be like all the careerists doncha know. I’m forty two and I know what to do. I’m a writer, see?
Cassie is taking it the hardest. She’s a fan and a player but she sees how happy i am with the decision. I always said we would stop before we got bad. If I continue to record I might accidentally write the answer song to Shiny Happy People. What, you thought I was going to hang on to the bitter end like Marybeth Hamilton?
Billboard authenticated the post with Berman’s publicist. Sad news, but do you believe him? Who’s more likely to stop making music: Berman or Ryan Adams?
“What’s with all the handsome grandsons in these rock band magazines?” David Berman asks on “Strange Victory Strange Defeat,” one of the tracks from Silver Jews‘ latest Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea. “What have they done with the fat ones? The bald and goatee’d?”
Berman is an astute observer, and he probably reached this question while perusing through a Rolling Stone, looking for any kind of acknowledgement of his presence but only finding articles on artists that are half his age and an even lesser degree of talent.
So when “Strange Victory Strange Defeat” came up during The Joos’ set in Iowa City last Thursday night, I raised my beer and gave Dave a shout for our mutual middle-age solidarity.