Tag Archives: David Berman

New Bill Callahan and Bonnie Prince Billy: The Wild Kindness (ft. Cassie Berman)

Video: Bill Callahan & Bonnie Prince Billy “The Wild Kindness” (ft. Cassie Berman)

Bill Callahan & Bonnie Prince Billy "The Wild Kindness (feat. Cassie Berman)" (Official Music Video)

Directed by Ben Berman. Single out now on Drag City.

It’s David Berman week, apparently. Yesterday, we featured the video for a song by a member of what was supposed to be Berman’s touring incarnation of Purple Mountains, and today we have a cover of a Silver Jews classic by his Drag City labelmates and his widow.

Bill Callahan and Will Oldham have been releasing covers of classic tunes throughout the pandemic. My favorite of these has been their version of Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” but this one’s pretty good too.

They recruited an army of singers for it. In addition to Cassie Berman, they’ve also got Elisa Ambrogio, Meg Baird, Ben Chasny, Bill MacKay, Haley Fohr, David Grubbs, Cory Hanson, Emmett Kelly, Matt Kinsey, Sean O’Hagan, David Pajo, Todd Rittmann, Alasdair Roberts, Matt Sweeney, Mick Turner, George Xylouris, Azita Youssefi. That’s like half the Drag City roster!

Callahan says, “The infrastructure of this song should set an example to politicians of all type—everybody sings of wild kindness.”

Not sure it can hold a candle to the original but it was probably cathartic to record and maybe even fun. The video is hilariously silly.

Bill Callahan: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.
Bonnie Prince Billy: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Continue reading New Bill Callahan and Bonnie Prince Billy: The Wild Kindness (ft. Cassie Berman)

New Cassandra Jenkins video: Ambiguous Norway

Video: Cassandra Jenkins – “Ambiguous Norway”

From An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, out now on Ba Da Bing.

It’s been a while since an album hit me this hard this quickly. I hadn’t heard of Cassandra Jenkins before Friday, the day An Overview on Phenomenal Nature was released, but I’ve been listening nonstop since then.

The album’s short. Seven songs totaling under 32 minutes and the last song is a seven-minute instrumental. So every moment is important.

“Ambiguous Norway” is near the end at track five, but it was the first Cassandra Jenkins song I heard. It explicitly deals with the subject of grieving that the rest of the album builds up to.

A little backstory is enlightening: Jenkins was set to tour as a member of David Berman’s post-Silver Jews project Purple Mountains, but then Berman committed suicide shortly before the tour’s first date. In “New Bikini” Jenkins tells us, “After David passed away / My friends put me up for a few days / Off the coast of Norway.”

“Ambiguous Norway” reveals what happened on that trip and it’s raw and heartbreaking.

No matter where I go
You’re gone, you’re everywhere.

That’s as eloquent a description of the early phases of grief as anything I’ve ever heard. And while I’m not privy to any personal details, the way Jenkins writes about loss suggests a more intense relationship than just a hired bandmember.

In an interview with Our Culture, Jenkins shares the story of meeting a stranger who tells her, “You know, in Denmark, it’s a very flat landscape, but we have giant cloud formations, they’re giant cumulus clouds. And we call them ‘Denmark’s mountains’ because we don’t have mountains, so we need to find them in other ways.”

Who knows how geographically or meteorologically different Denmark is from its neighbor to the north, but that stranger’s story ended up informing the lyrics of “Ambiguous Norway.”

Farewell, Purple Mountains
I see a range of cumulus
the majesties transmutation
distant, ambiguous
The skies replace the land with air.

So even though, like a three legged dog, part of you may always be looking for what you’ve lost, there’s a chance you will find it in unexpected places. On the other hand, clouds are ethereal and ephemeral and don’t really do much for you. But I suppose if they provide a little comfort when you need it, sometimes that’s good enough.

Cassandra Jenkins: web, twitter, bandcamp, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Continue reading New Cassandra Jenkins video: Ambiguous Norway

The Suffering Subsides: On the Death of David Berman

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.

Continue reading The Suffering Subsides: On the Death of David Berman

New Purple Mountains video: Darkness and Cold

Video: Purple Mountains – “Darkness and Cold”

Purple Mountains "Darkness and Cold" (Official Music Video)

From Purple Mountains, due July 12 on Drag City.

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: web, twitter, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Purple Mountains video: All My Happiness is Gone

Video: Purple Mountains – “All My Happiness is Gone”

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.

Purple Mountains: web, twitter, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.