I’m one of those unfortunate people who only learned of David Berman’s greatness after his untimely demise. But ever since, I have been completely enthralled, enlightened and scared.
I had breakfast in a cafe yesterday with my wife and her parents. We talked and drank coffee, we went for a walk across the foot bridge and down by the house boats. Then we went back to their house and even though it’s October the weather was beautiful.
Later on my wife and I set off on the same walk again, this time the sun was setting. It was one of those iconic sunsets; deep blues and purples in the eastern sky and fiery reds and oranges in the western sky.
Throughout all these events, through all the beauty I had a few words circulating around my mind. This time it was “so many beautiful days in a row now // and the nights were perfect too”. This simple and affective poetry is so fitting for a sunset so textbook.
Today I’m travelling to London for an appointment, this hospital, amongst other issues, deals with mental health. The waiting room is full of behaviour I’m not equipped to be around. My heart is pumping and I let the words in again, this time “I’m scared”. David’s wobbly, true to life opening line to ‘New Orleans’.
There are some people who have a song for every situation, I have a David Berman lyric for every situation. In such a short space of time I have become wholly consumed, I can’t escape the witticisms. I don’t want to.
I know that in some near future this stage of devotion will pass and I will be back in that space of listening to other things. This is the first time I haven’t wanted that time to come.
I think about how close to discovering Silver Jews I have come in the past. An awareness of Pavement and friends who are fans of Pavement, combined with my neurotic need to listen to bands entire back catalogues front to back would have gotten me there. Wikipedia page by Wikipedia page, Steve Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich would have lead me to David, eventually. But I wouldn’t have been so fortunate to come across Silver Jews and inevitably Purple Mountains so soon if it wasn’t for the recommendation of a work colleague who knew my tastes. I had spoken enthusiastically about my love for poetry and poetic musicians such as Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen and the quick wit of bands like The Wave Pictures.
To close I’d like to express the unique situation I find myself in, I have lost something I have never had. It may be that it was such a fine margin between the death of David and my discovery of him, but now I think of a time when a friend of mine was playing ‘Smith and Jones Forever’ in the local pub (he worked behind the bar) and I really dug the song but I had no idea who it was at the time. Songs I’ve never heard before don’t stick to me like this “Holding up their trousers with extension cords”. This is the line that stuck with me and maybe this familiarity sparked up in me something dormant since that very first introduction into the world of David Berman.
Finally I’d like to share my favourite verse written by David at this time:
It’s not the purple hills // It’s not the silver lakes // It’s not the snow cloud shadowed interstates // It’s not the Icy bike chain rain of Portland, Oregon // Where nothing’s wrong and no ones asking // But the fears so strong it leaves you gasping // No way to last out here like this for long.
– David Berman (All My Happiness Is Gone – Purple Mountains)
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