David Berman, acclaimed indie-rock singer-songwriter and poet, dies at 52August 8, 2019 4:16pm

Aug. 08-- David Berman, the acclaimed singer, songwriter and poet best known for his indie-rock band the Silver Jews, has died. The artist's slightly skewed albums, including "American Water," "Tanglewood Numbers" and "The Natural Bridge," earned him a legion of fans drawn to his smart, poetic songs about history, alienation, religion and addiction, as well as party barges, suffering jukeboxes and "honk if you're horny" bumper stickers.

Berman's death at 52 was confirmed by his longtime label, Drag City Records. Last month the label released the artist's first album under his new stage name, Purple Mountains. No cause of death was given.

Beloved as a songwriter, Berman was also a notable poet whose only published work, "Actual Air," earned back-cover blurbs from poets James Tate and former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins. His most beloved poem, "Self Portrait at 28," opens with the line, "I know it's a bad title / but I'm giving it to myself as a gift," before cascading into a work on "the uselessness of a teenager's promise" and technology that "will eventually give us new feelings."

But it was his way with a lyric that connected him to his biggest audience. His first album featured Pavement's Stephen Malkmus on guitar and backing vocals. A master of the oblong image, Berman's work across six Silver Jews album mixed playful metaphors with words of advice, random observations and heady philosophizing. On "People," he noted "suburban kids with biblical names" and the sound of drums that "march along at the clip of an I.V. drip / Like sparks from a muffler dragged down the strip."

His most famous couplet opens the Silver Jews' album "American Water." Sings Berman in a low, flat baritone, one that was a deal-breaker for many otherwise progressive listeners: "In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection / Slowly screwing my way across Europe, they had to make a correction."


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