Published Jan 01, 2006While it may seem shocking to fans of David Berman, the gifted poet and songwriter tried to kill himself in Nashville two years ago by overdosing on a combination of Xanax and crack. The substance-abusing rock star stereotype seems absurd when applied to Berman, but little is really known about the reclusive cult hero who never tours, rarely performs live, and quietly dispatches endearingly twisted, literate music into the world every few years.
Not surprisingly, the suicide attempt is not something Berman wishes to elaborate upon now that he's feeling better. "The list is lengthy; I was living incompetently," he says. "Now I've got it made in the shade.
I clip my fingernails. I write what I like to call positive rock.' For instance my newest MP3, Love is Like a
Bowl of Chex Mix.'"
Berman has indeed retained his sense of humour on the latest Silver Jews album, Tanglewood Numbers, his most jubilant record in years. Songs like "Punks in the Beerlight," and "How Can I Love You If You Won't Lie Down" are raucous and reckless, making for a spirited punk rock record. "It's still strange to me that it came out sounding so fierce," Berman agrees. "It's almost like I'm going backwards. More bands start out brash live bands and slowly cut out touring as their albums mellow out. I'm like an old man who is growing into a baby."
Floating among guests like Steve Malkmus and Will Oldham is some of Berman's most religious imagery. "I think it's interesting that, as I've gotten older, I've grown into the band name," he says. "In the very beginning I thought of it as almost conceptual art and, on the first albums, I wrote about God mostly because almost no other secular artists do and I naturally gravitated toward the unemployed signage. Now that I'm older, and subspace is colder, I have really turned into a Jew."