Thursday, September 4, 2008

David Berman is a golden Silver Jew

I went with my sister to see the Silver Jews play at the Crofoot in Pontiac. It was an excellent show (you can read our Wonder Twins review on the Metro Times Blog). David Berman, the man behind the Silver Jews, is not just an indie rock star, he's also an excellent poet. I actually became a fan of the Silver Jews through his poetry, which means I'm a pretty new Silver convert. Berman's book, Actual Air, was published in 1999 by Open City Press. It is quite good. Better than quite good, if I do say so myself. I first read Berman's poetry in The McSweeney's Book of Poets Picking Poets, a most excellent anthology. has a good bio up about Berman and his work in poetry and music, though it needs to be updated to include the latest Silver Jews release, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, which came out in June and is destined to be included on my Best of the Rat Year (2008) mix. You can listen to a few songs from the new record on the Silver Jews MySpace page, including "Suffering Jukebox," one of my favorites.

And here's one of my favorite poems from Actual Air:
The Moon
A web of sewer, pipe, and wire connects each house to the others.

In 206 a dog sleeps by the stove where a small gas leak causes him
to have visions; visions that are rooted in nothing but gas.

Next door, a man who has decided to buy a car part by part
excitedly unpacks a wheel and an ashtray.

He arranges them every which way. It’s really beginning to take

Out the garage window he sees a group of ugly children
enter the forest. Their mouths look like coin slots.

A neighbor plays keyboards in a local cover band.
Preparing for an engagement at the high school prom,

they pack their equipment in silence.

Last night they played the Police Academy Ball and
all the officers slow-danced with target range silhouettes.

This year the theme for the prom is the Tetragrammaton.

A yellow Corsair sails through the disco parking lot
and swaying palms presage the lot of young libertines.

Inside the car a young lady wears a corsage of bullet-sized rodents.
Her date, the handsome cornerback, stretches his talons over the
molded steering wheel.

They park and walk into the lush starlit gardens behind the disco
just as the band is striking up.

Their keen eyes and ears twitch. The other couples
look beautiful tonight. They stroll around listening
to the brilliant conversation. The passionate speeches.

Clouds drift across the silverware. There is red larkspur,
blue gum, and ivy. A boy kneels before his date.

And the moon, I forgot to mention the moon.

(David Berman, from Actual Air, 1999 Open City Press)
His bio says he's working on a new book. I hope that is true. And I hope it comes soon.

For more on Berman and the Silver Jews, check out this 2005 New York Times story and this Pitchfork interview from last month.

1 comment:

Laura said...

I know most of you will pretend you're super smart and already knew what "Tetragrammaton" means, but I looked it up:

"Tetragrammaton refers to יהוה, one of the names of the God of Israel written with four letters, as written in the Hebrew Masoretic Text where it appears over 6,800 times."