Electronic Correspondence with David Berman of Silver Jews

D.BermanStorytelling songwriter David Berman occasionally draws on afternoons and is known in some circles as a fêted contemporary poet, probably letting 1,000 poems collect dust under his floorboards.

In an interview by mail, we can’t really talk nonchalantly about weather with the man behind Silver Jews, but we can approach the weather as a writing exercise—blending deep or analytical questions with phrasing you might answer on a “What primary color are you?” test.

Are the musician and the writer and the artist in you, roommates, neighbors, family or friends?

They are in some ways all strangers to my day to day self. I am always standing behind them and can’t see their faces….

Does your approach to making music take the same type of architecture as working with words?

Music in western rock and country doesn’t get written so much as blocked out.
There is no comparison between the recombination of a handful of guitar chords and the systems of language.

If your music had a landscape, what would it be?


What role did your bandmates/wife/friends have in making the new album for you personally?

Well, they are all very good friends and I can be my own dryly irrational self around them.

Do you see a narrative across your albums from the first one in the ‘90s to now?

Not yet.

Are there any ideas that you presented in your earlier work that have changed or developed?

This is the kind of questionage I’ve been trying to assign to a willing critic for years.

Does life have grammar, or is that purely a language construct with no relevance to experience?

Grammar is as good a metaphor as any for what I see in life. Something is at work, some system that just eludes our awareness…

How do you move between the rhythm of a phrase and the meaning in writing lyrics? Is the final meaning a compromise between the two?

Sometimes the solution to the problem of an empty space in the lyric that must be filled is more notable for its sound than its sense. (Ian McCulloch’s lyrics) SOMETIMES YOU CAN ONLY THINK OF ONE SOLUTION. Writing gets arrested when the imagination hits a wall.

What might inspire you to draw something?

Sitting at a table. In the aftenoon. After lunch… In some barely sensed kindermood.

What’s the last thing you put in your notebook?

“If the heart is bitter, nothing will sweeten the mouth.” -Yiddish proverb

When you’re on stage, you wander like you’re investigating a room full of objects…what are you thinking about?

What’s this, what’s that.

Will you put together another book?

A book of drawings in March called The Portable February.

What three foods/dishes would you take on an island for an indefinite period of time?

Apples, spaghetti, and pretzels

Several live videos present you in a gray suit, where did the outfit come from?
Circle S Mens wear

Fill out 5 “I remembers”. Write five instances that begin with the phrase “I remember.”

I remember Watergate
I remember roller skates
I remember Miller’s lakes
I remember garden hose
I remember Rudolph’s nose.

If you walked down the street today, what five things caught your attention?

The gutter, the roofline, the sun, the sidewalk, the footbridges.

Describe a time when you wouldn’t be embarrassed to say you are bored.

On any long drive or flight I am bored!

Take a short text and knock out all the words you don’t want used. Do not replace these words, just take them out and write the result here:



w/ James Jackson Toth
Friday 9/26