by Rebecca Zaragoza
One could research the Silver Jews and their music and come to find some common themes throughout texts. I encourage you to do so and you will begin to resonate with this proposal. When you consider the criticisms written by music’s brightest elitists, you find patterns and a passion of a band… particularly of a man named David Berman. I had the experience of meeting Berman at the third show the Silver Jews had ever performed after 14 years as a band. The Grey Eagle Tavern in Asheville NC was the romantic setting of the transcendent show. Although Berman presents himself as a candid man, he wears his life in his words and on his face. As someone who prides herself in the ability to read people, this is something I recognized from our brief encounter. After this show, I listened to the Jews with a different ear.
Months after the Asheville show, I was thrilled to have the Jews come to Los Angeles. This interview took place via email while the band was in Los Angeles. Be encouraged that when you listen to the Silver Jews, the irony, resonance, and smartness of Berman and his band might grow you to be a bit more intelligent.
CMG: There has been an analysis of the evolution of your music from album to album, which is tandem with the change that has happened in your own life. Reflecting on your life at 25, 30, and now, what has remained constant in your life through all of the change that has inevitably occurred?
Silver Jews: Reading and Writing. Writing on isolated afternoons at home. The insistence on self-employment. Here and there, has been a loyal friend,like Gate Pratt and Steve West, who would never let you bleed to death in a foxhole all alone.
CMG: I met you in March at the show in Asheville, North Carolina. A friend and I invited you to come to our cabin for some drinks, and you declined exhorting that you were trying to “stay clean.” I run a program dealing with homeless families that deal with substance abuse, and I have a fair share of addiction in my own family, so this is something that is kindred to my heart. I read somewhere that you had been in rehab; what was that experience like for you and were you ready for it?
SJ: I was ready to do it for my wife. It wasn’t my idea. I couldn’t concieve of a life without drugs and alcohol. I was so terminally bored for the windows when I wasn’t high, I couldn’t imagine stretching that feeling over days, weeks, years, decades! And that is what you’re up against. No one’s suggesting you take a break. They want you on the water wagon unto death. Commitmentphobia City! I can’t live in the vicinity of a “never” anymore than Adam and Eve could.
CMG: Did anyone express concern about the problem or was it a personal decision to admit yourself?
SJ: I was gently coaxed into it.
CMG: What do you think about the culture of AA or NA?
SJ: I no longer go to meetings. I’m congenitally uncomfortable with ideologies, though I recognize that a stable ideology is exactly what an out of control person needs, I am lucky to have friends who no longer drink, who form the kind of sympathetic community, that AA provides for folks who have no one that understands.
CMG: Will this experience make up for any material you might be currently working on?
SJ: I think all experience makes it in, maybe not intact, in a diaristic form, but it exerts a force that draws all the matter of a song around itself.
CMG: Do you feel that your poetry and song writing has changed since you’ve been sober?
SJ: Not that I can see.
CMG: Can you tell me about your recent overseas tour?
SJ: We played 43 shows between March and September. We went to Wales twice. We played two shows in Tel Aviv. I was surprised that Paris was one of the most fervent audiences. We played in two small towns, on the village squares in the Umbria region of Italy. We killed at Roskilde.
CMG: I am particularly interested in your time in Israel; had you been to Israel before this tour and what about your trip was significant?
SJ: No, I’d never been. The audiences were beautiful and damn near symbiotic with the band. The day before we left, the fighting started at the Lebanese border. I was just figuring out that I could and would come here every year if I had the chance when what Newt Gingrich was perhaps to much in an evil hurry to call WW III, happened. Whatever I thought I knew about Israel was recast by the realization of what it feels like to be surrounded by nations who demand the extinction of your own.
CMG: I was in Israel in 1998, during a pretty heavy time of conflict, and my family insisted I not go. Once I was there it was much more calm than had been expected, granted there were soldiers on almost every corner… Did you find the same experience traveling there during this current crisis?
SJ: Yes. I found the people I was meeting to be calm, to the point of resignation. I think the people there are exhausted. There is some detatchment in the young people as you could expect.
CMG: One of my favorite things about you, not only as a songwriter but also as a poet, is that you occupy many identities (the way Vonnegut cohabits his characters); Is this a conscientious desire to either explore the many facets of yourself, or is it to protect yourself, or is there another reason?
SJ: I’m not sure if you mean I occupy many identities in my life (songwriter, poet, yardman) or in my writing (i.e. I write in the voice of diff. characters)?
CMG: You all were recently nominated as one of the 5 finalists in the Best Rock Band category for the Jewish Music Awards. Is this the first time you have been recognized in the Jewish Community?
SJ: I’ve done a lot of interviews for Jewish publications, but this nomination business. I never thought I’d be up for a Jewwy.
CMG: One of my favorite means of rhetoric you use is irony, like the storytelling you do in the ballad I Remember Me…what was the inspiration for that song?
SJ: I think I wrote that song as a way of scaring myself into marrying Cassie. I didn’t want to accidentally die before I had legally proclaimed my love.
CMG: What is your take on large music festivals? Would the Silver Jews consider doing something like SXSW?
SJ: We did a few this year. They’re alright. Never as satisfying as playing for Silver Jews fans though.
CMG: It seems as though, since your live performances have been so few, critics and fans are actually numbering the shows you all have done to date. Do you (for sentiments’ sake) keep track of your shows and the intimacy of each show?
SJ: The LA show was our 43rd. we have 44 planned for DEC. 30 in nyc and number 45 on new years eve in northampton. Then I’d like to stay home for a year.