From Silver Jews to Purple Mountains: 14 of David Berman’s Best Songs | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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From Silver Jews to Purple Mountains: 14 of David Berman’s Best Songs

The Acclaimed Singer/Songwriter Died in 2019

May 20, 2022
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For a select few of us who can claim to be bona fide hometown fans of the NFL’s Houston Oilers circa the 1980s into the early ’90s, there is a certain level of gluttony for punishment that goes along with that honor. Added to the indignities of many playoff appearances that never quite panned fully out, the team’s owner, Bud Adams, unceremoniously up and moved the team to Nashville, Tennessee. After a year or two operating as the Tennessee Oilers (up there with the Utah Jazz in terms of city/mascot disconnects), the team’s name changed to the Tennessee Titans with the team’s flagship player, and one of the Houston holdovers, being quarterback Steve McNair.

You may be asking what this has to do with David Berman and his musical projects, Silver Jews and Purple Mountains. But as reclusive as an artist as Berman was, including his 10-year disappearance from making music, Berman was clear in idolizing the Titans and McNair. I first became aware of Berman early on as a fan of Pavement and no doubt purchased Silver Jews’ debut album, Starlite Walker, due to Steven Malkmus’ and Bob Nastanovich’s involvement with the project. Berman’s hangdog tales were laced with pure poetry, an alt-country lean, and a laconic, lo-fi delivery that spoke to listeners in a language they didn’t know they needed to hear.

Over the course of six Silver Jews albums and the unexpected 2019 comeback via his Purple Mountains debut, Berman never disappointed. I didn’t get the opportunity to see Berman perform live, although I had tickets to a Houston show in 2008 that I was unable to travel to due to Hurricane Ike blasting through the area. Amazingly, the show did go on at the last minute at an alternate location. After Berman’s Purple Mountains reemergence, I was pressing my son to go see the planned set at Raleigh’s Hopscotch Festival (Purple Mountains, Orville Peck, Faye Webster, and Jenny Lewis were to all play that day), but Berman took his life a few days before the Purple Mountains tour was to begin.

It was almost too much to fathom that Berman could find his way back through the fog, only to be gone a few months later. Though his loss is certainly more devastating than the relocation of a favorite sports team, being shown another taste of Berman’s talents so soon before he was gone for good did leave a feeling of having been cheated out of something cherished in addition to the grief many of us who love his music felt. He also garnered the message “Nashville (and the world) will always love David Berman” on the Titan’s Jumbotron as a posthumous salute.

Fortunately, we have the legacy of Berman’s music and words, including his parting gift to us just before his passing. Here I pick 14 of my favorite Berman songs. To borrow from the Jews’ “Random Rules,” in order to be “democratic and cool,” I picked two songs apiece from each of the albums and tried to include a taste of the different approaches that Berman brought to the table—from the purely whimsical to the deeply felt. So if your favorites aren’t here, they may have well been nudged out by other songs on the same album or in favor of a different example of Berman’s talents.

Read the full list in our list section here.

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