COMING IN A CLOSE SECOND to Will Oldham in the "most famous rock recluse" category, Silver Jews frontman/songwriter/hero-to- seemingly-half-of-Portland David Berman is the one.
And he's gonna be sorely missed when he's gone.
If/when the Jews ever do clock out, Berman will immediately ascend to one-man Velvet Underground status. A boatload of hyperbole will swim around him and his band, drowning out any sense of reality. Shit like "a Dylan for the ____-generation" will litter the music press trade for decades. And all of those annoying "hip" kids that you always had to walk by—and stop yourself from punching in the face—will just sit smugly on their worn-out couches, getting old, thinking, "told you so."
The Jews' 2005 release, Tanglewood Numbers, is the LP you always wanted the band to knock out, but didn't know if they had the balls to actually do so. (They did; it's brilliant—and it rocks.) And holy fuck of motherfucks, Berman and his Silver Jews are touring. Like, they're getting in a van, driving around this great country and actually playing songs live. God bless 'em.
It took Berman 14 long years to get up the nerve, but should you just happen to walk into the Crystal this Friday evening, you would see (drum roll, please) our Dylan, our Walt Whitman (damn you hyperbole!) onstage. Playing songs. Live.
But David, what took ya so long? "There are many, many reasons," Berman said, emailing in from Music City, USA. "Debt was one. I'm turning 40 in January, so that was one. I'm meeting the conclusions of my long self-examinations. So many reasons lined up that, in fact, I could not not do it. And satisfying these many reasons is pleasurable."
In fact, now that he's actually tried the damned thing, Berman's found that he likes it. "The touring's been re-affirming, as I'm getting all the positive feedback bands get when they play live," he said. "If you sit at home, you're playing to the critics. And that's enough reason there, for going out and playing."
In briefly chatting with Berman, the feeling could not be evaded that the man was more than the myth. Brother's smart. Lightly (and politely as possible) tread around the topic of the rumors and open-vein-discussions that have swirled around his daily life since the Jews signed to Drag City, and this is what you get back. "It's part of my responsibility to 'share' what happened to me when it's appropriate," Berman said. "Why would someone put their privacy ahead of assisting other desperate people, who sometimes just need a word to break their chains? I'm at the end of the maze. In the room with the cheese. I can stop eating every once in a while and do some voice-guiding."
Ladies and gents, this guy ain't foolin'. He recently took Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!" and turned it into a song. He throws out lines like, "I could not love the world entire. There grew a desert in my mind. I took a hammer to it all," and does not flinch. The time is now my friends. Go see the man.