David Berman is one of the most lauded characters in the canon of indie-rock songwriters. He is also one of the hardest to understand.
Unlike his friend and sometimes bandmate Stephen Malkmus, Berman doesn't fit the mold of an ironic hipster. Nor does he carry the weighty, country-boy mystique of Will Oldham. Berman is more like Charles Bukowski. He has the ability to write lyrics rife with symbolism and that resonate with a universal sense of truth, but are grotesque in their painful honesty.
He relegates interviews to e-mail, both in the interest of clarity and to maintain the cryptic shield that surrounds Silver Jews records, it seems. His responses simultaneously feel conversational and elusive, and getting inside his head is virtually impossible.
Like his interviews, Berman's lyrics have their own internal sense of logic that reveals all sorts of hidden meaning. Just listen to his double-edged lyricism in "Candy Jail" from his latest release, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City). "Living in a candy jail/where the guards are gracious and the grounds are grand/and the warden really listens and he understands," Berman sings.
On the surface, allusions to a cornucopia of peppermint-flavored jail bars, peanut-brittle bunk beds and marshmallow walls seem like nonsense. But upon closer examination, he's not just singing about sweets.
Read the rest of this article here.
(Photo by Brent Stewart)
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