David Berman Of Silver Jews And Purple Mountains Was One Of Indie’s Greatest Songwriters

Getty Images / David Berman

The first and last time I ever spoke to David Berman, our conversation ended on an upbeat note.

It was May. We had just talked for 90 minutes about his first album in 11 years. After putting out six LPs as the leader of Silver Jews, the 52-year-old singer-songwriter had a new project, Purple Mountains, and a beautiful and impeccably crafted self-titled record that eventually garnered rave reviews upon release in July. While Berman had a reputation for being averse to touring, he was planning to go back on the road this summer. We even made plans to meet in person backstage at his show in Minneapolis, which was supposed to take place a few weeks from now.

Berman noted that while he played only about 100 shows with Silver Jews over the course of nearly 15 years, he was going to play 25 gigs on this upcoming tour alone.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I’m ready for my solitude to end.”

Berman and I had been emailing back and forth at that point for about four months. He first reached out to me in January, because he noticed that I tweeted a few times about liking Silver Jews. “More often than I’d like to admit I search Twitter for ‘Silver Jews,’ looking for a shot of courage, lurking for a good sign,” he wrote. “And more than once you were my signal to keep going. A few critics like a few albums but you’re the only writer I’ve read that takes it as a given that the music is good.”

I was stunned to hear from him for a couple of reasons. First, I had interviewed numerous indie musicians who tried to communicate with Berman over the years, with varying degrees of success. He had basically been a recluse ever since publicly disbanding Silver Jews in 2009.