As I know is true for many, it would be impossible to overstate how important David Berman was to me as a writer/musician. His words have served as a guiding light and anchor throughout my adolescence and adult life. “Actual Air” sits next to the James Baldwin books on my shelf, to be revisited and used.
I bought “Starlite Walker” when I was 16 or 17, from a used CD bin at a monthly record fair I used to go to, because I thought the band name Silver Jews sounded cool. I had only recently started listening to Pavement, and the connection was made for me when I offhandedly told a friend I had bought a CD by this band the Silver Jews, and some of the vocals “kind of remind me of the guy from Pavement.”
I don’t know when or how I became a David Berman obsessive, but I do know that in college I once typed out all the poems to “Actual Air” and bound them to give to a girl I liked, because it was out of print. But, before I bound them, I also photocopied the typed pages at the library, so I could cover a wall of my room with his words.
In 2009 I saw the Silver Jews at Maxwells. At one point DB gave out Bob Nastanovich’s phone number to the audience. And during the closer—“Punks in the Beerlight”—, he came out into the crowd, and at one point we were basically in each other’s face, screaming “I love you to the max” to each other. Right now, the only consolation I have is the idea that I got to tell him once.
It was comforting to go to the impromptu memorial Lance Bangs called outside the Met Breuer on Thursday, to be around other people who knew him, or felt close to his work; to block traffic and hear his words read out loud. Some of the most memorable parts were when people would share anecdotes from their personal interactions:
At tonight’s informal tribute to DCB in NYC my friend Neal read a funny entry from me & David’s long running email thread looking into the google purity of certain phrases. @lancebangs, thank you for organizing this! Wish I could have been there. pic.twitter.com/m2mBrnEjlw— Ryan H. Walsh (@JahHills) August 9, 2019
The reading was disbanded by a flash thunderstorm, but closed with someone reading the lyrics to “Pretty Eyes” from The Natural Bridge, which offers this adage on the B-side:
“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”