Silver Jews' David Berman Dies At 52 The master lyricist and poet leaves behind a catalog of oblique indie rock that inspired a cult following.
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Silver Jews' David Berman Dies At 52

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Silver Jews' David Berman Dies At 52

Silver Jews' David Berman Dies At 52

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Musician and poet David Berman has died. He was the songwriter and frontman for the indie rock band Silver Jews. They garnered a cult following and critical praise, mostly for Berman's dry, funny and honest lyrics. He was 52 years old. No cause of death was given. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: David Berman had an almost lackadaisical, plainspoken way of delivering lines that were equal parts funny and devastating.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RANDOM RULES")

SILVER JEWS: (Singing) In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection.

LIMBONG: In probably the most well-known Silver Jews song, "Random Rules," he ruminates on navigating a life filled with chaos.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RANDOM RULES")

SILVER JEWS: (Singing) I know that a lot of what I say has been lifted off of men's room walls. Maybe I've crossed the wrong rivers and walked down all the wrong halls.

LIMBONG: David Berman formed Silver Jews in 1989 with friends of his who'd go on to form the indie band Pavement. The following for Silver Jews in the world of '90s indie rock was never as big as some of Berman's peers, but the people who did follow loved his work intensely.

Mac McCaughan is the frontman for the band Superchunk, which came up around the same time as Silver Jews. He's also the co-founder of the indie label Merge Records. They're the same age, but McCaughan recalled meeting Berman for the first time and thinking Berman had to be older, wiser.

MAC MCCAUGHAN: Because he just - he's doing something different than what us dumb people in bands are doing. Like, he's doing something more serious because the words were so crafted but not in a way that felt crafted.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK AND BROWN BLUES")

SILVER JEWS: (Singing) Well, the water looks like jewelry when it's coming out the spout. Nothing could make me feel better than a wet kiss on the mouth.

LIMBONG: Berman wrote poetry, too. He was committed to translating the world truthfully, says Amy Rose Speigel, an author and friend. She calls his poems containers for a full feeling.

AMY ROSE SPEIGEL: They're beautiful and scenic and correct.

LIMBONG: She read a bit from a poem called "Cassette County."

SPEIGEL: (Reading) Then let the consequent misunderstandings. Let the changer love the changed. Wobble on heartbreakingly nu (ph) legs into this street-legal nonfiction, into this good world, this warm place that I love with all my heart - anti-showmanship, anti-showmanship, anti-showmanship.

LIMBONG: David Berman was a bit of a recluse. Silver Jews never really toured. And he was open about his struggles with addiction and depression. He attempted suicide in 2003. Berman disbanded Silver Jews six years later. In a blog post explaining why, he blamed the work of his father, a conservative high-powered D.C. lobbyist, and his inability to do anything about it.

But David Berman was just beginning to enter public life again. He put out an album a month ago under a different band named Purple Mountains and was getting ready to start a tour on Saturday. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DARKNESS AND COLD")

PURPLE MOUNTAINS: (Singing) The light of my life is going out tonight as the sun sinks in the west. The light of my life is going out tonight with someone she just met. She kept it burning longer than...

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