River of Berman
A tribute to the free-associating genius of the Silver Jews, whose work has flowed in and out of my life
It only occurs to me now that the silver sheen of the water was suggestive of the Silver Jews. At the time I was only aware that something special had happened. I sensed this was the swan song of Open City, the conference a last hurrah. I had been fighting to keep it going. It ended faster than I expected. That December, in 2010, we put out our last issue and had our last party. To my surprise I was enormously relieved to let it go.
“The dead do not improve,” is a Berman lyric I have always taken issue with. In some ways, in comparison with the living for example, I have always felt they do.
Berman had nearly vanished into booze, drugs, depression, and suicide. But he hadn’t. That evening, in his seersucker jacket, he was absurdly slender, skinny. I wanted to think of it as Mick-Jagger skinny, but it was beyond that, more unhealthy. Yet, biking uptown along the river, I felt an incredible sense of strength and energy from the evening. From David. As with the David of biblical myth, he had taken a shot at a Goliath of disinformation. He had turned it into a story. And in some profound way he had also resisted turning it into a story. He had resisted all the usual narratives. It was his genius free-associating mind doing what you least expect. He had persisted.
I biked alongside the river of silver. The choppy water seemed especially three-dimensional and tactile. It was a wonderful feeling, moving through the soft air beside the broad river. Everything got darker and darker but the water somehow held the light.
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