David Berman and Epistemological Closure in the Propaganda State

"There is no leisure with dignity in an unfinished world." – DCB, at NYU Writers House, 7/25/10

by Jeremy Schmall

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David Berman’s life has been one of failure and refusal. At least, that’s what he said at the very rare talk he gave at NYU on July 25th, the concluding event of the inaugural Open City Summer Writing Workshop. Although the idea of Berman being a failure was news to me—I am an enormous fan of his book of poems (Actual Air) and his former band (Silver Jews)—he does have a point. He didn’t follow up his book with another book, he refused to tour with his band for years, and when he finally capitulated, and the touring started to eke out money and win over a committed fan base, he quit music to fail at writing a memoir, and then nearly created a TV show based on his life, but walked away when he realized what that would look like. But both writing and music are behind him now. What he’s after instead—and which he communicated through a wide-ranging, associative, often sublime speech marked by long, meditative silences—focuses on his father, Richard Berman, a high-paid PR man who creates and disseminates misinformation on behalf of corporate giants. His work effects the choices we all make everyday.

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New York Area Alert: David Berman–get him while he lasts

Here’s a big ole FYI for y’all. There’s not a thing in this world that would keep me from this event, save for the fact of my being on the other side of said world until mid-August. Take it away, Joanna Yas of Open City:

David Berman will be making a very rare appearance in New York on Sunday,  July 25, 6pm, for a reading and discussion at the NYU Lillian  Vernon Creative Writers House, 58 West 10th Street (btw 5th &  6th).

This event  is part of the the Open City Summer Writing Workshop, but we have a very  limited number of seats available for the public for $15.

Tickets are available here (tickets will not be sold at the door)
http://www.opencity.org/ocsummerberman.html

Creative Writing 101

emily-dickinson-photo1berman10

For people who are following this series, I’m starting to think that it will make the most sense to post 1 per week, on Friday, which will cover both meetings of the class during that week (on Tues & Thurs nights). To come home and do the Tuesday post that same night or the next day would be too much, besides which if the class is actually checking in here, it might feel a little too rapid-response. I’d rather let the whole week play out, then do the post-game and give everyone (me, them, you) the weekend to mull it over and/or forget it ever happened. So that’s the new plan, and here we are with the field reports from 9/15 (Schutt & Dickinson) and 9/17 (more Berman, Percy Shelley, and a writing exercise). And for people who are just coming to the series now, the first two installments are here (1) and here (2). Everyone else, I’ll see you after the jump.

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Creative Writing 101

JTBloomhead

This semester I’m teaching an undergraduate survey of creative writing at Rutgers. We’re two class meetings in, the students are all excited and smart and engaged. They’re making it a real pleasure to show up to class, which anyone who has ever taught before can tell you is not always the case. Because it’s a survey class, the idea is that we’ll look at the major forms of creative writing–fiction, poetry, drama, and nonfiction. Instead of doing “units” on each of these sections, my hope is to pair pieces from different forms, both oriented by a theme or element of craft, themselves relatable back to a writing exercise, and see what kind of glad serendipities result from the juxtapositions.

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David Berman calls Silver Jews quits; outs father as Satan

Let’s assume for right now that this isn’t another triple-reverse hoax dreamed up by Tao Lin. Pitchfork says they verified the story with Drag City today, and that DCB is indeed the author of these posts:

(1) “Silver Jews End-Lead Singer Bids his Well-Wishers Adieu”

Yes I cancelled the South American shows. I’ll have to see the ABC Countries another way.
I guess I am moving over to another category. Screenwriting or Muckraking.
I’ve got to move on. Can’t be like all the careerists doncha know.
I’m forty two and I know what to do.
I’m a writer, see?
Cassie is taking it the hardest. She’s a fan and a player but she sees how happy i am with the decision.
I always said we would stop before we got bad. If I continue to record I might accidentally write the answer song to Shiny Happy People.

And (2) “My Father, My Attack Dog”

Now that the Joos are over I can tell you my gravest secret. Worse than suicide, worse than crack addiction:
My father.
You might be surprised to know he is famous, for terrible reasons.
My father is a despicable man. My father is a sort of human molestor.
An exploiter. A scoundrel. A world historical motherfucking son of a bitch. (sorry grandma)
You can read about him here.
www.bermanexposed.org
My life is so wierd. It’s allegorical to the nth. My father went to college at Transylvania University.
You see what I’m saying.

As I studied Judaism over the years, the shame and the shanda, grew almost too much. my heart was constantly on fire for justice. I could find no relief.
This winter I decided that the SJs were too small of a force to ever come close to
undoing a millionth of all the harm he has caused. To you and everyone you know.
Literally, if you eat food or have a job, he is reaching you.

Everyone should really take a minute and read that second post in full, then follow that link to Bermanexposed.com, so you can really see what poor DCB has been living with all these years. Ole Richard’s about as evil as evil gets.

Anyway, whether this retirement turns out to be permanent or temporary, it certainly marks the end of an era of some kind. Let’s all take a moment of silence for the Silver Joos we knew and loved, and express some unqualified solidarity with DCB and whatever he decides to pursue next–however he might choose to pursue it.

Related links:

I interviewed Berman once, when Tanglewood Numbers came out: “A Limited Edition of One”

poem: “Governors on Sominex”

poem: “The Charm of 5:30”

video: Silver Jews play “Smith and Jones Forever” at the Pitchfork Festival

video: “I’m Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You” scene from Silver Jew documentary

video: “How to Rent a Room” followed by weird joke that doesn’t go over too well.

transcription for Jimmy Chen

This is the face of genius. This is the genius of face.

 [with a hat tip to Peter Masiak, who left these many and several fine words in my inbox late last night, with this message attached: “ever just read the lyrics? I had about 75% wrong.”]

 

“The Country Diary Of A Subway Conductor”

 

“O get him out of there!” What if it cost 25c

to wake up in the morning? A dollar, ten dollars?
I’d pay it all the way to the poor house. It’s not made
if it’s made in Roanoke. Night pulling up in front of
the house like a bus. It came at me with shears. Her
sweater had faces, famouse faces knitted all over it.
The porch swing ticked off Central Daylight time.
“How many hours do you think it’ll take me to smoke this
cigarette?” she said with a smile. The smell of fried
food came drifting out one of the castle windows.
“Lets go around back” I said “my brother burried some
stuff back there.” We ducked down and walked through
the black bushes. My shoe made a sucking sound in
the turf. “He can afford anything” I said “he’s got
dogs that blow on trumpets.” “Priests!” she cussed.
Thunder cracks over Ben Franklin’s shop. Who wrapped
my dreams in a blanket and led them outside to the black
book in the yard? “Hey what indian tribe occupied
southern california? They were a lucky bunch of fellers!”
Sting Bible, More Sea Bible, Knur & Spell. In moments
downhill, towards sleep in the still water shop. Imagining
places I was almost sure I’d never been & had taken to
assuming were the memories of my grandfather somehow
deposited in my mind. They were there and gone, just before
I could get my bearings, catch any names or find out
where the hotel was. Just a pile of glass shavings that
could never be reassembled into the gone order
of buildings & the shade puring off of them. “WATER!”

 

*******SPECIAL BONUS******* 

I interviewed David Berman for The Brooklyn Rail back in 2005, when Tanglewood Numbers came out. 

From the intro (click anywhere on text to get the whole piece): >>Terse and enigmatic, occasionally ignoring questions outright, Berman was nearly impossible to pin down, which was especially frustrating since everyone wants to believe that their musical or literary heroes could easily be their drinking buddies or best friends. But Berman is a man who can say a lot even when he’s not saying much, and his general reticence served to increase the gravity of moments when he actually opened up. Just another part of the Berman package, I suppose.<<