Silver Jews Thursday – David Berman on LOMLOC, Writing, and the Ugliness of Failure – Part I

Three Years Old

Raford: I’ve actually been a fan of your music since you gave me the Arizona Record, which I loved, but at the time, I never imagined that the Silver Jews would become something of an institution in indie music. In those days, I thought of the Silver Jews as a fun hobby of yours, but not much more. In those early days, did you imagine that the Silver Jews would become a major part of your career?

DCB: No, of course not. I was mostly embarrassed we even existed.

Raford: So what happened? How did the Jews evolve from that point?

DCB: Well the job market in 1989, coming out of college, was the worst since the thirties.
There were zero jobs for a creative person. I saw making records and writing poetry as a kind of cultural loitering, fending off cubical slavery.  I was leaning against a wall all day, working as a guard in a new york art museum. I thought “I need to find a way to lean against my own walls.”

So the band just started as a way to make art. That’s why it wasn’t really a band. It was semi-conceptual art.

Raford: I’ve always admired your writing. I find myself sharing my worn-out copies of “Actual Air” with friends and acquaintances who express even a little bit of interest in poetry. The same is true of your lyrics. Do you find that there is a great difference between writing poetry and lyrics?

DCB: Poetry is complete freedom with words. Getting the right lyrics to fit in rhythmically and also mean something interesting is closer to searching for a tic-tac in a haystack. Writing poetry is daunting. Writing lyrics can be grueling.

Raford: I’ve understood that writing can be a torturous process for you. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

DCB: It’s not so bad as long as I just do the work everyday. But it is hard to keep your will going because for all the days you aren’t finished with the song, you only have these ugly butchered thing with a dream of being better attatched to it. You have to live with the ugliness of failure for many days before you get it right.

Raford: The ugliness of failure? That seems to be a theme in many of your lyrics.

DCB: Failure is the key to success. I got it from Oedipus Rex. No, I sing about failure from the perspective of one. Everybody should want to be an ex-failure. Never failing at all is just too uncharming to bear.

Raford: And how the hell do you find the motivation to work every day if you’re not really accountable to others in terms of a deadline, boss, etc?

DCB: You have to harness your fear.

Like your fear is a seahorse and you are Aquaman. No, it’s hard.

For a lot of years I stuck to something I read early on.  Stendahl had this dictum: “Twenty lines a day. Genius or not.  This rule of thumb was something that kept me writing, eveb during my lost years.

Raford: How is that process similar to and different from recording a record?

DCB: On a record you are more likely to go with “feel”. You get other people to do a lot of the imagining for you. A lot of things become foregone conclusions. You get “stuck” with having to dress stuff up sometimes. You know the clock is running and you don’t have the ability to just do stuff over and over again.

Raford: A couple of years ago, your toured for the first time to support the Tanglewood Numbers. Before that tour, you had been known as a recluse when it came to performing your music. What changed?

DCB: I made a deal with God, like Kate Bush. I felt like I had to do it to save myself and Cassie from imminent ruin financially. I couldn’t continue to say “no” to offers to play.

I suddenly realized I had a way to out, and I just had to say “yes” to make it happen.

DCB and Raford as geeky adolescents.

Raford: How did you enjoy touring? Was it miserable, or do you now see touring as a major part of the Silver Jews’ future?

DCB: It’s not miserable. I like being on stage. I don’t like the driving. We are going to tour this fall but I don’t think it will continue on into my forties. I’d like to get doing something else.  Playing live is a happy ending to the silver jews, more than it is a new beginning.

Raford: You’re already into your 40s. I understand that you don’t want to be like the Rolling Stones, but you don’t see yourself as a 45 year old touring Silver Jew?

DCB: I’m hoping that I’ll find different work by then.

What do you think about LOMLOC as the official acronym for it? It’s cute, I think.

Raford: LOMLOC? It works.

Raford: Do you see LOMLOC as the Jews’ last record?

DCB: I don’t know if it’s the last, but I’m definitely not going to make it again.

Raford: On that tour, you told me that it was kind of strange for you to be around people who knew the lyrics to your songs better than you did. I found it understandable that your fans would know the lyrics to your songs. What was a little disconcerting to me was that there seemed to be a certain element of your fan base in Bloomington that seemed to enjoy emulating your appearance. Creepy? Inspirational? Or am I thinking too much?

DCB: Hmmmmm. I think they are trying to look like Carl Sagan.

Raford: Heh. No.

Up next: David and I discuss Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea.

11 responses to “Silver Jews Thursday – David Berman on LOMLOC, Writing, and the Ugliness of Failure – Part I

  1. That picture by the water is precious. Where was that taken?

    PS: Happy Birthday!

  2. Thanks, Laura! Happy birthday to Grant, as well!

    The pic by the water was taken in Wooster, OH by a lake that was behind my grandparents home.

  3. Pingback: Silver Jews Saturday - David Berman on LOMLOC, Failure, and Squirrels - Part III « Blog de Ford

  4. That did go well!!! What fun !!!! Bravo! Good job !!!

  5. i love it!!!!!!!

  6. Pingback: The Silver Jews are coming soon to town near you

  7. Sweet! Indy in October … I’ve already hired a sitter!

  8. The link the other guy posted seems dead, so here’s Pitchfork’s link to the tour dates:

    Laura, I’m a little pissed about the Indy date…I’ll be out of the country for most of October. But I’ll ask that you’re guest-listed so that maybe you and Christine or Grant can go.


  9. So sorry to hear that you won’t be here! At least you’re going out of the country and not to someplace like Sheboygan (which I’m sure is quite lovely, but not like international travel!)

  10. Pingback: Silver Jews Saturday – David Berman on LOMLOC, Obama, and Squirrels – Part III

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