My Unfinished Sound Project with David Berman (Hear: "Governors on Sominex", "The Moon", and "My Life at Home During Banking Hours")
Last month was a rough one. I began August grieving the death of a friend, Paul Krassner, which Mark remembered here on Boing Boing, following Paul's death on July 21. I also wrote a piece on PK, which ran on The Comics Journal.
I didn't share the Comics Journal item with many people, but one of those I emailed was the Silver Jews' David Berman. I figured he'd appreciate the politics, strength, and humor of Paul's life. I didn't hear back, which wasn't surprising, yet I'd regret it being the last message I'd send him. Two weeks later news everywhere would announce Berman's suicide.
For a brief moment I was horrified at my last message. I barely knew David, yet it's weird how grief can operate, overwhelming you with regret over help not offered. But what can anyone ever say.
Communicating with David had been a highlight of 2019. I'd spent years living with his music and art. I'd contacted David earlier this year to invite him to a project of mine, Spoken Word with Electronics. I'm now so thankful for the brief moment I felt a friendship developing, no matter how fleeting.
One wall of Harry's Loft, my recording space in Austin TX
I've been quietly working on this spoken word project for a few years. It's meant to be a modern take on Folkways Recordings. I either record a vocal performance from an author in the studio, do a live recording on the phone, or arrange for an emailed audio file. I then pair the vocal into a soundtrack of music and other sounds, making a kind of audio movie.
There's already a good list of participants and finished pieces with others, which I'll likely post here as a series.
In May, David replied that he was willing to participate. I was beyond delighted. His reply felt amazing to receive. After a decade hidden, Berman was suddenly visible. He had a new album coming out, the amazing Purple Mountains, and even a planned tour.
I wrote back very thankfully. Not wanting to add any pressure to this public year, I mentioned I'd check in with him in the winter after he'd returned.
For someone as reclusive as Berman, stories of this kindness are surprisingly common. Since his passing, many have provided their own memories. My personal favorites have been a three part phone recording, this cassette sent to a podcast (wait for the Helen Keller joke) - or this wonderfully sincere wedding gift to music journalist Andrew Male.
When Purple Mountains came out, I couldn't help but contact David a few times to praise the album. His replies were gracious, very clever, and looked like little poems, themselves. He was in a pretty good mood about the album. I will treasure those emails for life.
Then of course, David died last month.
Tracks one and three were completed before that happened, Track two was after. All vocals were found on youtube. I did "The Moon" as a way of closure on the project.
I'd planned to share the early tracks with David in November as a conversation piece for whichever third track he might want to include. I'd be happy to wait years for it.
I am pleased with these three tracks as a personal tribute to his work and him as a person. I'll live the rest of my life never knowing what track David would have selected and sent, but that mystery is cool. I'm fine with it.
Love to David Berman.
Here are the three tracks completed:
"Governors on Sominex"
"The Moon" (Live in Romania, 2016)
"My Life at Home During Banking Hours"
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