On Sunday, indie-rock fans were pleasantly shocked to see that the Tennessee Titans had posted a video message honoring David Berman, of the Silver Jews and Purple Mountains, who died earlier this year. “Nashville (and the world) will always love David Berman,” the message on the Nissan Stadium jumbotron read.
Berman, who moved from Charlottesville, Virginia to Nashville around the same time Nashville got its NFL franchise, was a Titans fan who sometimes put football into his songs and writing, like this 2016 poem honoring Darius Van Arman, founder of the Charlottesville indie label Jagjaguwar, in which Berman described pounding drinks with on a Saturday afternoon in 1995 while watching the University of Virginia nearly pull off a miracle upset against the number-one ranked Florida State. “The chance of UVA beating Florida State in 1995 was about as low as the likelihood that a local record could ever matter to anyone in the outer world,” he wrote. They didn’t, but Jagjaguwar is still going strong.
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The Titans’ statement actually summed up the problem of a David Berman-less existence pretty well; the world misses him because he loved the world and the word still needs him to help those of us left around process its debilitating beauty, stupid irony and bottomless pain with the kind of songs no one else could write.
There have been many loving tributes to Berman since his death, including a recent album Approaching Perfection, where dozens of artists covered Silver Jews and Purple Mountains songs (the best is Dean Wareham’s delicately Velvet Underground-tinged reading of Purple Mountains’ “Snow Is Falling On Manhattan”). Right before Halloween, another great indie-rock artist, Stef Chura, released her version of “How to Rent a Room,” a Silver Jews classic from 1996’s The Natural Bridge.
Mordantly funny and shabbily pretty, it’s a message from the victim of a suicide (or maybe a botched suicide), opening with the indelible line, “Now, I don’t really want to die/I only want to die in your eyes/I’m still here below the chandelier where they always used to read us our rights.”
Chura, a Michigan indie-rocker who released her excellent second album Midnight earlier this year, sings it perfectly, deepening the country ache in the original by replacing Berman’s signature dirty-realist deadpan with a more earnest sense of heartbreak and slowing the song down so her voice can crack, as she savors each line before she finally breaks into a endearingly dank yodel at the end when she sings, “Grant me one last wish/Life should mean a lot less than this.” It’s another wonderful echo of a life that meant so much, and keeps giving our lives new meaning.
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