Provincializm #12: Silver Jew and David Berman, Part One

Leave it to William Bowers to follow a column about Black Kids with one about a Silver Jew. WSB can be racially profiled at Puritan Blister.

The Book Of Job, starring David Berman

Provincializm: Hero, Worship (Part One)

by William Bowers

Indulge me a quick hegira to Fanboyistan: I’m among the multitude of blokes who imagine themselves to have undergone an abstract discipleship involving Silver Jews frontman David Berman. We mail-order-chased him everywhere, beyond his discography’s slippery singles, compilation tracks and EPs: collecting his work for The Minus Times, stockpiling his band’s posters, shelving Robert Bingham publications that referenced/influenced him, deconstructing the significance of our drool on his book of poetry, “explaining” the band name to passersby curious about our tee-shirts’ ironic Zionism, etc. I once mistook a forwarded compliment from Berman regarding something that I’d typed more seriously than multiple marriage vows.

Desperate completists still email me in hopes of obtaining a copy of a nonexistent Joos tome that I fauxcerpted. In issue #60 of No Depression, I even (unrigorously) attempted to define “Silver Jew” as a state of being, one worth striving to attain—it consisted of cultivating facial hair, donning Western thrift togs, keeping some peroxide in a Bank Of America koozie, treating people like cosmic glyphs through which one is supposed to glean cosmic empathy, and being all autumnal and confident. Drinks and drugs seemed crucial, too, later. Basically one was to approximate philosopher-palooka-tude by sitting around trying to come up with new canards. Y’know, like those goobers who emulate Hunter S. Thompson, but way/so loftier. Thus: watching Michael Tully’s film Silver Jew can be bittersweet, in that Berman is vividly mortalized while pursuing the eternal. Leave it to him to be the subject of a rockumentary best suited for screenings during an Anthropology Of Religion course.

Indulge me a brief diary entry: Watching people sob is…my porn. It probably dates back to having to monitor Dad’s rope-bridges of grief-snot after my parents’ divorce, and then being sent outside to swing into my siblings via weeping willow branches. Anyway: I regularly conduct Google image searches for “sadness.” I Kodak-captured a mate exactly when I canceled our elopement. I relish Denzel Washington’s tears in Glory, Richard Griffith‘s breakdown in The History Boys, and Katerine Vauban’s sobpoint Polaroids during I Heart Huckabees. I’ll forever wonder, and wordlessly understand, why the Cenobites rip apart Andrew Robinson in the first Hellraiser for saying, “Jesus wept.” 1990 is my favorite Daniel Johnston album primarily because of how he loses it during the unrhyming, existential hymn “Careless Soul.” Unpathetic crying is, methinks, a behavioral holy grail. Deifiers of David Berman should be very afraid of Silver Jew, however: The film climaxes when our hero weeps for two minutes and fourteen seconds, his dignity intact.

The reason Berman’s ducts unleash: religiosity, at the Western Wall, after which he takes a walk with his wife that makes heteronormativity seem, y’know, ordained, and which informed Tully’s video for “I’m Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You.” Silver Jew documents Berman’s time in Israel, playing two Tel Aviv shows and touring Jerusalem. Fans must be prepared to weather explanations of his puckish band name’s metastisization from Malkmus-esque goof into (gag) uncanny reverence…


Silver Jew has screened in Austin, Sarasota, Nashville, Boston, Glasgow, and London. It plays in Detroit November 3, and in Leeds on November 9 and 13. A DVD release is forthcoming via Drag City after the new Joos LP drops in February 2008.

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