David Berman, the songwriter and poet best known for co-founding the US alt-rock band Silver Jews, has died at the age of 52, his record label Drag City confirmed in a tweet. The cause of death has not been released at the time of writing.
Berman formed Silver Jews in the late 1980s alongside Pavement members Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, who he befriended while the three were studying at the University of Virginia. The band’s lo-fi mixture of noise rock and country music eventually got them signed to Drag City, which released two EPs by the group – Dime Map of the Reef and The Arizona Records — before putting out its debut album, Starlite Walker, in 1994.
During Silver Jews’ early years, Malkmus formed the better-known Pavement (eventually joined by Nastanovich), which became one of the signature alt-rock bands of the 1990s thanks to acclaimed, commercially-successful albums like Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. During the Pavement years, Malkmus and Nastanovich continued to perform with Berman in Silver Jews, which also went on to release a host of critically-revered LPs, most prominently 1998’s American Water and 2005’s Tanglewood Numbers. In the early 2000s Berman’s wife Cassie Berman began playing with the group, contributing backing vocals and occasional bass to its last three albums.
Malkmus and Nastanovich were absent from Silver Jews’ final album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, released in 2008 to further acclaim. “It’s really different in that the songs have more epic settings,” Berman told Billboard at the time. “They are faux-heroic. Or rather foe-heroic. The music is never hard rock. Every song has a function or meaning that you could sum up in a few words.”
Several months following Lookout Mountain’s release, Berman, who was the group’s sole constant member, disbanded it in January 2009 with a post on Drag City’s website. “I always said we would stop before we got bad,” he wrote.
After a 10-year hiatus, Berman released a new album last month with the band Purple Mountains, which also consists of Woods members Jeremy Earl, Jarvis Taveniere, Aaron Neveu and Kyle Forester along with singer-songwriter Anna St. Louis. He was slated to begin touring behind the release this coming weekend.
During his lifetime Berman also released two collections of poetry, 1999’s Actual Air and 2009’s The Portable February.
A number of fellow artists have already taken to social media to pay tribute. Marc Maron from Japanese Breakfast wrote “F_k. Goddamnit. RIP David Berman. One of the great tortured poetic souls is gone. A master of beautiful darkness.” Superchunk said: “Of, loosely, my generation of songwriters, the best of us. This loss is devastating. Rest easy, fellow traveller.” The Mountain Goats wrote: “David Berman was a poet and genius and the world is a lot darker with him no longer in it. Gutted.”