December 10, 2019
I was asked over the summer to review the new David Berman album, the debut self-titled release of his new project, Purple Mountains. It was his first release, besides a one off with The Avalanches (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XTrz0yvxe0), in around a decade. The album is very good, and often brilliant, like the rest of Berman’s records. And his book of poems, Actual Air. And The Portable February, his collection of cartoons and doodles. And his essays, which are not plentiful, scattered and uncollected. I planned to write about the album and its relation to Berman’s genius, and his mastery of language and form. How it is the work of an old, tired master—an album without flash. One that is smooth, perceptive, prescient, and weighted with pain. I was to finish the piece after seeing Purple Mountains play a concert at Brooklyn’s Murmrr theater. That would have been in late August.
This plan made sense to me for a few reasons. First, the symbolic. Murmrr was once a synagogue. And as a writer of a vague and intrinsic Jewishness, I feel a sort of kinship with Berman. We are wanderers in the same diasporic and Freudianly horny tradition. And, at least to me, a devoted fan, Berman, across his output, proffered something spiritual. What one might call a rabbinic element. A gesture at a fuller life beyond bodies and their doldrums. A life of language. A life of more and less living.