TV icon David Hasselhoff has recorded a metal song, “Through the Night,” with the two-man metal project CUESTACK, and a Kickstarter campaign to finance the final steps of editing a video and “making-of” documentary on the project is now underway.
The collaboration between Hasselhoff and CUESTACK started in 2018 with many demos and meetings to make what seemed like an impossible idea slowly turn into a reality. As life-long “Hoff‘” fans, CUESTACK had the ultimate goal to create a metal project with the most-watched man on TV showing the world his heavy side. Hasselhoff recorded the track with CUESTACK in 2019 in Vienna where they also shot an epic music video together.
The band’s final mission: Finishing the editing process of the cinematic video that will accompany the song. With a limited budget and schedule, CUESTACK shot the entire video with Hasselhoff in just one day, using smaller versions of the sets than originally planned. To turn their retro Sci-Fi/Cyberpunk vision into reality, a massive post-production effort is needed now to extend these basic sets into living worlds.
Kickstarter Campaign Now Underway
All Kickstarter contributions go directly into financing those final steps. Aside from providing digital downloads, Hasselhoff fans can pre-order special “Through the Night” box sets, which include a Digipak CD, eight-page booklet with liner notes, printed high-quality autograph card, poster, “Through the Night” baseball cap and custom leather bracelet.
When the worlds of eccentric lighting/VFX designer Martin Kames and shred guitar content creator Bernth Brodträger collide, explosive music and art manifest in the form of CUESTACK. An unmistakable blend of metal and electronic music with well established sonic trademarks is the result, paired with an industrial, dystopian corporate identity that is ever-present in the band’s cinematic music videos and artworks.
Lost Symphony, the classical-metal ensemble headed up by multi-instrumentalist and producer Benny Goodman with a host of accomplish guest musicians, has released the third single from their upcoming Chapter II album – a track entitled “A Murder of Crows,” was inspired by the memory of late guitarist Oli Herbert, who was an early contributor to Lost Symphony.
During the funeral for the All That Remains guitarist nearly two years ago, a group of crows were said to have collective above the gathering. “It was often thought that a large group of crows decided the outcome of other birds,” Goodman says. “A large gathering is called a murder of crows and was often an omen of bad things to come.”
“A Murder of Crows” features guest appearances by guitarist Jon Donais (Anthrax, Shadows Fall) and Jimi Bell (Autograph, House of Lords).
“Working with Lost Symphony was such a blast for me,” says Donais, “It’s an honor to play on a project with some of the best heavy metal and rock guitarists out there. This is a must for anyone who loves shred guitar!”
Just months after Lost Symphony raised the bar on classical-infused metal with their debut, Chapter I, the ensemble has returned with a new single, “Conflagration,” from the upcoming Chapter II (set for release on October 16).
Primarily composed before, yet eerily perfect for the age of the Pandemic, the eight-track opus of Chapter II strains beauty through aural apocalypse. The collective founded by multi-instrumentalist and producer Benny Goodman and comprising his brother Brian (compositions, arrangement), Cory Paza (bass, guitar), Kelly Kereliuk (guitar), Paul Lourenco (drums), and Siobhán Cronin (violin, viola, electric violin) has once again welcomed a revolving cast of virtuosos to join them for the next phase. This installment includes Marty Friedman, David Ellefson, Jeff Loomis and many more.
The album’s first two singles, “Conflagration” and “No Exit,” feature performances by Oli Herbert, Matt LePierre and Conrad Simon, and David Ellefson, Jeff Loomis and Marty Friedman, respectively.
Lost Symphony was set in motion when Benny Goodman invited guitarists Kereliuk and Simon to add another dimension to the classical demo he had composed. An early recording of “Leave Well Enough Alone,” which appears on Chapter II, made its way to All That Remains co-founder and guitar hero Oli Herbert, who quickly jumped aboard as a chief collaborator. Upon arrival, Chapter I immediately received widespread critical acclaim. Metal Insider described it as “the great collision between metal and classical music,” and BraveWords claimed it has “taken the scene by storm.”
System Of A Down have issued a collective band statement and call to action on all their social platforms regarding a current crisis occurring in their cultural homeland of Armenia and Artsakh. In the early morning hours of Sunday, September 27, forces in Azerbaijan began a large scale pre-meditated offensive attack on Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabagh), an independent and autonomous country that borders Armenia, populated with a vast majority of ethnic Armenians. International peace keeping powers are doing very little to dissuade Azerbaijan’s advances and the people of Artaskh are doing everything they can to defend their lives and homeland, where they have lived for thousands of years. For them, this a matter of survival, and nothing more as Azeri forces are trying to do little less than eradicate the 150,000 people that these lands are home to.
Artsakh gained independence in the early 1990’s from Azerbaijan after years of war and conflict beginning soon after the 1988 collapse of the Soviet Union, of which both countries were a part of. After gaining its own independence from the Soviet Union, Armenia has been a guarantor of Artsakh’s security. A cease-fire was agreed to between the countries in 1994, but over the past 2 decades, Azerbaijan has frequently broken this pact via mostly minor to moderate advancements and skirmishes along the line of contact.
This time, Azerbaijan with the aid of Turkey’s Recep Erdogan regime and military forces, launched a large scale offensive attack along the full eastern border of Artsakh and has launched attacks within the borders of Armenia as well. International calls for a stop to Azeri advances have gone ignored, and the leader of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev is attacking with impunity.
All four members of System Of A Down are of Armenian heritage, and since the band’s inception have brought awareness to many human rights issues, none more prevalent than that of the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Turkish leadership of the Ottoman Empire during WWI, when more than 1.5 million Armenians perished in the first genocide of the 20th century. To the band members and other Armenians all around the world, the war being waged on the people of Artsakh now is a continuation of the Armenian Genocide as the Turkic Azeris along with the support of Recep Erdogan’s Turkey are trying to eradicate the Armenians of Artsakh and claim these lands for themselves.
Their statement posted on their socials is below. It includes various calls to action and online petition links to raise awareness and a call on world leaders to insist Azerbaijan and Turkey stop the attacks immediately.
System Of A Down Statement:
The world turned a blind eye during:
the Armenian Genocide in 1915
the mass killings and pogroms of the 1980s and ‘90s
Azerbaijan’s invasion of Armenia in 2016
Now the world is turning a blind eye to 150,000 landlocked civilians under attack by Azerbaijan and Turkey.
SOAD has always stood for justice and peace. This notion comes from the suffering and injustice done to our people over centuries. Erdogan’s denialist Turkey is continuing the work of its genocidal ancestors, and allied with petro-corrupt Azerbaijan, are firing American made F-16 missiles into Artsakh and parts of Armenia killing soldiers as well as civilians. The world seems too busy with Covid and politics to care, but we HAVE to do something as this is an existential threat for our people and the first Christian Nation.
Since it seems difficult for the media, international organizations, and world powers to call out Azerbaijan on its war mongering, ethnic cleansing, and killing of innocent civilians, let’s help them. We are calling on everyone to join our efforts. Here is how…
LOS ANGELES – It’s not often that a song can make you feel lucky, unless you’re Jane N’ The Jungle from Phoenix, AZ, who are back with their infectious new song “Lucky 7”, releasing October 2, 2020. It’s the follow-up to their killer track “Animal”, continuing to get attention.
Jane N’ The Jungle is Jordan White, leading the band with her powerhouse vocals, Brian Dellis flame throwing on guitar and “Big B” slaying on bass.
White says, “Lucky 7” was written about a night the band had while playing a show in Las Vegas and hanging out at Longhorn Casino in East Vegas. It’s a free-spirited song that captures one of the band’s favorite memories.”
“Lucky 7” was produced by Grammy Award winning Producer/Engineer Chuck Alkazian (Pop Evil, Soundgarden, Tantric) at legendary Pearl Sound Studios (Asking Alexandria, Eminem, Filter).
Today, Live Nation announced the return of the Live From The Drive-in concert series, the fan favorite live music tailgating experience. Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit, Blackberry Smoke, Indigo Girls, and Yacht Rock Revue will headline the shows live on stage each night across two weekends, October 16-17 & October 23-24, in Alpharetta, GA at Lot A at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre.
Tickets will go on sale to the general public beginning this Friday, September 11th at 10am local time here. Tickets will be available to purchase as car passes. Fans will only need to purchase one ticket per car, with a maximum of four (4) people permitted in each car.
Live Nation is reimagining the live music experience during a time of social distancing by allowing fans to enjoy concerts in a one-of-a-kind drive-in setting from their own private individual tailgating zones next to their cars. This exclusive outdoor concert series gives attendees the chance to enjoy live music performances from some of their favorite artists while partying in the lot, socially distanced. Guests are allowed to bring chairs, food and drinks to party in their zone and truly make the experience theirs and unique to them. More details including event guidelines can be found via Live Nation here.
Citi is the official presale credit card of Live From The Drive-In. As such, Citi cardmembers will have access to purchase presale tickets beginning Tuesday, September 8th at 12pm local time until Thursday, September 10th at 10pm local time through Citi Entertainment®. For complete presale details go here.
“We are thrilled to have live music returning safely to the Atlanta area for a great weekend of Live From The Drive-In. We’ve seen such a great demand from fans to get back to concerts in a safe manner and from artists to get back on the stage to perform again,” said Peter Conlon, President of Live Nation Atlanta. “It’s also really great to be bringing live event jobs back to some local crew and workers who have been out of work since March. We can’t wait to see everyone come out!”
Each event will comply with all health and safety standards per local jurisdictions and state regulations in order to protect fans, artists, crews and staff. This includes thorough sanitation throughout the event and hand-sanitizing stations will be available, along with a number of other preventive measures.
For more information on the health and safety precautions we are taking, event guidelines and FAQs, visit here.
Live From The Drive-in Upcoming Dates:
Alpharetta, GA @ Ameris Bank Amphitheatre
Friday, October 16 – Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit
Ingridi Verardo just released her second single, entitled “Read Between The Lines“, which features the guest vocals by Daniela Serafim (Autopse, Monster Side Project). This track will be featured on Imperfection, her debut album which should released until the end of the year and will feature Samurai da Silva (As Do They Fall, Super Sonic Brewer) on guitars and bass, and Kelvin Salvetti (As Do They Fall, Black Adder) on drums.
About the single Ingridi said: “It has something much more personal than the previous song. As can be heard on ‘28 Days‘, I am proud of my scars but in this one, talking about a ‘relationship’ that existed and didn’t exist is much more difficult because I’m not used to share these stories with anyone. ‘Read‘ is a mix of good memories, but also recurring thoughts of how I wish that distance didn’t keep us that far from each other and it didn’t have a double life.”
Imperfection alludes to the fragility and experience of recording an album for the first time. In addition to the singles “28 Days” and “Read Between The Lines“, the album will have a total of eight tracks and will address personal themes from Ingridi’s life, with a sound inspired by her influences that include symphonic metal, anime tracks, opera and musicals.
The album is being produced by Roger Fingle (Blood Tears, Seduced By Suicide), who commented: “I am sure that in the beginning Ingridi didn’t have much of an idea of how hard it would be to record an album with this quality and how much I would push her. Despite that, unlike many other bands, no matter how emphatic I am, she doesn’t get offended with my criticism and she truly tries to understand what is wrong and she always comes back better for the next recording session.”
Philadelphia’s Model Prisoner recently released their politically-fueled debut EP Piss Universe, a mélange of metal, hardcore, and hip hop. In addition, Metal Injection unveiled the music video for their title track – a song about our society being a hot mess like a f*cked up beauty pageant where fake images and lies prevail, corruption rules, and it’s all just a game about money. Also, Model Prisoner’s bloodline includes influential bands such as Nowhere Roads, Swarm of Arrows, and Label the Traitor. Watch the “Piss Universe” video here.
Piss Universe was engineered, mixed, and mastered by rapidly rising producer Wyatt Oberholzer (Year of the Knife, No Option, Fixation, Struck Nerve) at The Knife Lair in Philadelphia, PA. Additional production and beats were provided by Jack Mickelson. The duo consisting of Keats Rickard and Jay “Lanky” Mallory tracked with Oberholzer in staggered sessions across a few months during quarantine. Influenced by the current state of our country, the result is explosive music with violent vocals and angry lyrics.
Their debut EP Piss Universe was released on August 28, 2020 and is available everywhere for streaming and download via Bandcamp with a vinyl release planned for the fall.
Milwaukee-based art-pop artist Valerie Lighthart is debuting a new self-directed music video for her latest single “Love & Money,” which includes a featured spot from queer Latinx pop artist Solana. The video was directed by Lighthart herself and also features a cameo by drag-queen Melee Mcqueen.
The “Love & Money” official music video, which premiered yesterday on Black Book, is now streaming here:
“Love & Money” is a pop-romp created to celebrate femininity and reclaim the ideals women and femme-identifying folks are vilified for -vanity, yearning for love, and self-interest. Valerie has created a safe space wherein femmes could express those traits euphorically, harkening back to the circles that witches danced around naked in the early American wilderness. Worshiping evil ideals, loving themselves wildly, and exuding power.
“I yearned to create a gilded realm to escape inside. I sought and found safe spaces to unpack the difficult feelings I had about womanhood, femininity, sexuality, and autonomy. As a young teenager, a dance class I took with my older sister helped me begin to unravel the complicated web of internalized misogyny I learned. It taught me to connect to my body in a new way and learn to embrace my thoughts and desires in a group of supportive femmes. We would spin in circles, laughing and talking. We showered love on each other, and the tone of acceptance, body positivity, and optimism was freeing. Through this joyful space, I grew the stability of identity to unpack my ideas on femininity, and analyze the shame that had it in a stranglehold. Women and femmes don’t have a monopoly on shame, but I felt empowered to think about what I knew best: feminine performance in relation to a hyper-sexed and shame-based culture,” says Valerie.
Having designed the set and coordinated the costumes to harken back to the restrictive and debauched 18th century, Valerie’s music video opens up the stage to include femme folks who’s artistic flair, drive, force, and ownership of their autonomy she deeply admires.
“Whilst celebrating this ambition in “Love & Money“, I also explore why these materialistic and capitalist desires are even important, by creating this over-the-top alter-ego. I think it’s fun to ask questions from a first-person perspective, and through this song, I was able to do a bit of soul searching and exploration of the femme experience in our society, the roles we’re encouraged to assume, and the spectrum of desires and goals we have and why we have them. Ultimately this project is about shining light on multi-dimensionality as an intrinsic part of femme nature,“ says Solana.
About Valerie Lighthart:
“Surging eccentrically out of Milwaukee, WI is the glorious curiosity that goes by the name of Valerie Lighthart. At just 22 years of age, the cultural polymath has already dabbled in filmmaking, poetry, acting, modeling– and of course… her true raison d’être, making music. But with her new single, it might be said that she has also crossed over into feminist philosophy.” – Black Book
Imbibed with the different flavors of visual and sonic characterization, Valerie Lighthart is a pop songstress that tempers fun melodies with a sense of something a few shades darker -punctuations of melancholy and unique stories centered around folklore, empowerment, travel, or personal trials. In some tracks, she embraces her personal identity and in some she subverts it altogether, creating an entirely new character in which to enact her ideas. Yearning to create a larger-than-life feeling of mythology within her new work, she is diving fully into chamber pop-inspired dance songs and floating through soundscapes of ambient and longing folk croons.
“Love & Money” is the introduction to the “By Moonlight” series, a careful cultivation of the opposing worlds of pop and folk to tell a story about the historical positionings of women. Different elements held within the trio of EPs intend to empower, awaken, question, and introspect. Her vehicle is the shining moon, eternal in her orbit, the fluttering tulle skirts of femme goddesses shaking the leaves from the trees, the monsters braying past the moonbeams in the darkness, and the murky waters of outcry and confusion. The lyrics are feminist, subversive, analytical, romantic, and lofty. The “By Moonlight” series is a trio of EPs, each in a different sub-genre, intended to analyze a different facet of femme existence: empowerment, transformation, performativism, sexuality, oppression, and rage
The project, set to release in installments over the next year, is a collaboration with N43 Records, a Midwest-based independent label empowering diverse voices.
TORONTO– The OBGMs, the Canadian trio who “spit fire” (Punk News) and “boast classic punk vibes with contemporary garage rock” (Alternative Press), have set an Oct. 30 release date for The Ends(Black Box Music).
“This album is about death, wanting to die, and fighting for something to live for — it’s the end of all things. I feel this is the one of the most important cross-genre albums this century,” says the always quotable singer/guitar player Densil McFarlane. “We are Nirvana, we are The Beatles, and The Stones. We are really changing the dimensions of which the game is played like the Steph Curry of this rock shit. We all have feelings of doubt, uncertainty, and I used to live there. I’m trying not to die there. If I’m going out, I’m going out shooting.”
News of the album’s release arrives as the band debut a new single from the 10-song collection, sharing a video for the cathartically combative single “Fight Song”. Watch here.
McFarlane says of the motivation behind the track: “You ever sitting in your 9-5 and someone talking reckless and you really want to punch them in their head top? You ever get that passive aggressive email from that disrespectful person and you want to walk to their cubicle and tell them about their mom? I wrote this song so I wouldn’t have to hold my tongue. We want the smoke. All of it. You don’t like us, fight me, or get the hell out of the way. You can’t stop us, this is how we die.”
The OBGMs (that’s The oOoh Baby Gimme Mores) — rounded out by drummer Colanthony Humphrey and bass player Joseph Brosnan — aren’t your typical rock band. “This is a black-fronted punk band, and that’s really important,”McFarlane says. “Rock n’ roll is mostly white suburban kids—that’s what gets promoted. But we are Black and we out here. I was inspired to make rock music when I saw a Black guy on stage, and if someone sees that in us, I hope it will inspire a new generation to go after this.”
The Ends was produced by GRAMMY and Juno award winning Dave Schiffman (Rage Against The Machine/The Bronx/Pup) and recorded at Dream House Studios (Toronto). Album pre-orders, which include a 180g red/yellow splatter vinyl variant, are available now here.
“You can love us or hate us,” says McFarlane. “I’m aiming for that. We’d prefer the love — we’re full of love — but I’d rather you hate me than feel indifference.”
“Densil McFarlane delivers his self-deprecating lyrics with the sneer and bulldozing attitude of Keith Morris-era Black Flag, but his riffing and hooks could give even the Billie Joe Armstrongs of the world a run for their money. Keep these guys on your radar for sure.” – Guitar World
“The OBGMs barrel through hook-laden, guitar forward, tracks reminiscent of the early aughts garage rock revival. Underpinning that sound is feverish punk energy coupled with shout sing vocals. It’s something like The Hives by way of The Germs. Or the Strokes covering The Stooges.” – Vice
It’s August 7th, 2019 at 11:45 AM, and I’m on lunch break at the high school where I teach in Arizona’s East Valley. The group of baseball players I have coached the past three years, and who eat in my room every day, file in one by one, and I glean bits and pieces of their in-progress conversations. As I get out my lunch and begin eating, I check Twitter, a mindless habit that almost always brings bad news. At the top of the trending topics, I see David Berman is trending.
Though it’s been less than a month since Berman’s reemergence after a ten-plus year absence from music with the release of his new band Purple Mountains’ debut self-titled record, I know he’s not trending because of the album. My first thought was of the lyrics to “Death of an Heir of Sorrows,” from his previous band Silver Jews’ album Bright Flight: “When I was summoned to the phone, I knew in my heart that you had died alone.” Replace “… was summoned to the phone” with “… saw you trending on Twitter.” I knew I didn’t need to click on his name to find out the awful truth. I clicked anyway. Checking Twitter is a mindless habit that almost always brings bad news. Confirming my immediate suspicion crushes me. I feel an emptiness that carries through lunch and the final two classes I have to teach: Film Studies and AP Research.
The first time I had heard of David Berman came, like all great moments of musical awakenings, via an off-hand recommendation from a record store clerk in 1998 at Kansas City’s legendary Recycled Sounds. Like I had done dating back to when I was 13 years old, I asked for a recommendation and then tried to appear cool and nonchalant while I rattled off a list of bands I liked. “You know, I like Superchunk and Pavement, Guided by Voices, Yo La Tengo; just cool indie rock stuff.” When he asked if I liked Silver Jews, I defaulted to the stance of someone out of the loop who didn’t want to appear out of the loop and claimed to have heard of them but just hadn’t checked them out yet. I asked where I should start, desperately hoping they had at least a couple of albums. They had three, an EP, and a few 7’’s, so I was safe.
He handed me the just-released American Water, and I bought it without question because record store clerks were the gatekeepers of cool to me at that age. I will forever owe that guy a debt of gratitude for his recommendation that day.
Whenever I hear a new song or album, I judge it on the existence of a firework moment, which is to say the part of a song where it seemingly takes off into the stratosphere and explodes in a moment of glory. This could be in a rocking style, like the vocal interchange between David Bowie and Freddie Mercury on “Under Pressure”, or in a more subtle, emotional way, like how Elliott Smith could write a song where the vocals never rose above a whisper but it was emotionally gut-wrenching. What I didn’t count on, or at least never would have expected, was the cleverness of the lyrics.
Berman, a poet with an MFA from UMASS, was a brilliant lyricist on a level few achieve. From the opening line of “Random Rules”, the first track, I knew that this album and this band were special. “In 1984, I was hospitalized for approaching perfection” was a lyric unlike anything that I’d ever heard before. I obsessed over the lyrics, listening to them and writing them down in my college notebooks. Had I not been a year removed from high school, every yearbook I signed would have been a randomly selected lyric, like “We’ve been raised on replicas of fake and winding roads/And day after day up on this beautiful stage/We’ve been playing tambourine for minimum wage/But we are real, I know we are real,” followed by “anyway, take care” and my signature.
I searched for every release like water in a desert. There was a need in my heart for it. During every low time, Berman’s music gave me comfort and hope. During my deepest battles with depression and anxiety when I felt no hope, I’d sooner play his albums on repeat late at night than take a single pill my doctor prescribed. “When I go downtown, I always wear a corduroy suit because it’s made of a hundred gutters the rain can run right through.”
I wanted desperately to see them live, but Berman had always resisted touring or even one-off live performances. In that now quaint time of message boards, rumors ran rampant as to the reasons, running the baseless rumor gamut from acute anxiety to drug addiction being the culprit. When they suddenly announced the first ever Jews tour to coincide with the 2005 release of Tanglewood Numbers, the band’s fifth album, and that they would be playing in St. Louis (a short drive from where I worked and wallowed) I snatched up tickets for me and my friend Tim, the other Silver Jews fan I knew.
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The show took place in the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant and music venue owned by Chuck Berry. The Duck Room was nothing more than the restaurant’s basement with a stage built along one wall, but I would have watched the show if it was in an alley during a thunderstorm. Standing twenty feet from the stage with Tim, just after opener Jennifer O’Connor left the stage, Tim nudged me and pointed to the merch table by the door where David Berman stood carrying a duffel bag, wearing faded jeans, a flannel shirt, and a trucker hat. He started cutting across the crowd who seemed either oblivious out of a hip glibness or because he drew no attention to himself, just moving forward with an even pace. As he drew near, I jumped at a chance I’d wanted to have since I first put on American Water seven years before.
When I made eye contact, he stopped and set down his duffel bag. “Hi,” I stammered, “I just want to thank you for this tour and including St. Louis. I’ve wanted to see you live for so long.” He smiled at me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, “Thank you for coming tonight. I’m looking forward to being up there tonight.” He gave my shoulder a quick squeeze, smiled again, picked up his bag, and continued on his way, going through a door to the right of the stage.
The show that night was as great as I’d hoped it would be. At 26, I didn’t own a cell phone, so no pictures exist. I borrowed a matchbook and a pen from the bar and wrote down the set list on the inside cover in the tiniest handwriting I could muster, so I could include all 22 songs. As we left, I bought every shirt they had (a reasonably priced $15, imagine that) and a vinyl copy of Tanglewood Numbers, and I buzzed about the show all the way home. I later wrote him a letter and sent it and the record I’d bought at the show to the P.O. Box address that was always in the liner notes of his albums. A couple of weeks later, Berman returned the record, which he had drawn on the cover and inscribed: “The good friend Ryan. I wish you 34 years of good luck. Love, DCB.” Also in the package was a copy of his poetry book, Actual Air, inscribed and signed, given to me unsolicited.
Two months after the show, I turned 27 and got a MySpace account and made my first post “In 27 years, I drank 50,000 beers, and they just wash against me, like the sea into a pier,” a lyric from the Silver Jews’ “Trains Across the Sea.” I did it partly as a joke and partly because stupid rock and roll lore taught me 27 was a cryptic and mysterious age. But for me, it was just 27 and nothing more. Still, I thought, if I burned out hard and fast in the coming 365 days, it would make a bitchin’ epitaph.
Fast forward three years to June 13th, 2008: my 30th birthday. I’m up early to drive ninety miles from the college town where I live to the nondescript small town where I grew up, to see family before returning home to celebrate with friends. I get a text from my boss telling me to come by the record store. When I get there, he hands me two copies of the new Silver Jews album Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea; one on CD and on vinyl. They’re presents for my birthday, gifted to me four days before its formal release date (sorry Drag City Records).
I drive back to the house I’m living in rent-free in the basement, through a thick summer rain that threatens to eliminate visibility altogether. At the house, I leave the CD in the car, planning to listen to it on my drive home, and take the vinyl inside. I have to finish packing and then need to leave. As I reach the bottom of the stairs, I step into knee-high water; the result of a floor drain in the basement backing up while I was gone. I see possessions of mine float by me: books, records, and moves are ruined, and my cat Miss Kitty is perched on a shelf terrified. Also among the destroyed items was a small box that contained among other things, the letter from Berman thanking me for my kind words in a letter I’d sent him that came with a signed copy of his poetry book Actual Air.
I won’t be going home, but would instead spend my 30th birthday trying to salvage my mostly-destroyed possessions, as I listen to the new album on repeat, trying to hold it together, even though I feel like my life is falling apart. The album would turn out to be their last, but it somehow manages to be their most hopeful. It’s that hope that keeps me from crying and wallowing in self-pity. I write Berman a letter telling him the story of the flood and my misery and thanking him for his music saving me.
Two weeks later, I received a large manila envelope with my name and address written on the front in the scrawl that I’d come to recognize from the liner notes of Silver Jews albums. Inside is a note from Berman expressing that he was sorry to hear of my birthday misfortune.
The envelope was filled with a veritable treasure trove of random items: drawings by him, a slip of notebook paper with some chord changes and snippets of lyrics to an unfinished song, a flyer for a shot written in Hebrew from the band’s tour of Israel, a photocopy of a love letter from Abraham Lincoln to Mary Todd, and a stanza pulled from a poem by William Blake that appeared to be typed on a typewriter. It read:
“It is an easy thing to laugh at wrathful elements
To hear the dog howl at the wintry door, the ox in the slaughterhouse moan;
To see a god on every wind and a blessing on every blast
To hear sounds of love in the thunderstorm that destroys our enemies’ house;
To rejoice in the blight that covers his field and the sickness that cuts off his children
While our olive and vine sing and laugh round our door and our children bring fruits and flowers
Then the groan and the dolour are quite forgotten and the slave grinding at the mill
And the captive in chains and the poor in the prison and the soldier in the field
When the shatter’d bone hath laid him groaning among the happier dead
It is an easy thing to rejoice in the tents of prosperity:
Thus could I sing and thus rejoice: but it is not so with me.”
Months later, still reeling and lost, I decide to get out of town and visit my sister. I plan the trip to coincide with the Silver Jews 100th show at The Metro, just blocks from Wrigley Field. My sister and I stand just a few feet from the stage. The set that night spanned every album and featured guest appearances from Dan Koretzky of Drag City Records and Berman’s college friend Bob Nastanovich, the original Silver Jews drummer and legendary Pavement hype man. It eclipsed the St. Louis shows and is still one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. At the close of the show, he retrieved the setlist that was written on a styrofoam plate from his suit jacket and attempted to throw it like a frisbee out into the crowd. Instead of flying out, though, it shot straight up into the air and came back down. I launched my 6’4” frame into the air and snagged it one-handed and pulled it back down with me like an NBA center snagging a defensive rebound on a would-be game-tying final second shot that secures a championship. It’s in a frame above my records to this day, and people who see it and ask, “why do you have a styrofoam plate in a frame?” are in for a longer answer than they anticipated.
It was also around this time when Berman announced the end of the Silver Jews. In a post to the Drag City Records message board, he detailed a lengthy struggle with his father, Richard Berman, a Washington lobbyist for everything that is horrible in the world. “Now that the Joos are over I can tell you my gravest secret,” Berman wrote on the Silver Jews messageboard. “Worse than suicide, worse than crack addiction: My father.” He said he wanted to dedicate his life to undoing all the damage his father had caused. What followed his announcement, however, was silence.
Nearly a year and a half later and a year after his announcement of the end of his band, I returned home exhausted from student teaching and found a package in the mail, written in his now familiar handwriting. It included his then-new art book The Portable February. I’d moved twice in the time since he had my address but somehow he got the book to me. As shocked as I was at his generosity and that he had thought of me a year and a half after the fact, I was more shocked by what was in the book: a note to me that read “Hang in there, Ryan. I am struggling too. Your friend, DCB.”
Reading this note from someone I felt a kinship with but did not actually know made all the stress in my life up to that point come to a head. I was denying how much I was struggling working 40 hours as a student teacher, 35 hours at a large-box store so I would have insurance, and 20 hours at the record store just to have a place where I loved to be. Somehow, all this time later, he knew the perfect time to send me a gift. The book and note still sit together on my shelf, and from time to time, I still get out the note and read it as a reminder to hang in there through the tough times.
Three years into his self-imposed music exile, his label Drag City Records issued the Early Times compilation that collected his early releases, including the Dime Map of the Reef 7” and the Arizona Record EP. He started a blog called Menthol Mountains, which included a lot of Rabbinic commentary on Judaism. His final post came just days before his death, when he shared “The Lost Princess” parable by Nachman of Breslov, about a princess who is exiled following an angry slip of the tongue by her father, and the viceroy who is sent to find her and bring her home. I don’t know if there was any special significance to it, with regards to what would happen 15 days later.
The Purple Mountains’ eponymous album was released on July 12th. The album shows that Berman hadn’t lost a step as a songwriter. It stood alongside the great Silver Jews albums and did not suffer from feeling like a pale imitation of previous, better work. No, this was an incredible album, punctuated by obvious heartbreak. Multiple songs alluded to the ending of his marriage (“All My Happiness is Gone,” “Darkness and Cold,” and “She’s Making Friends, I’m Turning Stranger”), a song acknowledging his isolation in life (“Maybe I’m The Only One For Me”) and most heartbreakingly, a song grieving the passing of his mother (“I Loved Being My Mother’s Song”). The album was beautiful but still worrisome, as the lyrics seemed to check every box of someone who was headed to a very dark place.
Reading interviews with him prior to his death and reading about his life leading up to his death, pieces of the puzzle made sense. Knowing his story – that he had been separated from his wife for a while – one can’t hear the songs on Purple Mountains’ self-titled album and not feel his pain. For an outsider like me, regardless of my level of fandom, I saw that he was not with his wife and still reeling from his mother’s passing, losing the two most central figures in his life and no doubt feeling isolated from the world. When you’re struggling with mental health, isolation is the inescapable weight. It doesn’t have to be isolated from people, as he had friends and supporters all around him. To feel true isolation is to feel isolated regardless of your surroundings; to feel alone in a crowded room. In reading what would turn out to be his final interviews, I saw nothing but red flags. As someone who had struggled with many of the same issues, every alert in my brain went up. You never consider that you’ll someday worry about your heroes.
All of this brings us back to August 7th at 11:45 AM and his name trending on Twitter, not in celebration of his talent, but in mourning of his passing. I was not alone in my deep love of him and his music. My experiences with him, though as deeply personal as they are cherished and loved, were not unique, as reading tweets in the days, weeks, and months after his passing showed that his kindness, generosity, and empathy for those who held his music dear was vast. A simple note in response to a letter or a small gift of a piece of Silver Jews memorabilia was the norm. Fans shared memories or just their favorite lyrics, and even in his passing and the grief felt by his friends, family, and fans worldwide, he drew us all close together one more time. Like a sing-along of “Black and Brown Blues” or “Random Rules” on one of the two Silver Jews tours, strangers were united in these moments of both loss and celebration of his life and career. In the end, his talent and his pain seemed forever entwined, with the x-axis of them being a straight line.
As I sat there in my classroom, with my baseball boys eating lunch and talking, I felt overwhelmed with grief, but again thought of those Bright Flight album-closing lyrics: “We were never promised there would be a tomorrow,” in “Death of an Heir of Sorrows.” He may have been reminding his long-lost friend, but 18 years after he wrote them, he was also reminding us.