Berman’s longtime record label, Drag City, confirmed the news on Wednesday evening: “We couldn’t be more sorry to tell you this. David Berman passed away earlier today. A great friend and one of the most inspiring individuals we’ve ever known is gone. Rest easy, David.”
The cause of death was not immediately, but it appears to have been sudden. Berman was scheduled to kick off a North American tour with Purple Mountains this weekend.
Berman formed Silver Jews in the late 1980s alongside Pavement members Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich. Over the course of the next two decades, and through various lineup changes, the band released six studio albums before Berman announced his retirement from music in 2009. The entirety of the band’s catalog is well regarded, but 1998’s American Water is considered their crown jewel.
Earlier this year, Berman launched a new project called Purple Mountains and released a masterful self-titled album. In her glowing review, senior writer Kayleigh Hughes called the project a “melancholy masterpiece,” writing, “David Berman is one of our greatest living songwriters and he’s returned in beautiful, melancholic form as Purple Mountains to speak to the lifelong nihilistic depressive in all of us.”
In the wake of his passing, several of Berman’s collaborations have offered their condolences. In a statement, Nastanovich said,
“I was saddened to hear that David died. Stephen called me to tell me this afternoon.
For most of my life, I was amazed by David as a person, a humorist and a writer. It was enlightening to have such a talented friend at a young age and realize that the talent wasn’t always a blessing.
David battled mental illness for nearly all of his life. He had professional help and the unyielding support of hundreds of good friends. He had many loving and devoted fans.
Please try to cherish your memories of him and his words and music including his last album Purple Mountains.
I know I will and I’m grateful that the list of good memories and stories is long.”
Fine social media tributes from Malkmus, The Avalances, and more below.
I didn’t know about my friend DCB when I wrote this must have been in the air .His death is fucking dark ..depression is crippling.. he was a one of a kinder the songs he wrote were his main passion esp at the end. Hope death equals peace cuz he could sure use it
— Stephen malkmus (@dronecoma) August 8, 2019
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We have no words to describe how we feel this morning to learn of the loss of David Berman. All our love goes out to his family & loved ones, the Drag City family and the musicians who journeyed with him. We were beyond fortunate enough to have David contribute his sublime words to both Wildflower and our upcoming album. On a personal level David was always there for me throughout the ups and downs of life and provided much guidance, solace and humor reflecting on our shared struggles. You helped me so much David. His book Actual Air remains a standalone work of rare beauty and a heartbreaking look at the magic inherent in the day-to-day. Farewell David …for you are the light by which we travel into this and that ✨ – r
Of, loosely, my generation of songwriters, the best of us. This loss is devastating. Rest easy, fellow traveler. https://t.co/6EqPLrDpXM
— The Mountain Goats (@mountain_goats) August 7, 2019
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So crushed. I grew up on David Berman and the Silver Jews catalogue in mostly real time… in such a way that his music and lyrics and vocals have touched me to this day and are still growing in significance (and of course a higher high of nostalgia on the side with each revisitation… and there has been so much revisiting these last few years I must say). I was so excited for these upcoming shows and how amazing the new Purple Mountains record is. I was so stoked and so proud of Jarvis and Jeremy and the @woodsist gang for knocking this album outta the park. David's music always hit on a basic human gut level just in the power of his lyrics and voice alone… in a way no other modern artist of my generation has been able to… We were friends but I was looking forward to hopefully becoming closer and was so excited to see him around with purple mountains and hopefully play on “trains across the sea” in philly. Speaking of that tune (and others)… I’ve been singing a few silver jews songs to my daughters at night before they go to bed… since they were little… (it was a no brainer in the dna of my upbringing…) they were always affected by Cassie’s beautiful voice in “Tennessee” and would wanna sing that part… to the extent the first song my oldest daughter Awilda sang from memory (and later we recorded a version of) was "trains across the sea" and she performed "new orleans" at her co-op talent show. When my family came thru Nashville David and Cassie took us in graciously and David bought the girls a Mr Games style trinket I guess you might call a diorama music box (?) either way it will be cherished always. Love forever to Cassie and David from Kurt, Suzanne, Awilda and Delphine. “Snow is falling in Manhattan…” “I loved being my mother’s son…” “when god was young… he made the wind and the sun. And since then it’s been a slow education. And you got that one idea again………” “oh… oh oh… I’m lightening. Oh… oh oh… I’m rain. Oh… oh oh… it’s frightening… I’m not the same. I’m not the same. I’m not the same.” ❤️ God bless @dragcityrecords for releasing so much (and all) of his material. R.I.P. David Berman. You will be missed.
We couldn't be more sorry to tell you this. David Berman passed away earlier today. A great friend and one of the most inspiring individuals we've ever known is gone. Rest easy, David. pic.twitter.com/5n5bctcu4j
— 𝕯𝖗𝖆𝖌 𝕮𝖎𝖙𝖞 (@dragcityrecords) August 7, 2019