Ed Park peered into the strange world of David Berman's drawings for last week's cover story.  Park argued that the drawings collected in the newly released  Portable February are cut from the same quirky cloth as Berman's poetry and music.  One 'rawing that particularly caught the writer's attention: a billboard/projection stating, “Somehow I had offered to deliver bad news to a maniac.”

"You can even imagine Berman’s deadpan, dead-on singing voice delivering that non-punchline punchline on one of his albums with his band, the Silver Jews," Park says.

Ah yes. The now-defunct Joos.   That monotonic punchline machine that is Berman's singing voice, delivering zingers over some jangly jangles.  It's amazing how much of my life has been spent humming the following:

In 1984 I was hospitalized for approaching perfection.

-"Random Rules"

On the last day of your life don't forget to die.

-"Advice to the Graduate"

We're trapped inside this song where the nights are so long!

-"New Orleans"

Sentimental as a cat's grave.  Fuckin' body broke my eyes.

-"I'm Gonna Love the Hell Out of You"

All houses dream in blueprints.

-"Pretty Eyes"

When the sun sets on the ghetto all the broken stuff gets cold.

-"Smith and Jones"

It is autumn and my camouflage is dying.

-"The Wild Kindness"

The sky is low and gray like a Japanese table

-"Time Will Break the World"

What about the stuff we quote believe?

-"San Francisco B.C."

What looks like sleep is really hot pursuit.

-"My Pillow is the Threshold"

Admittedly, I wake up nearly every mornign with Public Enemy's "911 is a Joke" rattling around in my brain, so I may be a tuneless obsessive.  But sometimes I feel like these particular tunes have a code embedded in them I'm stupidly susceptible to.  I mean, they're so goofy, but I can't help but love them!

Originally Published: July 14th, 2009

Travis Nichols is the author of two books of poetry: Iowa (2010, Letter Machine Editions) and See Me Improving (2010); and he is the author of two novels: Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (2012) and The More You Ignore Me (2013). He has contributed to The Believer, Paste, The...

  1. July 14, 2009
     michael robbins

    Apparently an Olson fan, too: "The Moon Is the Number 18" (what the hell does that mean anyway?).\r

    I think of the National: "You've been humming in a daze forever / Praying for Pavement to get back together."\r

    Oh, my twenties. Where are they!\r

    I assume you know Dan Bejar's work? & John Darnielle's (who has been kind enough, I cannot resist pointing out, to praise my poems)?

  2. July 14, 2009
     michael robbins

    Also, the New Pornographers quote Wittgenstein, but Berman alludes to both Heidegger & Kant in a song that, nevertheless, doesn't suck, which contains one of my favorite of his verses:\r

    Do you believe in MGM endings?\r
    Everybody's coming back to Christmas for Texas.\r
    Folks who watch their mother killing animals know\r
    Their home is surrounded by places to go.

  3. July 14, 2009
     Travis Nichols

    But what do you think of the drawings?

  4. July 14, 2009
     Michael Theune

    I, too, love Silver Jews.\r

    My favorite moment from their songs occurs at the end of the first song on Starlite Walker, the cheekily titled "Introduction II." Addressed to "my friends" ("Hello, my friends. Hello, my friends. Come in, have a seat...."), the song (which in fact is one minute long) concludes:\r

    "My friends...\r

    don't you know that I never\r
    want this minute to end...?\r

    [gorgeous, devastating pause]\r

    "...and then it ends..."\r

    Great stuff. But, please, don't even get me started on Guided by Voices...