Breaking Up Is Easy to Do

dcb There's a lot of things that I'm gonna miss... (By Michael Schmelling)

In a typically cryptic, humorous and odd manner, David Berman announced the end of the Silver Jews late last week. Regular readers know that, well, I sort of liked the Silver Jews.

To use one of my old lines, I was Orthodox.

I can promise you that those links represent a mere fraction of the time I've spent writing about/obsessing over/examining every detail of the Silver Jews. So when the news broke, I got all these e-mails from people apologizing and saying they were sorry.

Appreciate the concern and all, but it's really no big deal. Bands break up. It's what they do.

At least, it's what they should do. Even Ryan Adams knows that.

Granted, not all bands break up on bizarre message board posts in which a long-buried family secret is revealed. (Indie rocker with the most perfect ethics is son of almost comically villainous right-wing lobbyist nicknamed "Dr. Evil"!)

But in a way, this crazy end is almost fitting. David Berman made sure the Silver Jews existed in their own world, a world that was a lot weirder and more interesting than the one we all live in.

Until just a few years ago, it was a world we were never ever really invited to visit. For the first 16 years of their existence, all you got from Berman was five (and a half, or so) albums. There were maybe one or two things resembling a performance, but never a real show. He was equally stingy when it came to being interviewed.

It was a refreshingly rare form of artistic expression -- he had no interest in being a rock star. He just wanted to write his dozen or so songs every few years and then release them into the wild. When he finally started touring and doing interviews after "Tanglewood Numbers" was released in 2005, it seemed like it was more of an empathetic gesture of thanks to the fans that had been with him for a long time.

But it was more like the positive press, admiration and adulation bothered him more than anything, propelling him to a status that he wanted no part of.

"I welcome people challenging what I've done on the level of what I've done," he told me about a year ago. "But I do get embarrassed about adulation that I see when it comes my way, if it comes my way. It's embarrassing because I recognize it as part of this complete affirmation of the idea of a 'cool' rock band, of which there can be nothing wrong if a band is cool and they're rising. There can be nothing wrong with them ... The kind of patronization that goes on with people like Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Mick Jagger on one end and then what goes down on the other end as far as adulation for a buzz band, it's sickening."

Another reason Berman gave for putting an end to the Silver Jews was that "if I continue to record I might accidentally write the answer song to 'Shiny Happy People.'"

I might argue that "Candy Jail" off last year's "Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea" was closer to that point that he'd like to think, but the message was clear: Quit while you're still ahead.

Better to burn out than fade away, etc. It's not a path for everyone -- after the nuclear apocalypse there will be lots of cockroaches and a new Fall album every 14 months, with Mark E. Smith backed by cockroaches, half of whom were fired during the recording of the album.

But Berman was never going to go on like that. His career was an exercise in efficiency, so this ending is fitting.

By David Malitz |  January 28, 2009; 3:57 PM ET Appreciations , Screeds , Silver Jews
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