It’s been ten years since David Berman ended his legendary indie rock project Silver Jews. He shared the first song from his new band Purple Mountains last month, and today, he spoke to the Washington Post for his first interview in years. Berman discusses dissolving Silver Jews, collaborating with Black Mountain and Jeff Tweedy, exposing his infamous father, and almost developing a movie about his father for HBO.
In January of 2009, Berman announced the end of Silver Jews in a post on the band’s message board. He followed with another post called “My Father, My Attack Dog,” in which he revealed his father’s identity and his role in Berman’s decision to hang up the Silver Jews moniker.
“Now that the Joos are over I can tell you my gravest secret. Worse than suicide, worse than crack addiction. My father,” the post began. “You might be surprised to know he is famous, for terrible reasons…This winter I decided that the SJs were too small of a force to ever come close to undoing a millionth of all the harm he has caused.”
Richard Berman is a millionaire DC lobbyist who supports “big tobacco, soft-drink companies, and union-busting corporations,” as the Post points out. The bio page of his firm’s website features a clip from a 60 Minutes calling him “Dr. Evil” and “the booze and food industries’ weapon of mass destruction.”
“I don’t remember anything except feeling like one of those Buddhist monks who throws gasoline on themselves,” David Berman tells the Post about revealing his secret. “I think I wanted to take the option of slinking back to the constant affirmation from fans away from myself…I always loved bands with mystique.”
After dissolving Silver Jews, Berman sublet an apartment in DC facing the building where his father lived in the ’70s following his parents divorce. Berman spent a few months in that apartment writing an exposé of his father. HBO offered him $150,000 for the rights to his story, but without his input. Berman declined, worried the network would portray his father as a sympathetic character like Tony Sporano.
In the interview, Berman also talks about befriending Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach at Harmony Korine’s Hanukkah party. Berman says making fun of fellow Nashville resident, Jack White, “really brought [them] together.” Berman adds, “He liked it when I called Jack White ‘Sir Edgar Scissor Blues.’” Auerbach and Berman made music together until Berman backed out.
The article includes commentary from famous fans like Dan Bejar and Kurt Vile about Berman’s dark humor and songwriting. Apparently, Berman also recorded an entire album with Black Mountain, but ended up scrapping it. Tweedy did spec production work as well, before Berman decided to go in a “in a different direction.”