Somewhere in a Foggy Atlas: A Silver Jews Map of America
Touring the more poetic ends of the country with our guide David Berman, in honor of the tenth anniversary of Tanglewood Numbers.
Technically, David Berman was born in Virginia. But like Robert Zimmerman, the Silver Jews laureate is a man who has a wife who has a mother, and has proved that he needs no tutorial on how to rent a room somewhere far away from home.
As far as I can dig up, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Texas, and Tennessee are the other states that join Virginia as having hosted Berman for extended periods of time, yet in his music, he is fluent in the entirety of the continental US, rarely allowing characters to linger in any one town for long enough to do more than down a beer (or six) before moving on. And on any given Joos record, you’re likely to dip into the geographical heart of rural American quirkiness in strangely precise detail before eventually dripping back through the central arteries of urban chaos on your way out.
Funny, then, that Berman rejected live shows and touring for so long—and soon after he finally did give it a go in 2005, the music stopped. Actually having been to places like Odessa or Tchula was never a prerequisite, it seems, for being able to sing about them. If anything, it hindered the process. After all: “The meaning of the world lies outside of the world.”
Below, in celebration of the recent tenth anniversary of Tanglewood Numbers (as well as the tin anniversary of the first Silver Jews tour), you can jump onto the Berman Express, making frequent stops across this great nation, mostly in places where the train happens to break down.
And David, when you get to writing about precisely which places you were screwing in across Europe, do let us know.
“You know Louisville is death / We’ve got to up and move / Because the dead do not improve.” — “Tennessee,” Bright Flight
“There is a house in New Orleans / Not the one you heard about, I’m talking about another house.” — “New Orleans,” Starlite Walker
“It’s raining triple sec in Tchula / And the radio plays ‘Crazy Train.’” — “Black and Brown Blues,” The Natural Bridge
“Call me from Albemarle Station if you can / I hope you find your concentration beneath those ceiling fans.” — “Albemarle Station,” The Natural Bridge
“I’m drunk on a couch in Nashville / In a duplex near the reservoir / And every single thought is like a punch in the face / I’m like a rabbit freezing on a star.” — “Horseleg Swastikas,” Bright Flight
“Birds of Virginia are flying within ya / Like background singers they all come in threes.” — “We Are Real,” American Water
“Oh, come let us adore them, California overboard / When the sun sets on the ghetto all the broken stuff gets cold.” — “Smith & Jones Forever,” American Water
“True love doesn’t come around any more than fate allows on a Monday in Fort Lauderdale.” — “Candy Jail,” Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
“You got Tennessee tendencies and chemical dependencies / You make the same old jokes and malaprops on cue.” — “Suffering Jukebox,” Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
“Sometimes I dream of Texas / Yeah, it’s the biggest part of me.” — “Rebel Jew,” Starlite Walker
“Friend, this is from your friend offa Natchez Trace / The only dream left worth believin’ starts with animal shapes.” — “Animal Shapes,” Tanglewood Numbers
“They don’t walk / They don’t talk in Malibu.”
“They don’t cream / And they don’t dream in Kansas City.”
“They don’t cry / And they don’t die in South Dakota.” — “Federal Dust,” American Water
“Hand in hand down a waterslide in Chattanooga / They did not hide from love you see.” — “I Remember Me,” Bright Flight
“It’s not made if it’s in Roanoke.” — “The Country Diary of a Subway Conductor,” Starlite Walker
“Inside the golden days of missing you / With the people of Cleveland who’ve suffered for so many years.” — “Inside the Golden Days of Missing You,” The Natural Bridge
“Gold and green / Red and blue / Are the lights on the signs that line Charlotte Avenue.” — “Animal Shapes,” Tanglewood Numbers
“Black-eyed Susans from the Maryland shore / We’ll trim back the thorns around the hospital door.” — “The Poor, The Fair, and The Good,” Tanglewood Numbers
“The Federales back from Tucson, each one got an arm gone.” — “Pan American Blues,” Starlite Walker
“Buy a vase of carnations from central Ohio / Where the looking-machine can’t hear us.” — “Pet Politics,” The Natural Bridge
“How’d you turn a billion steers / Into buildings made of mirrors?” — “Dallas,” The Natural Bridge
“Up the hill past 694, at the stone wall make a left / And I will see you soon, my friend.” — “We Are Real,” American Water
“I see you gracefully swimming with the country club women / In the Greenwood southside society pool.” — “Blue Arrangements,” American Water
“The lights went out in New York / Then they went in Goshen / I got stuck in Goshen and that was sad.” — “The Farmer’s Hotel,” Tanglewood Numbers
“I know a puppy / Who walked from Kentucky / Made to East Virginia by dawn / He had seventeen ideas in his head.” — “Send in the Clouds,” American Water
“Squirrels imported from Connecticut / Just in time for fall.” — “Strange Victory, Strange Defeat,” Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea
“The new girl in Tahoe has swallowed Sinatra’s cum / A Russian prima donna dances slow on valium.” — “Ballad of Reverend War Character,” The Natural Bridge
“When he finally came to the girl he loved was long gone / She’d married a banker and gone to Oklahoma.” — “I Remember Me,” Bright Flight
“Got two tickets to a midnight execution / We’ll hitchhike our way from Odessa to Houston.” — “Smith & Jones Forever,” American Water
“We’re gonna live in Nashville and I’ll make a career / Out of writing sad songs and gettin’ paid by the tear.” — “Tennessee,” Bright Flight