David Berman, Indie-Rock Poet and Silver Jews Leader, Dies at 52

David Craig Berman was born in Williamsburg, Va., on Jan. 4, 1967. His mother, a housewife, became a schoolteacher after his parents divorced when he was 7. His father, Richard Berman, was a labor lawyer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who went on to become a high-powered and widely feared lobbyist for the tobacco, oil and soft-drink industries, and would later serve as a foil in Berman’s songwriting and other creative pursuits.

“My father is a despicable man,” Berman wrote in 2009, while announcing that he was disbanding Silver Jews. Citing his father’s attacks on environmentalists and unions, Berman described their estrangement and how it led to his search for meaning in Judaism, and away from music. “There needs to be something more,” he wrote. “I’ll see what that might be.”

Berman, who was open about his struggles with drugs, alcohol and depression, was often referred to as reclusive — he had all but resisted touring until 2005, long after the band’s creative peak — but he had recently resurfaced publicly. Purple Mountains released a self-titled debut album last month, and was scheduled to begin touring on Saturday, with Drag City calling the shows “a (potentially) once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Speaking to The Ringer last month, Berman was typically self-effacing about his return to music: “I’m not convinced I have fans,” he said. “In my whole life, I’ve had maybe 10 people who have told me how much my music means to them.” But, referring to his own elusiveness, he had come to “take pride in the fact that I can walk away from things,” he added.

“My willingness to walk away has protected me, I realize that now,” Berman said. “I found the power in not composing. I found a shadow side that I can be in dialogue with. ‘No’ is always on the table. There’s some magic in working with the negative.”

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

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