Silver Jews’ David Berman Chats About Digging Through the Archives

Tomorrow, the Silver Jews will release Early Times (Drag City), a compilation of rare and early tracks recorded between 1990 and 1991. I emailed David Berman, the band’s lead singer, some questions about it. He answered.

Hi Joseph Daniel Stein. Great name by the way. Sounds like the name of someone who might have figured it all out for us and is just bringing the news now. Here are my answers.

Why revisit the past if, as it says in your song “Random Rules,” “People leave and no highway will bring them back?”

Well, for me it’s less a question of revisiting the past and more one of exploiting the past to suit the present. For those who haven’t heard the material, it’s functionally new past, and so not a case of revisitation. And for those who have heard it before, and for those who may tend to dwell on water under the bridge, I hope they’ll stick to using the product for educational or amusement purposes only. So I do not feel that I have contradicted myself.

What feelings does listening to this music bring out in you?

Curiosity, hesitation, tenderness.

Apart from age, wisdom, and experience, how have the intervening years changed you?

I switched from coffee to tea about five years ago. I stopped worrying about how and why I didn’t like or understand chess and poker. My social skills were never sharp, but they have massively deteriorated over the years.

How did 1999 measure up to expectations?

After 1990, the idea that we were undeniably on our way towards 1997…1998…1999 was very exciting. It felt like we’d be imminently experiencing the merging of history and science fiction. Our song “September 1999” had a weird glowing specificity about it at that time. Though the title loses that connotation on this side of 1999, I hope it’s still embodied in the track.

How does today measure up to expectations for your future/the future of your surroundings that you had around the time this was recorded?

In 1992 I was extremely curious to know what lay ahead in the next twenty years. I wasn’t aware of my own expectations at the time, but I think I would have been most surprised to know how much power would be granted to stupid people in the future and how cheaply smart people who should know better would sell themselves for a piece of the action. Also the “cinnamon challenge” fad. That came out of nowhere!