The death of David Berman has had a profound impact on many of the beloved singer/songwriter/poet’s friends, musical peers and fans. And while some have taken solace in the wickedly grim humor on the albums Berman released as Silver Jews and Purple Mountains, Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit have channeled their grief into a two-song tribute that includes the haunting original “Strange Beauty” as well as a cover of the SJ’s “Random Rules.”
“David died yesterday/ Today it’s raining/ I know I didn’t know you/ But in my heart I know it to be true/ It is raining for you, David/ The rain it is for you,” Klara Söderberg sings on the gentle acoustic ballad that tries to explain the “colossal loss” she feels, which comes in waves, leaving her gasping behind the steering wheel of her car. “And when you are gone/ The world it moves on/ But it’s lost its strange beauty,” she sings in harmony with sister Johanna.
“I think a lot of people were as shocked as I was upon hearing the news of David Berman’s passing. It didn’t seem real. It left me completely devastated,” writes Klara in a statement about the original, which acknowledges that the rest of us must move on, with considerably less strange beauty to gaze upon and listen to. “So I wrote the song ‘Strange Beauty’ to try to make sense of my feelings.”
Berman died at age 52 on Aug. 7 by suicide. An often reluctant public figure and enigmatic musical savant who released six albums with the Silver Jews and two collections of poetry Actual Air (1999) and The Portable February (2009), Berman had been open in his rare interviews about his longtime struggle with mental illness and addiction, which included at least one overdose and a 2003 suicide attempt. His eponymous debut under the Purple Mountains moniker was released by longtime label Drag City Records in July and a tour was slated to kick off in the days after his death.
The second track on the EP is a cover of “Random Rules” from the 1998 Silver Jews classic American Water. Klara Söderberg writes that the song is a long time favorite of the band’s and one they always thought they’d record if they did a covers album. “It holds some of the greatest lyrics ever penned and shows the genius of David Berman. We hope the songs can be some kind of comfort.”
“In 1984 I was hospitalized for approaching perfection,” Söderberg sings in her high and lonesome voice. “Slowly screwing my way across Europe, they had to make a correction/ Broken and smokin’ where the infrared deer plunge in the digital snake/ I tell you, they make it so you can’t shake hands when they make your hands shake.”
Listen to the songs below.