Drag City Records, David Berman’s longtime label home, posted a loving obituary of the late Silver Jews/Purple Mountains singer on Monday (Aug. 12), paying homage to the singer’s deep, emotional songcraft while encouraging fans struggling with suicidal thoughts to reach out for help.
“We have to keep reminding ourselves that it is real. Then we’re reminded that is real. Then we wish it wasn’t real. It’s like a trapeze act, and we are the worst acrobats, fumbling these truths from swing to swing. Day after day…,” the note, titled “Call Me From Albemarle,” began, in a reference to the 1996 Silver Jews song “Albemarle Station.”
Berman died by suicide last Wednesday and the label acknowledged that that kind of loss often elicits a similar range of emotions. “Everybody says these things after a suicide – and this week, we know very specifically why they do. For instance: five minutes ago, we were in tears. Five minutes before that, hope. Before that, rage. And now, nothing,” they wrote of the death of the acclaimed singer who released six full-length albums on the label from 1994 to 2008.
Berman had been open in interviews about his longtime struggles with mental illness and addiction, which included at least one overdose and a 2003 suicide attempt. “When I was given the honor of being asked to read at my high school, I stayed up the night before smoking drugs beneath the expressway,” he told The Poetry Foundation in an interview published in July. “That was bad. 2003. I smoked my last in the parking lot and stumbled in to greet my old English teacher, wild-eyed and coated in dust, after 18 years, without a copy of the book of course.”
Drag City urged anyone feeling despondent or suicidal to “stop what you’re doing and take them very seriously. Talk to someone about them. Stay with us. We count ourselves among those on both the speaking and listening ends of these conversations, and these feelings are not foreign to us,” providing a link to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255). “It can be okay. Very likely it WILL be okay. It was okay so many times before.”
There are no easy answers, but keeping a dialogue open is a key, as the obituary noted, “If there is one thing David taught us, words = hope. And we hang onto his every word, even as he is no longer able to continue the conversation.” The key, after all, is to make that call and listen, because then at least there’s a chance “the spell will pass,” the label wrote as a way to tee up a sweet remembrance of the last times they spoke with Berman as he called in a panic about some car trouble while on tour.
“For David however, the struggle is done. His decades-long fight against what he termed ‘treatment-resistant’ depression is over,” they wrote. We can tell you with authority, the problem wasn’t drugs — he had made hard drugs a thing of his past for over a decade. His problem wasn’t debt — he knew his new work and tour looked to settle that. It wasn’t family estrangement — he remained close with his wife, family and friends to the end. He was subject to pervasive, chronic, chemical depression, and fought it daily, as best as he was able. Now, we miss David incalculably, like a phantom limb we keep willing to help us up. It’s not growing back, we will have to work around this for the rest of our time.”
Click here to read the full obituary.