Somewhere in either my studio or my apartment there’s a copy of Actual Air, the only book David Berman ever published. It’s also the only poetry book I own. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good poem now and then. I’ve just never felt the urge to buy a poetry book. But I bought his. Because when it came out I was a fan of his band, Silver Jews, and his lyrics were always a punch in the gut. Get this:
I wish they didn't set mirrors behind the bar / cause I can't stand to look at my face / when I don't know where you are.
Then the feeling fades away / but you sort of wish it woulda stayed.
I was always jealous of how David Berman put words together. And how they landed. And how effortless it all seemed when he sang them. He wasn’t a great singer, but the right words were coming out of his mouth.
David Berman died yesterday. He was 52. I am 52. There’s something strange that happens when someone the same age as you dies. You see the obituary. You notice the birth year and think hey that looks familiar. And you think wow 52 year-olds are dying now. Which shouldn’t be a shock, of course. You just don’t want to be reminded about it.
David Berman’s new band, Purple Mountains, was scheduled to start a tour this weekend in support of their new album, which is excellent. It was going to be his first time playing in public in ten years. They were going to play in San Francisco. Selfishly, I’m sad I’ll never get to see him play.
We don’t yet know the cause of death, and frankly that’s between him and his. But David was public about his depression, which he described as being resistant to treatment. So while we mourn a brother, we should also celebrate that for 52 years he fought demons. And even as he was fighting those demons, he was still able to put words together for us to remember him by. Amazing words. I wish we were getting more, but I’m happy for the ones we got.
When I go downtown / I always wear a corduroy suit
Cause it’s made of a hundred gutters / That the rain can run right through
Hey, I made a zine
So, I did something really stupid. At some point, when I was writing my book, I decided the perfect format for it was a zine. Yeah, but people need to take it seriously, I replied. They’re not going to take a zine seriously. So I put it out as a book. And it’s doing really well. (Thank you for buying it.) But the zine idea never really went away. I pictured what it would look like as a zine. The flimsy newsprint. The ink on your fingers. The images I could create just for the zine. Different type choices. And before I knew it I was laying this thing out and getting printing quotes.
Amazingly, my friend Tracey Long put me in touch with the small employee-owned press in Union City, California where Maximum RockandRoll (RIP) used to be printed. And that’s how 5000 copies of Ruined by Design, in glorious zine form, ended up in the front room of our studio. You should order one. Or 25.
We’re having a zine/book launch party. I don’t see you enough. Come on over. Have a beer. Talk to each other. Make new friends. Grab a zine on your way out. (Yes, I’m charging $5 but it’s going to charity.) Next Friday, August 16, 6–10pm, at Mule HQ. We’ll play some Silver Jews. We’ll play some Purple Mountains. We’ll play some happy stuff too. (My friend Tim Buckwalter is DJing.)
Be good to each other. And if you know someone who’d enjoy a newsletter about design and depression (and who wouldn’t!) feel free to share this with them.