In these twitchy times, when the strange, monotonous forces of the pandemic have blurred days into weeks and weeks into months and vice versa, it can be easy to forget what was breaking our hearts before daily death counts numbed us all to tragedy. Sometimes death overshadows death.
One of the figures we lost before loss became an everyday event was the troubled troubadour David Berman. The onetime founder of the seminal indie rock band the Silver Jews and later the auteur behind his resurgent art project Purple Mountains, Berman hanged himself in August 2019, ending a brilliant and tortured life. That seems like eons ago, and yet many of us are still struggling to accept that he’s gone, given that the mourning period for Berman was interrupted by a global pandemic.
One artist who is dealing directly with the death of that icon is John Vanderslice. The beloved indie rocker and founder of Tiny Telephone records in San Francisco, Vanderslice was a longtime bulwark of the local music scene before decamping to Los Angeles. Despite the change of scenery, Vanderslice remains as prolific as ever, and his latest effort — an EP set to be released on July 16 — will be a tribute to the departed Berman. The two songwriters shared a friendship dating back to 2004, highlighted by the frequent exchange of postcards, pro wrestling gossip and songwriting tips. The delightfully lengthy title of Vanderslice’s upcoming release — I can’t believe civilization is still going here in 2021! Congratulations to all of us, Love DCB — is a take on a correspondence the two shared years back.
Today, Vanderslice is debuting the lead single off that Berman-inspired EP, a floating lo-fi indie electronica track called “I Get a Strange Kind of Pleasure From Just Hanging On.” Buoyed by a bubbling synth bass beat and a cavalcade of cheeky digital embellishments, the track continues Vanderslice’s recent obsession with deconstructed pop tunes. The accompanying video, which is being premiered today on the Weekly, mirrors the quirky nature of the tune, with Vanderslice dancing on the beach joined by a woman dressed in a jellyfish getup and an old school scuba diver.
There are no direct lyrical references to Berman in the song, although the title and the repeated references to “hanging by the thread,” certainly befit the former indie rock legend, who long struggled with issues of drug addiction and abuse, and who perennially seemed to live on life’s periphery. Similarly, the offbeat electronica aesthetic of the song doesn’t exactly recall the Americana elements of Silver Jews and Purple Mountains, but the unconventional nature of the tune would surely be appreciated by the infamously tough-to-pin-down Berman.
Contrarian throughout, the song feels like a cautionary tale, a paean to resilience and a lament of everyday drudgery. But above all, it’s a celebration of survivors — a toast to all of us who will carry the torch for those who have passed prematurely.