Dave Berman and Harmony Korine harassing local talk-show host Johnny B. at a Nashville anti-immigration rally. Photo by Robyn Daniel
Dave Berman, a.k.a. the Silver Jews, is the best lyricist in rock today. That might be because he is also at the top of the heap of the best published poets in America today. His new record, Tanglewood Numbers, features his wife, Cassie, and his friends Stephen Malkmus and Mike Fellows laying down solid rock-country backgrounds for his heartbreakingly funny and weary songs.
We asked him about being scared and dressing up.
Vice: What is the most scared you can remember being in your life?
Dave Berman: When I was 19 I was working as an orderly at the State Hospital in Virginia. There were a lot of morbidly obese people, cut out of their houses in the mountains, lying ill on these massive hospital beds. A lot of the job was rolling these completely immobile behemoths over on their side, then rolling them 180 degrees to their other side while the nurses changed the sheets and stuffed these eight-inch-deep holes in them (which were longtime-forming bedsores) with fresh cotton.
One night they brought in a guy from death row. He was a big black killer paralyzed from the neck down, and we were called to roll him over.
He’s lying there in a gown, looking at me with full-on hate when I come in.
It was four in the morning, and even knowing he was helpless they had him handcuffed to the bed. The dopey officer undid the handcuffs.
With the help of my partner, I pulled him first toward me, fairly terrified but ready to do the job and get out of there. I stared at the wall and kept my hands away from his mouth. Here comes the horror part: When I rolled him back the other way, I was shoving his huge ass up and over, and roughly a quart of dark green liquid shit squirted out all over my hands and forearms. To this day I wonder if he somehow retained control of his sphincter until that moment and let me have it.
What is the scariest nightmare you can remember having?
I was a kid. My parents are dressed up like they’re going out somewhere. They are looking for me to come along, walking out the front door. Leaving me behind. I can see their shoes from where I am trapped underneath the coffee table with a burning man covered in fire who is holding me down so I can’t crawl out. The whole underneath of the coffee table is like a cage of flames.
What was the best Halloween costume you had as a child?
Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Tanglewood Numbers is out now on Drag City.