The wry, sardonic brilliance of David Berman shone brightly until his tragic suicide in 2019, aged only 52. Rob Hughes takes a look at the idiosyncratic life and work of a tragic genius as American Water – the first great masterpiece by his band Silver Jews – turns 25.
The Whitney Museum of American Art has moved around several times since it was founded in 1930. By the turn of the ’90s, it was housed on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, on Madison Avenue, where three aspiring musicians – David Berman, Stephen Malkmus and Steve West – were employed as security guards.
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“All these weird older characters worked with us at the Whitney, really interesting people from New York,” recalls Malkmus. “It was more intellectually stimulating than just working in a bar. Mixed with the art, the whole thing was kind of a trip.”
Hosting works by multifaceted artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Bruce Nauman and Sherrie Levine, the museum proved inspirational. Malkmus was by then involved with his own band, Pavement. Berman, meanwhile, was primarily a poet. But the Whitney widened his ambition.
“David was constantly writing poetry at the museum,”…