For a decade and a half, the idiosyncratic indie rock of Silver Jews has existed only on albums, not on stage. That's because David Berman, the only permanent member of the band--which he started in 1990 with Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, both of whom went on to form Pavement--never intended to tour, due to his anxiety over performing songs live.
But for Jews' fans, hell has frozen over. Berman, a modest musician who's always resisted thinking women or music fans would find him appealing, has at last brought his band on tour, in support of the group's latest album, "Tanglewood Numbers."
From his home in Nashville, Berman talked to metromix about touring, the band's semi-accurate name and some mysteriously mobile bushes.
What kind of reactions have you gotten from fans, now that you're finally on tour?
Everyone's being very, very affectionate, saying, "Thank you; I never thought I'd see this," and that kind of thing. I've never been in a room full of people who knew who I was. This friend of mind wrote to me, saying he was standing in the crowd in Atlanta, and he said something to his friend like, "How many opening bands are there?" and this kid in front of them said: "Who cares? We're here to see David Berman!"
He said people in front of him started chanting my name for the encore. [As] a 39-year-old, I don't think there's any way for me to process that kind of thing. I just felt like I was standing on a stage in a club, and I wasn't translating the words people were saying. ... I saw what I saw, but I didn't hear anything.
How many people in Silver Jews are actually Jewish?
It's lower than the Jewish per capita in America, I can tell you that. Very few. I am Jewish. I was telling this rabbi that I speak with a lot that, for the next version of the Jews, I wanted to have some Jews in the band. He told me that was patently ridiculous. He told me I should do the best work I can [regardless of the religion of the band members].
You have some pretty unusual lyrics. Ever come up with anything too weird to use?
No, but I bought a giant safe because I have so much backlogged writing that has to be processed from the past 15 years. Whenever I leave the house, I'm always convinced it's going to burn down, and I'm going to have to come back and start from the beginning. I'm always imagining a stack of hay or something somehow got in the bathroom and a match falling on it.
Do you have many stacks of hay sitting around your house?
No! When I'm away, I just have this picture of someone lighting a match and just putting it down in a haystack in my living room. We're not too far from farm country here. Haystacks can wander. You know, they had those often in the cartoons: the haystacks that lift up and two little feet move it.
So you're a little suspicious, then?
I'm pretty sure some of these bushes and trees aren't where they were before I left to tour. Something's going on. I swear that azalea bush was at the end of the driveway, and now it's, like, a foot from the house.
I read you were once hit on by Tina Louise (Ginger on "Gilligan's Island"). What's the story?
It was a party at the Whitney Museum [in New York]. All I can say is that I was there, and she wouldn't leave me alone. I was the guard, and she was a guest. We talked all night long. I wasn't physically attracted to her. I knew that she was Ginger, too. I'm pretty sure the first sexual feelings I had were from her slinky, white, sequin dress on the island.
You weren't attracted to her in person? So you're more of a Mary Ann fan?
I'm not! I'm totally Ginger. The first couple years when I was in New York, I didn't get laid. I felt unentitled to any [action]. I couldn't get the girls who worked on the fifth floor, so I couldn't process that Ginger would let me have her.
Is there a similarity to how you felt then and how you feel about audiences now?
In general, I play down the idea that someone might like me or what I do. Maybe I'm afraid I have some wild, out-of-control ego that must not be fed.
Originally published April 12, 2006.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times