Silver Jews – Slow Education

When God was young / He made the wind and the sun / And since then it’s been a slow education / And you’ve got that one idea again / The one about dying

I loved the Silver Jews. ‘Slow Education’ is the first song on the first album – Bright Flight (2001) – I ever heard of theirs. So enamoured of the band was I, I stuck a review of the album, which I had cut out of a music magazine, onto my bedroom wall like a soldier, posted overseas, would do to a photo of his sweetheart back home.

The band didn’t tour and any music they made was mostly kept to the albums they released every two to three years. This, and the lack of information about the band, about David Berman, the band’s main songwriter, meant in the radio silence after Bright Flight I immersed myself in the albums – Starlite Walker (1994), Natural Bridge (1996), and American Water (1998) – that had come before. On these albums I discovered lyrics that were near perfect; I don’t think I’ve heard lyrics, before or since, that surpass those of ‘Black and Brown Blues’ from Natural Bridge:

When I go downtown / I always wear a corduroy suit / Cause it’s made of a thousand gutters / The rain can run right through

When the follow-up to Bright Flight was released, the Silver Jews I had in their absence constructed mediated perhaps my reception to Tanglewood Numbers (2005) – and this album to this day remains my least listened to Silver Jews album.  But, around the album’s release, David Berman, having beaten various addictions, was able to put the Silver Jews on the road for their first ever tour. Seeing them at the Scala in 2006, how Berman was still fragile, I softened to the album, understanding it a little more, and can now see it within the context of the band’s history.

Obviously when Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (2008) was released I wasn’t to know it would be their last album, but if there had to be a last album I’m glad it’s this one. It’s a peak and, alongside Natural Bridge, vies for the place of my favourite Silver Jews album. It’s a sad, hopeful, resilient and evocative album, as all Silver Jews’ records are, but on Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea the hope and resilience are dialled up. I don’t know what David Berman is doing now (he quit music and the band ceased to be), but thus it ever was. What I do know is I’m thankful to him and all the musicians who played on those albums. The world was a better place for the existence of the Silver Jews.

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