In late April, we began to hear rumors about a new drug in the metroplex. It was in the gay bars. Kids at the Arts Magnet were getting it. Certain people at certain parties had it, and it was magical.
They called it X. It was supposed to make you unaccountably happy and tolerant of everyone from headbangers to rich fucks. Even "douchebags."
So writes Silver Jews frontman David Berman in "The Summer Before the Night Ecstasy Became Illegal in the State of Texas," an essay he recommends to "give the flavor of the spring and summer of '85."
Silver Jews perform Saturday, September 20, at Hailey's Club, Denton.
You see, back then, Berman was 17 and a student at Addison's Greenhill School, a period that heavily inspired the classic Silver Jews anthem "Dallas"—easily one of the finest songs ever penned about our fair city ("O Dallas, you shine with an evil light/Don't you know that God stays up all night?/How'd you turn a billion steers/Into buildings made of mirrors?/Why am I drawn to you tonight?").
Berman also recalls his fair number of shows from those days—catching Zeitgeist at the Theater Gallery or taking bad X at an R.E.M. show at the Bronco Bowl, for instance. Hell, he even saw The Cure at the Arcadia Theatre.
"It was the tour for The Top, and the whiff of a clove cigarette can put me back there in an instant," he says.
Unfortunately, Berman couldn't wait to get out of Dallas ("I left for college in Virgina and never really returned," he says). He became a revered poet and songsmith elsewhere, gaining fans worldwide with the Silver Jews and palling around with people like Stephen Malkmus, whom he first met when they were both students at the University of Virginia.
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The Jews' latest album, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, the band's sixth, reveals Berman the lyricist in fine form, conjuring Roger Miller on the soon to be classic "Candy Jail" ("Life in a candy jail, with peppermint bars/Peanut brittle bunk beds and marshmallow walls/Where the guards are gracious/ And the grounds are grand/The warden keeps the date on your favorite brands") and lovingly anthropomorphizing a barroom staple on "Suffering Jukebox" ("Suffering jukebox/Such a sad machine/You're all filled up with what other people need/And they never seem to turn you up loud/ There's a lot of chatterboxes in this crowd.")
The album also serves as a tribute of sorts to fellow artist and Berman collaborator Jeremy Blake (most famous for his colorful video art contributions to the Paul Thomas Anderson film Punch Drunk Love), who drowned himself a week after his girlfriend, filmmaker Theresa Duncan, committed suicide in July of last year.
"I wrote the song ['My Pillow Is the Threshold'] for Jeremy, from his perspective in the week between his [girlfriend's] death and his own," Berman says. "I was imagining his loss. Then he doubled the share of meaning by crossing the threshold in what seemed to me like pursuit of Theresa."
On a lighter note, Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea is also the first release since Berman and Co. hit the road in support of 2005's Tanglewood Numbers, the first-ever tour for the reclusive songwriter. (Drag City will release Silver Jew, a critically acclaimed documentary following the Jews on tour in Israel, later this month.)
In fact, Saturday's show at Hailey's will mark the Jews' first-ever North Texas appearance. And given Berman's notoriously stage-shy nature, fans should take note: "I'm hardly interested in that kind of life," he says. "I'd like to play everywhere twice and then stop. Once to say hi, and a second time to get it right."
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Given the ecstasy-fueled trail Berman blazed across North Texas in the summer of '85, we should all feel lucky to have him back—even if it is only for one night.
That summer, Berman's essay continues, I crushed two sports cars with my homely Buick, received six speeding tickets (three in one day), two tickets for public urination, impregnated a Collin County judge's daughter, and had a bottle of MD 20/20 broken over my head.
I'm going to skip the scenes of me chasing daisies and singing to stray dogs from still bulldozer cabs... Fifteen years on, I can honestly say I'm glad it was outlawed.
No wonder he left.