Indie rocker David Berman, founder of the Silver Jews, an influential band that earned critical acclaim throughout the 1990s, died on Wednesday, according to his Chicago-based record label Drag City.
He was 52. A cause of death has not been announced.
Berman was set to start a tour for his new project, Purple Mountains, in September. The project’s eponymous first album, released in July, was Berman’s first new music in over a decade.
He battled various drug addictions over the years and had survived multiple overdoses.
“We’ve been worried about David Berman,” wrote Arielle Angel and Nathan Goldman, eulogizing Berman in Jewish Currents. “That he was in some danger was clear. His new album, released last month under the name Purple Mountains… has the feel of a suicide note. Though the cause of death remains unconfirmed, the lyrics tell the story of a man who’s had enough of life.”
Berman founded the Silver Jews with Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, who would go on to found Pavement, a similarly beloved band that developed its own fervent cult following in the ’90s. Silver Jews released six albums between 1994 and 2008.
For much of his life, Berman described himself as “ethnically Jewish” but not religious. But in the mid-2000s he began studying Jewish texts after a voluntary rehab stint in Minnesota. One of the only ways to be allowed out of the facility was to go to church or synagogue, so he began attending.
“When I started the band, the name Silver Jews had no literal meaning — it was just an abstraction. The irony is that over the last two years, I’ve gone through a transformation and I’ve decided to be a Jew. So the name has become something of a blessing,” he told The Jerusalem Post in 2006.
Berman was the focus of “Silver Jew,” a 2007 documentary about Silver Jews touring in Israel.
More recently, he began to speak less positively of his connection to Judaism. “There was no real place for me in Judaism. Maybe if there was I would’ve hung in there,” he said in an interview with Aquarium Drunkard last month. “Part of it was also that Judaism is all about community… and where I live in Nashville, there’s just nothing there. The reform temples — the rabbis are like anchormen. There was just no community for me.”