David Berman, the brilliant and idiosyncratic poet and artist who performed as the Silver Jews and Purple Mountains, died yesterday at the age of 52. "We couldn't be more sorry to tell you this. David Berman passed away earlier today," tweeted his label, Drag City. "A great friend and one of the most inspiring individuals we've ever known is gone. Rest easy, David." His cause of death is currently unknown.

Filmmaker Lance Bangs, who has made music videos with everyone from Nirvana to Pavement to Kanye West, is organizing a gathering and reading outside the Met Breuer Museum tonight at 7 p.m. as an "informal memorial gesture." The Met Breuer is the former site of the Whitney, where Berman worked as a security guard while living with future Pavement members Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich in Hoboken. The three of them officially formed the Silver Jews there.

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David Berman performing on the first Silver Jews tour in 2006 (MediaPunch/Shutterstock)

Starting with 1994's Starlite Walker, Berman released six full length albums (plus one compilation of early recordings) under the Silver Jews moniker, including the 1998 masterpiece American Water; he released the much-celebrated Purple Mountains, his first new album in over a decade, this summer. He also released a book of poetry, Actual Air, which has become something of a modern cult classic among poets. He was supposed to start a tour with Purple Mountains, his first since disbanding the Silver Jews in 2009, this weekend, and had expressed excitement about going out on the road again in recent interviews.

The sound of both of his bands incorporated country and indie rock, with very simple chord sequences that attained a slanted, elusive quality to them thanks to Berman's words. But it was most specifically defined by his voice, a dry, knowing baritone which Berman was always self-effacing about—Berman was an untrained singer with an unmistakeable, love-it-or-hate-it vocal style (as he once sang: "All my favorite singers couldn't sing"). His work in both music and poetry was defined by his literary prowess, a mix of observational humor, aesthetic cleverness, and profound melancholy. He agonized over his lyrics, furiously writing and rewriting until he could express himself in a language that was simultaneously accessible, colloquial and thoughtfully stylized.

You can read more about him with these obits from Stereogum and The NY Times (which includes a quote from his father, Richard Berman, whom Berman hated). I also encourage you to check out some of his recent interviews, which are filled with wisdom and humor he was known for, including one with Poetry Foundation, this The Ringer feature, this one from LNWY, and this Washington Post feature on his comeback.

Bob Nastanovich, who played in Pavement and the Silver Jews and remained a friend to Berman for years after (he was the person who first revealed two years ago that Berman was planning a comeback), told Pitchfork in a statement: "I was saddened to hear that David died. Stephen called me to tell me this afternoon. For most of my life, I was amazed by David as a person, a humorist and a writer. It was enlightening to have such a talented friend at a young age and realize that the talent wasn’t always a blessing. David battled mental illness for nearly all of his life. He had professional help and the unyielding support of hundreds of good friends. He had many loving and devoted fans. Please try to cherish your memories of him and his words and music including his last album Purple Mountains. I know I will and I’m grateful that the list of good memories and stories is long."

There has been an outpouring of tributes from fellow musicians and admirers, including his longtime friend and collaborator Malkmus.

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So crushed. I grew up on David Berman and the Silver Jews catalogue in mostly real time... in such a way that his music and lyrics and vocals have touched me to this day and are still growing in significance (and of course a higher high of nostalgia on the side with each revisitation... and there has been so much revisiting these last few years I must say). I was so excited for these upcoming shows and how amazing the new Purple Mountains record is. I was so stoked and so proud of Jarvis and Jeremy and the @woodsist gang for knocking this album outta the park. David's music always hit on a basic human gut level just in the power of his lyrics and voice alone... in a way no other modern artist of my generation has been able to... We were friends but I was looking forward to hopefully becoming closer and was so excited to see him around with purple mountains and hopefully play on “trains across the sea” in philly. Speaking of that tune (and others)... I’ve been singing a few silver jews songs to my daughters at night before they go to bed... since they were little... (it was a no brainer in the dna of my upbringing...) they were always affected by Cassie’s beautiful voice in “Tennessee” and would wanna sing that part... to the extent the first song my oldest daughter Awilda sang from memory (and later we recorded a version of) was "trains across the sea" and she performed "new orleans" at her co-op talent show. When my family came thru Nashville David and Cassie took us in graciously and David bought the girls a Mr Games style trinket I guess you might call a diorama music box (?) either way it will be cherished always. Love forever to Cassie and David from Kurt, Suzanne, Awilda and Delphine. “Snow is falling in Manhattan...” “I loved being my mother’s son...” “when god was young... he made the wind and the sun. And since then it’s been a slow education. And you got that one idea again.........” “oh... oh oh... I’m lightening. Oh... oh oh... I’m rain. Oh... oh oh... it’s frightening... I’m not the same. I’m not the same. I’m not the same.” ❤️ God bless @dragcityrecords for releasing so much (and all) of his material. R.I.P. David Berman. You will be missed.

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We have no words to describe how we feel this morning to learn of the loss of David Berman. All our love goes out to his family & loved ones, the Drag City family and the musicians who journeyed with him. We were fortunate enough to have David contribute his sublime words to both Wildflower and our upcoming album. What a gift. On a personal level David was always there for me throughout the ups and downs of life and provided much guidance, solace and humor reflecting on our shared struggles. You helped me so much David. His book Actual Air remains a standalone work of rare beauty and a heartbreaking look at the magic inherent in the day-to-day. Farewell David ...you are the light by which we travel into this and that - r

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Also check out some tributes from friends and fans below.

If you're not familiar with his work, I can't recommend enough diving into his catalogue today. American Water is his masterpiece, which perfectly welds Malkmus's sinewy, expressive lead guitar with Berman's poetic musings about highways, identity and novelty bumper stickers. Bright Flights is the album most infused with the spirit of Nashville, and balances incredibly dark moments ("Horseleg Swastikas") with romantic standouts ("Tennessee"). Tanglewood Numbers remains his most rocking and band-oriented record, filled with intense two and three minute nuggets; The Natural Bridge is stark and slightly folkish at times, the closest he came to making his own Songs Of Love And Hate, which puts your attention squarely on the lyrics; Starlite Walker is lofi indie with moments of sublime amateurish beauty ("Trains Across The Sea," "Tide To The Ocean"); and Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea, the last Jews album, is elegiac and hopeful, ending with one of his all-time great songs, "We Could Be Looking For The Same Things." The Purple Mountains album contains the darkest, most revealing lyrics of his entire career; it's a hard listen today because of the confessional nature of the words, but it is also filled with empathy and care ("Snow Is Falling In Manhattan," "I Loved Being My Mother's Son"), and stands among the best things he's ever released.

Listen to a few songs below.

On a personal note: there are only a handful of artists who shaped how I write, see and hear. Dave Berman was one of them. I was lucky enough to meet and talk to him a few times over the years, to express to him how important his work was to me. Every line he wrote was specific, carefully drawn, and endlessly quotable. He cared so much about language, ideas and humanity. He never thought anyone cared about his work, but he also was overwhelmed with affection for anyone who did, and who expressed that to him. He tried to give some of himself to those people, as you can see in some of those correspondences up above, even when he really couldn't.

He struggled, and he found the beauty in the struggle. He taught me: "You can't change the feeling, but you can change your feeling about the feeling in a second or two."

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The author with David Berman (Ben Yakas)