My Father, My Attack Dog


David Berman of the Silver Jews (Pavement-associated indie rock group, basically just Berman) has announced his retirement from music and followed the announcement up with this remarkable anguished confession:

My Father, My Attack Dog
Now that the Joos are over I can tell you my gravest secret. Worse than suicide, worse than crack addiction:

My father.

You might be surprised to know he is famous, for terrible reasons.

My father is a despicable man. My father is a sort of human molestor.

An exploiter. A scoundrel. A world historical motherfucking son of a bitch. (sorry grandma)

You can read about him here.

My life is so wierd. It’s allegorical to the nth. …

A couple of years ago I demanded he stop his work. Close down his company or I would sever our relationship.

He refused. He has just gotten worse. More evil. More powerful. We’ve been “estranged” for over three years.

Even as a child I disliked him. We were opposites. I wanted to read. He wanted to play games.

He is a union buster.

When I got out of college I joined the Teamsters (the guards were union organized at the Whitney).

I went off to hide in art and academia.

I fled through this art portal for twenty years. In the mean time my Dad started a very very bad company called Berman and Company.

He props up fast food/soda/factory farming/childhood obesity and diabetes/drunk driving/secondhand smoke.

He attacks animal lovers, ecologists, civil action attorneys, scientists, dieticians, doctors, teachers.

His clients include everyone from the makers of Agent Orange to the Tanning Salon Owners of America.

He helped ensure the minimum wage did not move a penny from 1997-2007!

The worst part for me as a writer is what he does with the english language.

Though vicious he is a doltish thinker

It goes on in this vein.  Pretty heavy stuff.  I find this whole family saga to be sociologically fascinating.  It’s basic Pierre Bourdieu that the offspring of the very wealthy often “trade in” the accumulated economic capital for cultural capital in the form of art/culture/education.  (A classic instance of the paradigm: I attended a private progressive high school founded by one of the sons of the founder of Merrill Lynch, whose other son was the poet James Merrill.).  The transaction whereby money is turned into culture, one kind of capital exchanged for another, often seems to serve an implicitly expiatory function as worked through generationally.  The accumulation of extreme wealth is frequently “not a pretty thing when you look into it too much,” and so one purpose of “culture” is to serve as in effect a money-laundering operation. (Not to say that’s all it is.)

So, you have David Berman, son of the union-busting lobbyist Richard Berman, working as a museum guard after college, and then going on to “hide in art” by creating eccentric, underground music, wracked with guilt about the sins of his father and perhaps about the money that made it easier for him to pursue such a life (? I don’t know, for all I know he refused to take any money from his dad, but at the least he probably didn’t have any student loans!).

I don’t intend this as criticism of Berman in the least, I’m just struck by the vividness of the way this story captures that basic logic in its most Oedipally tormented form.  I hope he’s not giving up on the Silver Jews because he feels that his art is inevitably tainted; something to work out with the therapist…

Here’s the Silver Jews’ wikipedia page.

5 thoughts on “My Father, My Attack Dog”

  1. Whoa. I guess this is evidence that the Bourdieuvian/ post-structuralist/ post-1968 perspective–everything is political!–has driven out the Romantic view of art as providing opposition to industry via “culture… Making a space apart is shameful rather than a victory.

    I hope that despite his quest for justice vs Dad, Berman keeps writing potry. Actual Air is great.

    I do wonder though how this snippet:

    “Even as a child I disliked him. We were opposites. I wanted to read. He wanted to play games”

    explains/foretells/embodies his Dad’s evil.

    It does explain why the malevolent girlfriend-stealing businessman/gangster (“he moved alot of concrete on the QVC”) in “San Francisco BC” (my fave track from Lookout Mountain) is named “Mr Games…”

  2. David Berman should get together with my parents’ neighbors’ son.

    The neighbors are heirs to a fortune from a company that started as a slave operation (growing cotton and making rope). After slavery, the company moved from GA to S. Cal, drained the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi and switched to industrial cotton farming. One could make a sequel to Chinatown based on all the ensuing shenanigans (there is a book).

    This past year, the son was a *volunteer* Obama organizer in Iowa and Ohio (he subsequently landed a paying job in the White House). One kind of capital exchanged for another. There’s a picture of the Republican dad (the neighbor) meeting Obama and not looking at all pleased about the “transaction.” The son beams in the background.

    1. there’s a strain of evil that dominates and runs the world, and there’s a strain of good that comes through the cracks. It’s the beta, auxiliary thing. It’s the thing they always dredge up in sci fi movies where people try to convince aliens that our species is worth saving.

  3. “I’m scared, I swear, of you
    …there’s beasts, and there’s men, and there’s something on this earth that comes back again”
    “Everybody, smoke. You can’t say / that my soul has died away”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s