Horseleg Swastikas (David Berman cover)

by Emperor X

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A line or two in this cover don't match the actual lyrics (see below). I'm pretty sure that'd be just fine with the author, so I'm going to leave it as is, first take, just like the vocals on Purple Mountains.

I learned about David C. Berman's death forty five minutes before recording this. I am more devastated than I've ever been by the death of someone I never knew. I realized over the past few hours that's because I don't have many heroes. David Berman was one of them.

I'm having a really hard time processing the news of his death. "Now you watch the sunrise through a rifle sight.../...On the last day of your life / don't forget to die." And now we know that day is Wednesday, August 7th, 2019, and he did not forget to die. That sounds so detailed, so anecdotal, like police blotter.

"My friends, don't you know that I never want this minute to end? And then it ends." ("Introduction II", Starlite Walker, 1994)

He wrote for the future, like all great artists. "The future", for each of us, is what happens after we die. And right now we are living in David Berman's "the future". Now that he's gone we are living inside one of his songs. "The meaning of the world lies outside the world."

I realize I'm being a bit selfish. It's the people who knew and loved him we should really be thinking of right now, and all hearts go to them. But still, for those of us who got spun into new directions by his work, for history and letters, I can't help but be anguished.

* * *


* * *

One more Berman thought, though. A funny one.

On one of the first Emperor X full band tours, c. 2004, we played Springwater in Nashville. A group of jovial folks hung outside on a porch. We had the opening slot. One of the porch folks came in to listen to us. Before "Right to the Rails" I said something about transit and how Nashville lacked it. I heard a voice (paraphrasing, it's been 15 years): "No, we're building a commuter rail now. Station's gonna be across the street from a Burger King." It was a bit of a heckle, but informative and friendly.

After the set, the info-heckler came to the merch table and bought a CD. My friend whispered, "THAT'S DAVID BERMAN!" And it was. But I pretended not to know, made small talk, and even foolishly asked him if he made music. He must've known I was a fan, acting all weird and star-struck, but he played along, just acted nice and interested, and even asked a few questions about the songs we played. I will always treasure that memory.

This little scene was my only window into what he was like personally. But over the past few hours I've seen dozens of other stories with a similar character emerging. It seems he was the kind of guy who would send a thank you note postcard back to fans who wrote him, who would write sincere criticisms of demos total strangers emailed him out of the blue, who would good-naturedly info-heckle the dorky opening band at his friend's show. He was an immense talent, and he was funny, and he was well-informed about mass transit, and he was kind, and he had the courage to ask "Why is there something / instead of nothing?" in a country song. We were all lucky to share a planet with him for awhile.


"Horseleg Swastikas"

I'm drunk on a couch in Nashville
in a duplex near the reservoir
and every single thought [wrong lyric: "every nervous idea"] is like a punch in the face
I'm like a rabbit freezing on a star.

On the wrong side of Sunday morning,
shattered in the terrible light,
working for a bankrupt circus
on the wrong side of Saturday night.

And I want to be like
water if I can,
'cause water doesn't give a damn.

Chased by a floating hatchet,
you can't just shoot your way out and go.
I could tell you things about this wallpaper
that you never ever want to know.

But there's an altar in the valley
to things in themselves as they are
and the triumph of the obstacle
and horseleg swastikas.

And I want to take a ride on the back of a sunbird (wrong lyric: ["sunburn"]
up into the highest numbers

And I want to be like
water if I can
'cause water doesn't give a damn.


released August 8, 2019
David Berman wrote this song.



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