Water, Dust & the Wild Kindness

Last week, for some reason now forgotten, I happened to bethink myself of the Silver Jews album American Water. So I looked it up on the Spotify and listened to it, and then listened to it again and again. I’m listening to it right now.

According to my rating system it’s their best album — and by “they” I mean David Berman, who comprised the Silver Jews along with whoever happened to be around at the time. In the case ofAmerican Water that included his college friend Stephen Malkmus, leader of Pavement and musical genius of the first order.

Berman himself, though he made quite a few records, was more of a poet who sang than a musician per se. So the combination was a fortuitous one. You can drop the proverbial needle almost anywhere on American Water and strike gold. Take for example “Federal Dust,” the first Jews song I ever heard — a typically cryptic number that lopes and lurches along for a couple minutes, then ascends into the clouds. (Or maybe gets sucked down into a whirlpool? It’s hard to tell.)


State of the Philter Address

I wrote one of these for another blog recently, and with the holidays upon us and the new year just around the corner, this seems like a good time to check in and share updates on some of the ongoing obsessions.1

  • I’ve been listening to a lot of Van Morrison lately, for reasons having to do more with the alphabet than anything else. (I’ve also been listening to Monty Python, Morcheeba, and the Monkees.) The early stuff is so beautiful that it’s hard to believe he’s turned into this cranky geezer who writes songs about Facebook and “who owns the media.” My official policy is that I am not going to let Old Van ruin Young Van for me. I’m not sure about Middle-Aged Van; it seems like there’s some good stuff there, but there’s a mountain of material to sift through and at the moment a lack of will to tackle it.
  • The pile of unread books has shrunk a bit, thanks partly to a newfound willingness to abandon disappointing ones. David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue wasn’t doing it for me, so into the neighborhood free library it went. Likewise Michael Moorcock’s Cornelius Quartet, a gigantic tome that came highly recommended but turned out to be clichéd Seventies nonsense. (I rarely trade things in at the bookstore anymore; at this age I feel like haggling over two or three dollars is beneath me. Sometimes a book will go into a cafe with me but not leave, and I always feel like I’m getting away with something.) The major obstacles still remaining are three large biographies — one each of William S. Burroughs, Albert Einstein, and Werner Herzog — and gigantic books of stories by J.G. Ballard, Harlan Ellison, and H.P. Lovecraft.
  • I haven’t written much in the last couple years about my beloved Golden State Warriors, for whom this has been a period of adjustment. From the lofty heights of going to the NBA Finals five straight years and winning three titles, they tumbled to a dismal 15-50 record in the 2019-20 season, devastated by a series of defections and injuries. Last season was better, with My Personal Savior Stephen Curry again playing at an all-world level, but they became the first victims of the NBA’s new “play-in” format and barely missed the playoffs. This year things gave been going almost alarmingly well. Bolstered by the development of young players, some canny free-agent acquisitions, and Steph somehow finding a new level to his otherworldly game (including vastly improved defense), the W’s are tied for the best record in the NBA. And one of these days, probably sometime around Christmas, Klay Thompson will return from a two-year injury exile. If he’s in good form — and he’s been looking strong in practices and scrimmages — the league is in trouble.

And finally, as long as we’re here, do you want to hear the same song being covered by David Bowie and Rowlf the Dog? Of course you do.