Sunday Longform: I Wrote A Letter To A Wildflower


Mike “McBeardo” McPadden


At some point in the evening of December 15th, Mike “McBeardo” McPadden sent me a friend request on Facebook. I knew of him; my good friend Tim HInely had turned me on to his latest book Teen Movie Hell, released in 2019 by Bazillion Points Press. When it was released, Tim introduced us; at some point, I received a .PDF galley of the book. I enjoyed it—even though I must admit I didn’t read the whole thing—and we interacted on Tim’s Facebook page.  So his friend request wasn’t particularly surprising.  His request came in while I slept; I’m not sure when. So when I woke up the next morning and saw it, I didn’t hesitate to accept it.

Less than an hour later, I learned that McBeardo had died in his sleep. 

As I did not know him, I could not properly eulogize him. I didn’t fail to notice that one of the last things he did was send me a friend request. What blows me away with this isn’t so much the finality of it all, but the mundanity. Especially considering McBeardo’s gonzo personality. You’d want to think of his life ending in depravity, fun, or adventure—not sending some old guy in Texas a friend request. Furthermore, in the days that followed, I learned more about him, and my heart sank—that he died, of course, was a tragedy. That I would not get to enjoy his friendship, even as nominal as social media friendship can be, made me feel the loss.

Proceeds from a box set of McPadden’s three Bazillion Point Books will go directly to his family. Purchase here:  Bazillion Point Books 

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David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace hanged himself September 12, 2008. Ian Curtis hanged himself May 18, 1980. David Cloud Berman hanged himself August 7, 2019.  For Wallace, his death came after many months of deep depression after a change in medication. He had struggled with the completion of his novel The Pale King; he had blamed his medication for clouding his judgment. After getting off of it, he found his depression worsened, and when he resumed it, he found it didn’t work.

Ian Curtis, at 23, killed himself on the eve of his band Joy Division’s inaugural U.S. tour. In the weeks before his death he expressed conflicted feelings about his band’s growing success, torment about his relationships with his estranged wife and daughter and his mistress. Furthermore, he had concerns about the medicine he took for severe epilepsy and the massive mood swings they caused. 

Why did Berman kill himself? His motives are not clear. Like Curtis, he was on the eve of his first major American tour. Like Wallace, he had been battling depression all summer, even as the singles from Purple Mountains garnered almost unanimous critical acclaim. Furthermore, like Curtis, Berman left behind an album of great merit that will forever be surveyed for clues as to its creator’s mental state/cries for help/hints of things to come.  And like Berman, yours truly has never fully appreciated the masterpieces of both men–Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures–while being fully enthusiastic for their other work. 

In retrospect, Purple Mountains feels like an instruction manual, a step-by-step walkthrough of what he was soon to do. Interpretation being what it is, only Berman knew what he meant by the things he said; cryptic or obvious, it’s not our call. Personally, I find “Nights That Won’t Happen” to be both deeply disturbing and hauntingly beautiful. One could easily attribute his words as speaking to himself and addressing his soon-to-be shattered friends, fans and family, yet at the same time Berman made no secret that Purple Mountains dealt with the grief of losing his mother. 

It is not ours, the observer, to cast aspersions or judgment on those who choose to play their own death card. We are left to wonder why, to speculate. No matter the form of suicide—be it the violent and unquestionable act of termination or an uncertain, speculative action that makes one wonder as to the intent—one thing remains true: those affected are left shocked, bewildered, and suffering. “The suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind,” Berman sang on “Nights That Won’t Happen,” and it’s true—we do suffer. 

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David Cloud Berman

David Cloud Berman

On  some levels, Berman’s death felt like a betrayal. Purple Mountains and its singles were all songs of desperation, sadness, and desolation. Yet these songs provide an odd solace to those struggling in the good fight of melancholy and darkness. A fellow traveler. Someone to make it feel better. An older, wiser soul who went down that road and came back to tell us it will be okay—it will all be okay. It’s easy to feel betrayed. After all, how can we take his word if he himself succumbed to the darkness? Lastly, on the heels of his best work to date: why?

A few weeks ago, a Facebook group dedicated to Berman linked to my tribute to him.  A commenter made note of my statement about why I never quite connected with Silver Jews back in the day. My statement is an honest one—the Pavement connection. Never really got into Pavement—I’m more tolerant than I was twenty five years ago—and the association was so played up on the first Silver Jews albums that it did feel as if it was a mere side project. I am, however, a big boy; I take my lumps and constructive criticism when it comes. Thus, I’ve started to make a more concerted dive into the Silver Jews catalog and will more than likely share my feelings in a future Sunday Longform.

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Last week, David Berman’s record label Drag City released the latest in a series of collaborative singles between Bill Callahan and Bonnie Prince Billy, a cover of Silver Jews’ “The Wild Kindness,” taken from their 1998 album American Water. This reimagining is made all the more poignant with the appearance of Cassie Berman, David’s ex-wife and former Silver Jew. The video is silly good fun, the sort of thing Drag City excels. But it’s hard not to feel a tinge of sadness and loss, thanks to the pallor that will forever loom large over Berman’s work.  To their credit, they didn’t replicate the original; instead, their version has a nice psychedelic vibe with just a hint of hip-hop. Watch the video above, watch the original here, and purchase the song here.

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GBV Bela

Guided By Voices vs Bela, courtesy photo.

January delivered an obscure but important milestone, one I almost forgot. On a cold January night in 2000, I answered an online call for writers posted by Ryan Schreiber. He was looking for volunteers to contribute news items for his fledgling website, Pitchfork Media. He requested prospective writers to submit a few news stories not currently featured on the site. My first choice was an obituary for Gaunt frontman Jerry Wick, who had been killed in a hit-and-run a day or two before. I wrote up the piece, submitted it, and saw it published—marking my inconspicuous introduction to the world of online music journalism. 

I bring this up not merely for nostalgic reasons, but for practical ones. One of Wick’s closest friends, Anyway Records honcho Bela Koe-Krompecher, recently announced his book debut, Love, Death, and Photosynthesis. In it, he highlights the fertile Ohio independent rock scene of the 1990s, his friendship with Wick, and his own spiritual growth. Visit his online journal to get a taste of what the book will be like. Taking its title from a promising Jerry Wick solo recording, Love, Death, and Photosynthesis is a bildungsroman in a battered Blue Ribbon teeshirt. 

Preorder Love, Death, and Photosynthesis:  Don Giovanni 


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Lisa Carver: Original sketch by Yoko Molotov

We’ve received word that our mentor and our friend Lisa Crystal Carver will be undertaking a fantastic journey to Botswana soon. In the interim she has just published The Pahrump Report, a chronological document of a relationship and its ending, a feverous romance with as many twists and turns as your pulp romance novel. Mainly it’s gossipy and juicy and heartbreaking and sexy and frustrating–but it’s real people, people! Purchase it from Pig Roast Publishing.

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a letter to a wildflower

From a Saturday Night chat with a concerned friend.

As for yours truly, I’ve talked about depression quite a bit here. I’ve never made a secret of my battles with clinical depression; I’ve had it for the entirety of my adult life. First, I may have depression, but my depression does not define me. Admittedly, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that part of the reason for sporadic updates over the last three months stems from a most severe battle I’ve been fighting. Some days, I simply can’t function. Other days, I can do quite well. Thankfully, I have a few friends who make this journey easier.  How am I right now? I could never make a proclamation that I’m doing better or that I’m simply hopeless. I simply take each day as it comes and I play it as it lays.



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