Dan Bern — Dan Bern (1997)

Dan Bern’s Hollywood, at the end of the old millennium, is strung out, cynical, and trying to make a quick buck. Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Henry Miller, and other ghosts of the 20th century loiter. Several years into the new millennium, my rabbi and his wife sang “Jerusalem” a capella to the teens at a synagogue sleepover and I got hooked. When I got the album there were some songs I usually skipped when listening on my transparent-plastic Discman (or knockoff thereof, who can recall), flummoxed by down tempos and more enigmatic subject matter. Twenty years later I like those songs (“Rome”, “Queen”) more than I used to, but my favorites are the same. “Jerusalem” is a jokey parable, of a kind, about a neurotic young Jewish person with a messiah complex and difficulty connecting with people. I think the appeal to the kind of shoulder-chipped young teen I was when I first heard it is evident. “Estelle” is a yarn about a jaded painter’s astonishment about his latest and maybe last chance for love. It’s no use telling a teenager that all their chances lie ahead of them, when they listen to songs that make them nostalgic for experiences they haven’t had yet. Now I’m 33, enveloped in love, and as far as I know the best is yet to come. —2022-11-04