UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 18 Spring 24 Library
David Berman circa 1991, in the Hoboken apartment that he shared with Bob Nastanovich and Stephen Malkmus, where the band Silver Jews was born. (Photo by Kylie Wright)

The David Berman Memorial Fund

"It was the light in things that made them last."

These were the words of the late musician and poet David Berman, taken from his poem Governors on Sominex, which is part of his celebrated collection Actual Air.

And today they ring especially true as his inextinguishable light is set to shine on students and a beloved UVA cultural institution for generations to come. The David Berman Memorial Fund honors the former Echols Scholar, WTJU DJ, and highly acclaimed poet and songwriter who passed away in 2019. It is the station's first endowment and will help support high-impact student experiences at WTJU 91.1 FM and WXTJ 100.1 FM.

The fund was created with a seed gift from alums Andy and Liz Stepanian.

It was the light in things that made them last.
David Berman

"As a student, I tuned in to WTJU because it was always a place to hear alternative music," Andy Stepanian said. "I still have cassette tapes of some WTJU programs I recorded back in the early 90s. As a musician myself, I understand the importance of community radio, particularly in a college setting, as a mechanism for proliferating music and viewpoints which are generally ignored by the mainstream airwaves. 

David Berman hosted a radio show called “The Big Hair Show” in the late 1980s at WTJU.
(Photo: Aaron Margosis)

Want to support The David Berman Memorial Fund?

Annual giving is critical for the station but it fluctuates from year-to-year. This endowed fund will provide perpetual, dependable income to support the station and its mission.

"We are excited to help start this endowment as a way to create a bedrock of funds for WTJU's future," he added. "In turn, we wanted to pay homage to David Berman and honor his contribution to WTJU, the University, and the world. I have been a fan of his work for a long time, and I am hopeful WTJU and the community it creates will inspire others like him in some small way."

"When the idea to create this fund came about, it made sense to name it in honor of David," said WTJU General Manager Nathan Moore. "He embodied the spirit of what we try to do each day at the station – creating community, sharing creative voices, and nourishing curiosity in the arts. Many of the relationships David formed at the station contributed to his tremendous career as a writer and musician." 

In the late 1980s, a heyday area for college radio, WTJU was more than a radio station. It was the center of an artistic solar system that drew music artists, fans, and dreamers from an endless variety of genres into its orbit. One of those people was David Berman. 

It was at UVA that Berman formed his first band, Ectoslavia, while living in the storied "Red House" on 14th Street. The band would include future members of the bands Pavement and Yo La Tengo. David would go on to start Lo-fi indie rock band Silver Jews along with UVA classmates and Pavement members Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich. Another fellow alum from those years, the noted Rolling Stone writer and reviewer Rob Sheffield, called Berman one of the best songwriters of the past 30 years. 

Laura Anderson (College '89) met David and Bob on her first day of orientation on Grounds and said that WTJU served as a fraternity of sorts for the friend group, which she says was populated by "misfits of various kinds." She said the station "gave all of us an opportunity to meet people of different musical interests and backgrounds and to form a really meaningful community."

After Berman passed away in 2019, Anderson reached out to friends to talk about a memorial service. "I just said we need to have it at WTJU." She put in a call to Moore, who was more than happy to offer the stations' newly opened space, complete with a stage for performances.

The turnout and the event itself were overwhelming. "The love and compassion that these folks had for each other after 30-some years was remarkable," Moore said. "You could really feel it. There was a pop-up band that covered David's songs, people read letters he had written them, and Special Collections brought a collection of David's letters to display.

"I talk a lot about community and nourishing community at WTJU, and that day, it was palpable. That impulse and that need to connect with each other and experience something real and meaningful are still very much at the heart of who we are. I am proud that it continues through the generations."

The last words on this gift and in this story are best left for David Berman himself. They are from his Silver Jews 1998 song, "People."

"Moments can be monuments to you," he wrote, "if your life is interesting and true."

Moments can be monuments to you if your life is interesting and true.
David Berman

Need to know more?

Check out Portrait of the Artist: An Oral History of David Berman at UVA
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