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Himmelman brings his eclectic show to SPACE

January 12th, 2011

by Lilli Kuzma; reprinted with permission from Pioneer Press

He knows it's cold here and is shopping for warm gloves.

"I've had my cold quotient," said rock icon, Peter Himmelman, a Minnesota native but a long-time resident of Santa Monica, Calif. "But now is the best time to come to Chicago. We're gonna heat it up!"

Himmelman looks forward to his sold-out show at SPACE in Evanston Thursday night. He will perform with a band of Chicago-based musicians: Gerald Dowd (drums), Scott Tipping (guitar), and Matt Thompson (bass).

An inventive and multi-faceted artist, Himmelman is accomplished as a singer-songwriter, rock troubadour, artist, children's entertainer, and a composer for TV and film ("Bones," "Judging Amy," "Men in Trees").

He has been a pioneer as an internet performer, with his variety-styled live webcast show, "Furious World." He has also just completed writing a book, "Shovel."

Himmelman has been recognized with both Grammy and Emmy nominations, and has been the recipient of national parenting awards for his children's material, and "The Mystery and The Hum," his new 'adult' album, is an eclectic mix of rock styles that has received wide critical acclaim.

But it is songwriting that Himmelman feels is most important to him.

"It's the thing I do best," he said. "And I quite recently have been writing a lot of new songs, 35 songs, that I'll have to winnow down. Conversely, the business of music can be so painful, fraught with upheaval."

It all began at age 12, when Himmelman got a red Fender Duo Sonic guitar. "I still have that guitar and even play it sometime," he said. "It's hanging on my wall."

Influenced by artists that include The Beatles, The Who, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, and Elvis Costello, Himmelman found success first with a new wave band, Sussman Lawrence, then broke through as a solo artist with his album, "This Father's Day." A steady stream of note-worthy albums and projects have followed.

Despite his successes, Himmelman continues to fly under the radar of mainstream popularity, mainly because he puts family first (has four children with Maria, Bob Dylan's step-daughter). Himmelman is also an observant Jew who adheres to Sabbath and religious holidays. For years, Himmelman has firmly held to his 'no Friday night bookings' rule, which has caused him to pass on opportunities for major exposure and any extensive touring.

But Himmelman is adamant that this schedule does not impede his creativity. In fact, he believes it's had the opposite effect on his career. "Life structures (as in my Judaism) allow a person to be creative. We need to be tethered, this is never an impediment to creativity," he said. "And deep creativity is the most unencumbered, born of very definite structures."

Himmelman adds that it is his unusual scheduling that has made other things possible, such as being contacted to write children's songs. "If I'd been touring, this might not have happened," he noted.

Going 'off grid' for about 65 days a year is something Himmelman thinks is important. Recently, he has been re-thinking such things as Facebook, saying: "I was addicted to it at first, but might take a break from Facebook, maybe a total moratorium. I'm not sure, but wrestling with the notion. I think the whole enterprise has been deleterious to my success. It strips away any mystique."

That's a personal dilemma for many, he believes.

"We're like gerbils on a treadmill. But the problem is not technology. The idea is to carve out times for yourself no matter what," he continued. "Shore up relationships. But there is a cost to it. Most people cannot do it, don't have the strength (to turn things down). You have to live like an outsider."

He spoke about his not-yet-released book, too. "It's a book of short stories, some are very funny, others are tragically sad. About my childhood and how I came to be a musician. Judaism. I may do some spoken word from the book at the SPACE show."

David Sills will be show opener. "I enjoy David's singing and may do some songs with him," said Himmelman.

When asked about Chicago artists that have been an influence, Himmelman pointed to the late Steve Goodman. "He's been more of an influence later for me, the last 10 years. What a sense of humor and spirit, what an amazing guitar player," he said. "When a songwriter plays guitar really well, it really gives him gravitas."