The term multifaceted has never applied to one person more so than to Peter Himmelman, who is a singer, songwriter, motivational speaker, children’s artist, poet and even the voice of a therapy bear. Mr. Himmelman’s smart, well-craftedsongs do more than simply entertain, they inspire and lift the soul.
Thirty years (and 37-plus albums in) Mr. Himmelman, who also happens to be Bob Dylan’s son-in-law, continues to motivate creativity with his own work and through his organization BigMuse.com. He and his band are on the road supporting his latest CD, the particularly solid “There Is No Calamity.”
Mr. Himmelman will perform at The Hamilton Thursday evening, prior to which he discussed in-tune instruments, able musicians and that transcendent moment.
Question: What can people expect when they come out to see you live?
Answer: Hopefully, they can expect my guitar to be in tune.
I’m always in the mood to create something that isn’t some recitation, but rather something that feels very live and in the moment. We’ll be dipping into some of the new cannon [and] some of the old stuff. A pleasant blend of old and new.
[At no point] do I ever want to become like a nostalgia piece. I actually still make records. I often have to explain that to the audience by way of a caveat saying, “By the way, we’re playing new songs, and if you actually listen, you might enjoy them as much as the old ones.”
The job of the musician or anyone up on any stage is to create a transcendent moment for the people in the audience so you can escape whatever you consider normal life is, and you get a glimpse at something richer. That is the service [artists] provide.
Q: A lot of acts who have been doing it as long as you have are content to play only old songs. What motivates you to keep creating, recording and playing new music?
A: Stupidity and desperation come to mind. I don’t really know. The same impulse that drove me to write music when it wasn’t new. There is something very joyous about writing something on the guitar or piano that is finished but still a nascent work. Then bringing it to a collective.
Something about collaborating with a community and hearing an idea fleshed out [is] a very fulfilling thing. That’s the root of it. It’s life-giving in a sense.
Q: What is the one thing you need on tour?
A: I have a special diet. I only eat kosher food, so that is always something to think about and consider.
Q: Since you only eat kosher, where do you dine in D.C.?
A: Well, there might be a kosher place. Probably not. I usually just go into a grocery store. I like to cook.
If it is a long time on the road, I will bring some heating elements and pots and pans and make my own. A lot of men don’t cook. I was sort of a latchkey kid, so it was “cook or die” in a certain way.
Q: How has touring changed?
A: I had vocal nodule surgery about two years ago. Kind of like the same thing Adele had. I’m a little bit more cautious with my voice. I never yell anymore. I’m not a big screamer in general, but when I hear people yelling, I marvel at that.
Q: Do you miss yelling?
A: Not yelling necessarily in anger, but I miss a little bit of it. It is probably fine for me to yell, but it’s psychological.
I have PTSD. There are a lot of things I miss as I grow older. And I think it is best that one considers the new resources one has rather than the older ones that have been sort of diminished.
Q: Why is the new album called “There Is No Calamity”?
A: I wrote the record way before any of this stuff that is going on. It is just sort ironic kismet. I don’t believe in happenstance but … .
The title is a phrase I like. It is a line form one of the songs on the record. And it always seems to have a sort of ironic sense about it. Certainly does now. I don’t know what it meant. I often pull out a line from a song to make the title of an album.
Q: One of the songs that hit me is “Fear Is Our Undoing.” Are these the most fearful times in history?
A: If you are anywhere a student of history, you will find this is not the most fearful time. And I know that runs a little counter to some people’s thinking. It may be the most fearful time some people have experienced, but it has been a lot worse. To me, though my opinion of the song should take precedent over somebody else’s opinion, it’s a much more personal thing than a political statement.
Q: Do you ever plan what you’re going to write songs about?
A: Songs that I end up liking that I write, I don’t really know exactly where they come from. They are never made by design. I never sit down and say, “I’m going to write a song about X.” The songs come from nowhere. Just like painters.
Jasper Johns, the great American painter, said, “I never have any idea what I’m going to do when I approach the canvas.”
Q: You write songs. You write essays in Huffington Post. You give motivational speeches through your company Big Muse. How do you balance all your outlets for creativity?
A: The truth of the matter is I don’t. Everything is not well balanced. One of the things that I like about my life is I just can follow my imagination.
Peter Himmelman plays The Hamilton Thursday evening. Tickets are available at Ticketfly.com.