Jewish World Review March 23, 1999 / 6 Nissan, 5759



Peter Himmelman,
the Sabbath-observant rocker



By Mordecai Specktor


YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT'S IN THE CARDS at a Peter Himmelman concert. He may bring an audience member up on stage and improvise a song about the person. At a famous Guthrie Theater appearance years ago, Himmelman invited the audience to meet after the show at Lake Calhoun, where he continued to serenade into the night.

During a musical career stretching back 20 years --to his days with the popular club band Sussman Lawrence --the lanky musician from suburban St. Louis Park has recorded several critically acclaimed solo albums and gathered a devoted following worldwide. And he has balanced his career with attention to his family, his wife and four young children, and with being an observant Jew.

During a telephone conversation last week from his home in Santa Monica, Calif., Himmelman talked about his music, the role of Judaism in his life, and an upcoming concert appearance in the Twin Cities.

On the music front, Himmelman has a new album out, Love Thinketh No Evil, full of tuneful numbers, a mixture of melodic rockers and ruminative ballads, that rewards repeated listening. Himmelman's word play and philosophical plaints reveal new facets with each fresh spin of the CD.

In addition to his solo career, Himmelman has been composing musical scores for films, which he said allows him to branch out into varied musical genres.

His latest project is the soundtrack for "A Slipping Down Life," an Indie film starring Lili Taylor and Guy Pierce ("L.A. Confidential"), which was recently shown at the Sundance Film Festival.

As for balancing Jewish observance and a music career, Himmelman allowed that not playing gigs on Shabbat "probably slows down the train of fame." Still, he finds that his career has been on a "slow climb and it's always climbing upwards. I've always been able to put out the music that I want to put out, and I make a very good living at it. In that sense, I'm quite satisfied."

Judaism "provides a structure," said Himmelman, "a way for me to touch down with family and spirituality...It's been very important and very helpful in terms of creating a sense of peace in my life."

Himmelman credited his mother, Beverly Wexler Fink, with fostering his sense of Judaism's import. His father, David Himmelman, died in 1986.

For those inquiring minds wondering about the musician's famous relatives -- brother-in-law Jakob Dylan of The Wallflowers, and father-in-law Bob Dylan, the legend -- Himmelman said that he visits with his in-laws, but there has never been any musical collaboration.

When he plays here next week, there will likely be some surprises. Perhaps a rendition of "Dixie the Dog," a ditty about the family dachshund that was included on a Cities97 compilation album?

"That's kind of like an improvised number, so it changes a lot - Dixie has grown a lot since that record," responded Himmelman. He's a much bigger dog?

"He's still the same size, but his range of experience has broadened."


Mordecai Specktor is a staff writer for The American Jewish World in Minneapolis. For subscription information or to contact the author, click here,or call: 612-920-7000

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©1999, The American Jewish World.