- Peter Himmelman: The bulk of the song, you get it in a basket. (Photo: Liz Linder)
St. Louis Park native has a new album for children and is delving further into new media
By MORDECAI SPECKTOR
Peter Himmelman was back in the Twin Cities late last month, but he wasn’t here to play a gig. Rather, he returned to his old stomping ground for his niece’s wedding. (He mentioned it on his live webcast, Furious World, last week.)
Usually, the Jewish World updates its breaking news from the Himmelsphere via a telephone chat. But the accomplished singer-songwriter was actually in the vicinity, and stopped by the AJW offices for an in-person interview about his new children’s album, varied new media ventures and the philosophy of art.
First, the new children’s album is called My Trampoline (Minivan Productions). Himmelman’s fifth album for children — he also records and performs for the older set — is packed with 11 rocking tunes, including the title track (listen for the quote from “If I Were a Rich Man”); “King Ferdinand,” about his famed pet tortoise; the bouncy “Florie Loves Flowers”; the mystical “Ten Billion Blades of Grass,” which evokes Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav; and “Are There Any Kids Named Steve Anymore” (“There are Tylers, Taylors and Walkers galore/There are Winstons, and Carvers, and Eframs and Sams… But are there any kids named Steve anymore?”).
My Trampoline is full of infectious tunes that should hit the sweet spot in the ears of both kids and parents.
- The cover art on My Trampoline is by renowned illustrator Pete Oswald.
The album should be available through Amazon.com, or in better record stores, later this month. The album is on a new family music label, based in Venice, Calif., and headed by Dan Perloff. Minivan Productions plans to reissue the children’s CDs from Himmelman’s catalog later this fall.
“I don’t know if there are any stores anymore,” commented Himmelman, regarding distribution of My Trampoline. “We’ve come to the end of the line with the music business.”
Himmelman has been busy exploring other marketing and distribution channels. His music can be heard on the XM radio network, a subscription service; and he has a Web show for children called the Curious World — the Furious World (furiousworld.com), geared to adult Web surfers, goes out live at 7 p.m., Pacific Standard Time, on Tuesdays.
(His musical guest last week on the Furious World was the Ruby Friedman Orchestra. Ruby Friedman, a wondrous singer, is destined for great things in her musical career.)
Land of Nod (landofnod.com), which sells children’s clothing and furniture, also markets Himmelman’s children’s music. The Land of Nod folks are also sponsoring “10-minute Webisodes” of the Curious World show, said Himmelman, who, in addition to his other talents, has a great approach to the video genre.
The Curious World shows will be available at the end of September. And Himmelman said that he has a project in the works for the Discovery Channel. There is also the hope that XM satellite radio will broadcast an audio-only version of the Curious World.
“All this will, hopefully, will gear up and juice up to piquing someone’s interest in the [My Trampoline] album,” he explains. “They all kind of jointly go together — just as the Furious World will help to promote the new album, or any new album that I may have. Right now having an album in the marketplace, just a record of songs, just doesn’t do it any more, from many factors.”
Himmelman says that record companies, which have seen a steep dip in album sales, are disinclined “to pour a lot of money into promotion.” He mentions that music lovers with access to a broadband connection can download music for free — a trend that will likely continue in the years ahead.
Despite the problems endemic to the music industry, Himmelman continues to write and produce music. The next album for his adult fan base, The Mystery and the Hum, should hit the stores, or Web outlets, after the first of the year. The album was recorded at Cookhouse Studios in Minneapolis.
In another facet of his musical career, Himmelman has composed music for films and TV shows (Men in Trees, Bones, Judging Amy).
“This is the first fall in 12 years that I haven’t done a television show or a film,” he noted, and added that all his other ventures “are really exciting” and consume his imagination.
“I literally can’t sleep at night from this stuff, thinking about what’s going to go on — on “Turtle Talk” [a video segment featuring King Ferdinand on the Furious World],” said the 49-year-old musician.
Himmelman likened the pace of his creative ferment to the days when he played in Sussman Lawrence, a popular rock band on the Twin Cities scene in the late-’70s. “The possibilities are limitless.”
Musicians are calling him “every single day” asking him how he does the Webcast. He doesn’t want to give away the precise “recipe” for the Furious World; but mentions that producing a quality show does require an outlay of money. He is trying different ways “to monetize” the hour-long Furious World shows.
If all of these activities are not enough to keep a few people busy, Himmelman recently taught a weeklong songwriting seminar in Boulder, Colo.
He told the songwriters — artists at various stages in their careers — that the key to bringing a song into the world involves “trying to disengage from your thinking mind and just going into a place… where the thing just comes to you.”
Writing a song, he said, is not like journalism or screenwriting, where much rewriting takes place.
“Generally the bulk of the song, you get it in a basket — you can patch it up a bit,” Himmelman reflected. “It’s not really thought through that well.”
Working in this area has been so engaging that Himmelman is mulling the idea of gathering a group of students in Los Angeles, where his family resides, for a weekly songwriting class — or perhaps he could teach far-flung students online through Skype, the Web-based video service.
Then his cell phone rings; his wife has arrived in the parking lot.
(American Jewish World, 9.4.09)