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Peter Himmelman Puts Family Before Rock 'n' Roll

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Peter Himmelman Puts Family Before Rock 'n' Roll

Peter Himmelman Puts Family Before Rock 'n' Roll

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

And I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

(Soundbite of song, "Motel Room in Davenport")

Mr. PETER HIMMELMAN (Singer): (Singing) I'm in a motel room in Davenport, waiting on the resurrection...

KELLY: And this is new music from Peter Himmelman.

(Soundbite of song, "Motel Room in Davenport")

Mr. HIMMELMAN: (Singing) Waiting for this high life story of mine to end.

KELLY: His new CD is "The Mystery and the Hum." Peter Himmelman has been in music for decades, writing rock 'n' roll music for kids, scoring TV and movies. He's been nominated for Grammy and Emmy Awards. But if you don't recognize him, you're not alone. Himmelman's career has cruised steadily below the radar. Peter Himmelman says he always put his wife and four kids ahead of fame.

Mr. HIMMELMAN: You know, maybe I would've sold a few more records and hundred thousand more and, you know, we could be divorced and living in Marina del Rey with a shag carpet. And instead of pictures of the kids, I could have some pictures of myself with rock stars and some gold record on the wall. But I think it's better this way. And I haven't given up, that's the other thing.

KELLY: Yeah.

Mr. HIMMELMAN: I still, you know, I'm just doing it in a different order.

KELLY: You explore a lot of different styles on this album. And it was interesting to hear all the different influences and the different directions you reached. Let me play a little bit from the second track, "Change My Channel."

(Soundbite of song, "Change My Channel")

Mr. HIMMELMAN: (Singing) Nothing satisfies and nothing entertains. I've been wasting too much time staring out my window.

KELLY: I hear a little bit of Elvis Costello in there, I have to say. Is that somebody who's influenced you?

Mr. HIMMELMAN: Yeah. I mean, he was an influence on me when I was a kid. I mean, he was a few years older than me. But when I first heard him in 1978, I'm like, well, this guy is great. It sounds like '50s music. The guitars weren't too distorted. It wasn't like Journey or Boston. I really resonated with that.

(Soundbite of song, "Change My Channel")

Mr. HIMMELMAN: (Singing) I like the speed of time. I like to change my perspective because all I can think about is you. Change my channel, change my channel because all I can think about is you. I need to change my channel, change my channel.

But I think what he and I probably were both going for was more of a soul sound in some way too. If you saw me, you wouldn't think of myself as that, but everybody has a picture of themselves inside sort of channeling maybe Marvin Gaye or some sort of soul - Curtis Mayfield or something. My influences are so diverse - Steve Goodman, Taj Mahal. Certainly, the Beatles. Just different colors. And I really embrace them all.

(Soundbite of song, "Imagination')

KELLY: Is it all that time at home with the kids that led you to want to write children's music?

Mr. HIMMELMAN: Well, that put me in the mood to write. I don't want to dispel anyone's notion about how artists work, but the thing that really made it happen is somebody came with the two things that make music manifest most - a check and a deadline.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HIMMELMAN: And just like in your work or in anyone's work...

KELLY: And thus, the genius is born. Yup.

Mr. HIMMELMAN: Really, it does summon up all your best gifts.

(Soundbite of song, "Imagination")

Mr. HIMMELMAN: (Singing) Imagination, yeah. It gives me the ability. Imagination, yeah. I wouldn't have it any other way. Imagination, yeah. Now tell me, do you want to play? Do you want to play? Listen to this.

What really got it started was a woman in Minnesota called me and said, you know, I love your stuff. Do you think you could do it a kids' record? Here's a check, and I need it by such and such a date. An award-winning children's record, thus, was born. Certainly, my experiences with my kids had helped. It was a little difficult for me to write for children at first.

KELLY: How come?

Mr. HIMMELMAN: I just didn't know the simple thing that I do now know, which is everything is exactly the same, but you're writing about things that are within the context of a child's experience.

(Soundbite of song, "Imagination")

Mr. HIMMELMAN: (Singing) Tell me, do you want to play? Do you want to play? Do you want to play the drums? Listen to this.

KELLY: It's catchy. Peter Himmelman, one other interesting thing worth noting in your background is you're an observant Jew. I read - is this true - that you turned down "The Tonight Show" because the appearance they were offering you conflicted with your worship schedule?

Mr. HIMMELMAN: Yeah, there was - I think it was still when Johnny Carson was on. It was Sukkot, I believe, holiday of festival, holiday in the fall. And just, you know, I couldn't do it. I think that helps to have time that cannot be purchased, to know that I have things, values that just - they simply can't be purchased. And understand when I said that I wanted to be a rock star, that's number two. So I wasn't going to go on "The Tonight Show." And I waited a year or two, and I was on it on another day that I could perform. All worked out well.

KELLY: It must be tough, though, I mean, for your agent, for example, to be touting this musician who he can't book to play on Friday nights.

Mr. HIMMELMAN: Yeah. You'll have to ask him. Usually, they look at it as something that they wish they could do. Particularly, now, in this age of encroaching, ever encroaching technology, where you're never away from the bit and harness of your iPhone or something. These are days, if you follow the Jewish observance, that you're completely off the grid, not being able to be reached or tampered. Your mind tampered by the media, particularly things that are trying to sell you something, trying to influence your thinking to make money. I don't know what it is, but I imagine that the accumulation of 23 years that I've been doing this, of taking myself off the grid for 65 days each year, it must mean something.

KELLY: Hmm. Now, all that said, you have reached out in all kinds of directions in your career. What - do you think that's maybe a side benefit of having limited your tour schedule, that you have time to reach out and explore all these different avenues?

Mr. HIMMELMAN: Yeah. I guess I do. I mean, if I were playing to giant crowds and generating all sorts of income from playing it on stage, it probably wouldn't even come to mind to do these things. You know, where there are spaces in my time, I fill them. The expression, you have some time to kill, there's something about that that just viscerally disturbs me. Perhaps, because my father died very young and my sister died in a car crash, I just have this need to utilize every second.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HIMMELMAN: (Singing) Hey, hey, hey, time slips away. Baby, can you be so sure that we will endure?

KELLY: Peter Himmelman, thanks so much.

Mr. HIMMELMAN: Thank you very much.

KELLY: Peter Himmelman talking about writing for kids and about his new album for grown-ups. It's called "The Mystery and the Hum."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HIMMELMAN: (Singing) They're telegraphing signals in zeros and in ones. We could go on forever if we only...

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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