Peter Himmelman, The Pigeons Couldn't Sleep (Himmasongs Recordings, 2007)
Himmelman's latest CD comes with a DVD called Rock God. The DVD is about dreams. It begins with Peter's deadpan narration: "My name is Peter Himmelman. Twenty years ago I was the leader of the 4th biggest band in Minneapolis. At the time, there were two things on my mind, being super famous and my hair." Peter goes on to talk about favorable reviews from Rolling Stone, Billboard, and Time, and his not so riveting work: "making little snippets of music" for the television show Judging Amy. He estimates that he's made some 7,500 snippets: "I do it for the money. I have four children and a wife to support." He talks about meeting an M.I.T. grad who wanted to work for NASA but is designing cupholders for an automobile manufacturer; their dreams aren't dead but they're on "life support." Unable to let his own dreams die, Peter sets off on an undersold tour. As part of his sendoff he learns that the network has dropped Judging Amy.
Peter tours with some pot-smoking hard rockers from a kibbutz who are too young to have lost their dreams, does some solo gigs, and reunites with the three guys he's been playing music with since he was twelve. In a final show with his friends from childhood, Peter mocks rock music, taking on the persona of Lance from Dayton, Ohio. The crowd at Schuba's loves it and when the band leaves the stage they start chanting "Lance." Peter comes back as himself, and thanks the audience for the opportunity to perform.
Himmelman tells us that he has no regrets, despite the fact he has neither fame nor much hair. While most of the DVD focuses on the frustration of unrealized dreams, contrasted with the exhilaration of performance, there is a subtext: family. Peter tells us that the truest song he ever wrote was for his cancer-stricken father, David. And, in the final performance from the last gig, Peter sings about his daughter, Raina, "I'm no stranger to the allure of despair; I've spent a lifetime inside its jaws, but not since I've seen Raina."
Peter is no rock god, but he does have a place among rock royalty. He's the jester. He is laughed at when, as an observant Jew, he turns down the opportunity to open for Rod Stewart because it would mean playing on the Sabbath. And, when he does take the stage and put on the persona of Lance or some other pretentious rock clone, the laughs are on the rock elites.
In keeping with the DVD's subtext, one of the finest songs on the CD is "Gratitude."
I am glad that I can see the brown of my daughters
The moon on silent waters
Your flowing silhouette moving across the room
Forgive me if I've lost my sense of gratitude
The CD underscores the disparity between the fame Himmelman lacks and the recognition and reception his talents warrant. On these thirteen songs Peter displays his songwriting prowess by covering blues ("A Dog Can Drink Stagnant Water"), rock ("Killer" and "War of Worlds"), and more pop-oriented, keyboard numbers ("Gratitude" and "17 Minutes to 1"). Throughout, the lyrics are intelligent and insightful. There's not a single false note.