Singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman received his first round of applause on the day he was born.
His mother had chosen to have a natural childbirth without anesthesia, and when her son emerged from the womb, a group of medical students watching the delivery applauded his arrival.
“It’s weird,” Himmelman said in a phone call from his home in Santa Monica, Calif. “You could say I was born to be on stage.”
Himmelman, a versatile artist with a long string of albums to his credit, is on a short tour in support of his new album, “The Mystery and the Hum,” a riveting collection of songs that opens with the bluesy, raucous “Motel Room in Davenport,” but grows more introspective from there. The album offers a powerful blend blues, rock and folk.
The Minnesota native wrote and recorded the album in a mere two or three weeks. That sounds pretty quick, but Himmelman said it never felt rushed.
“If I can dedicate ten straight days to something, several hours a day, I mean it’s a lot of time,” he said. “I’m very focused and energized and somehow inspired to do it.
“My son, who is a very good writer, understands that it has nothing to do with time. Time is malleable and stretchable. How did you get into this semi-manic, inspired place in the first place? Think of all the life experiences you’ve had and all the trips you’ve had musically. How many thousands of hours did it take to accumulate all that? And how do those come into play in that two-week period?
“So it’s not really two weeks, it’s a whole lifetime that comes spilling out at that point.”
The colorful album jacket features Himmelman’s art and graphics.
“I started to make art when I was a kid around the same time that I started in music. The music definitely overtook the art. I’m sort of an art dabbler,” he said.
Himmelman recorded his first album, “Gematria” (named for the Jewish system of assigning a numerical value to a word or phrase) in 1985. In the course of his career, he has received glowing notices for his albums. Time magazine once observed that “Himmelman writes songs with the same emphatic edge and aesthetic urgency that impelled the Lost Generation to write novels.”
Himmelman’s tour features a solo concert Tuesday, Feb. 8, at the Tractor Tavern. He has billed the performance as “an evening of music and spoken word.” The spoken word portion features stories from a new, unpublished manuscript titled “Shovel.”
“Most of the stories are from my life,” he said, referring to “Shovel.” “And most of them are pretty funny.”
On the other hand, the songs on “The Mystery and the Hum” are pretty serious. “Raining Down From Satellite” was inspired, in part, by Daniel Pearl, the former Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and killed by Al-Qaeda. Pearl was Jewish.
Himmelman, who is also Jewish, was fascinated by the Pearl tragedy — and stunned to learn that Pearl had been a fan of his music. In fact, Pearl had come backstage after a concert in Washington, D.C., in 1995.
“I’ve searched my mind many a time and have the haziest memory, hazy enough to be non-existent,” Himmelman said. “But I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him, a lot of time getting to know his parents and a fair amount of time trying to recall that moment when he came backstage. He was a majorly cool guy.”
Himmelman describes his current tour as “tiny as well as endless. I just do a few days, come back home, time passes, I do some more dates.”
Time with his family is important to him, and because of his Jewish faith, he doesn’t work Friday nights at the beginning of the Sabbath. He once turned down an invitation to perform on a Friday on “The Tonight Show.”
What was the reaction? “It couldn’t have been too bad because they asked me back,” Himmelman said.
Once, while recording an album in Memphis, he stopped work as Friday night approached. The veteran sound mixer was puzzled, but accommodating.
“I explained that when it’s dark enough to see three stars, then I start working again. So he and I were out smoking cigars in the parking lot and we’re looking up in the sky and he doesn’t quite get the whole thing, but he’s seen everything.
“He looks up and says, ‘I guess it’s better than looking for three grams of blow for Stevie Nicks.’ He had seen it all, so it was probably just one more weird thing to him.”
Visit Himmelman’s Web site by following this link.
— Gene Stout