In his review of Peter Himmelman‘s 2005 album Imperfect World, Matt Cibula writes, “Imperfect World sounds like the work of someone who has a lot of things to say, and doesn’t much care in what order he says them.” Years later, there’s something that rings true about that assessment. Himmelman, famous for being the son-in-law of Bob Dylan, has never shied away from mystery and confusion in his work, and all the better for it. As the story behind the new video for his song “Too Afraid to Lose” attests, there’s great songwriting potential to be found in the unexpressable.
Himmelman spoke at length about the video with PopMatters. He says, “This is a portrait of emotional-exile, homecoming, history, and the pressure of living in the present moment. The questions it raises for me are: (as always) do we commit? Do we commit to one another? The characters seem to be looking at their lives from a great height, finally taking an objective look at where they stand, especially in relation to the people they love. There is also a sense of having finally, slowly, come to terms with life as it is – both in its fullness and its want.
“‘Too Afraid to Lose’ came to me like all my others. It appeared in my hands and I wrote it down. I used to write about specific things, specific ideas. I’d get an idea and I’d go chasing it. I haven’t done that for years.
“I once read a piece in The Atlantic about the great American painter Jasper Johns. He spoke about never approaching the canvas with any specific intention. I don’t remember exactly what he said but it had something to do with clear concepts somehow spoiling the opportunity for nascent mysteries to unfold. Why would I chase down something I already know?
“What I get from the song and the video is a sense of the difficulty of moving ahead, moving towards the things we desire in stops and starts. I’m bothered by that tendency in myself. I’d much prefer to be bold, to act as if I might in a dream, where every consequence weren’t weighed and calculated to prevent every imaginable negative outcome.
“My freedom comes mostly in my creative endeavors and in my spiritual life. The rest of it feels like it often needs more fluidity. The main line from the song: too afraid to lose what we were each too afraid to win suggests that we might place too much value on what we already know.
“A couple years back, while I was producing my online talk show, Furious World, I put an ad out in Craigslist for an intern that could work some cameras and do some editing. An 18 year-old kid named AJ Martinson showed up. He looked 16 and acted 47. We’ve since gone on to become close friends and when he told me he wanted to direct a video for my new album I told him to pick a song and come up with a concept. My only direction was that the video be as amorphous and as universal feeling as the song itself. He hit all the right notes for me; the stuttering starts, the sense of history, of devotion, of love and perseverance.
“We filmed atop AJ’s dad’s recording studio in Alhambra, in the fabled “golden hour”of a West Coast dusk. (FYI, AJ’s father created Flying Faders, the first fully automated recording console inserts). My son Isaac plays someone in the video I’ve never seen, someone less sure about himself than he usually is.”
“Too Afraid to Lose” can be found on Himmelman’s latest record, the crowdfunded The Boat That Carries Us, out now on Himmasongs.