Toward a Meaningful
Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript - August 27, 2000
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Welcome to Toward
a Meaningful Life. Were here every Sunday from 6-7pm
talking about meaningful topics and subjects that matter to
you and to me and to everyone around.
We live in a time of paradox. On one hand there
is material prosperity and people seem to be happy on so many
different levels. Yet on the other hand there is a deep spiritual
searchyou can even say a level of misery beneath the surface
that so many of us experience.
As such, the hunger is very profound and the paradox
is very deep. So I decided to do a topic that deals with paradoxes
and with that search, and the different ways we satisfy that
search. So the topic tonight is music. The role of music. I
guess its no accident that music is identified with soul;
they call it soul and spirit.
Id like to begin with a very beautiful parable.
They say that when G-d created the universe, He consulted with
the angels and said, When I create the human race, should
I give them the gift of musicthe ability to sing, the
ability to play, the ability to dance?
Remember, music is its own language. Its
not just a conventional language. So G-d asked: Should I give
humans the power to sing and to play melodies.
And the angels, obviously being very elitist,
answered, No. Dont give it to the human race because
they will abuse it. Theyll commercialize it. Theyll
make it into a business. They wont know how to appreciate
its angelic, divine nature.
Give us music and we will sing Your praises,
we will sing Your song. We will know how to appreciate it.
And G-d considered their opinion, but then overruled
them and said, No. I will give the gift of music to them,
the gift of song, because I want them to have something to remember
Me with. That even when theyre stuck in their own straits
and when theyre locked in their material place, they should
have something that can lift them up, that can lift their spirits
up to another place.
Its interesting that music should be identified
in such a fashion, like wings that help lift our spirits, our
souls. As a matter of fact, in Kabbalistic thought, theres
a question thats asked, How do souls travel?
We know how bodies travel. If you want to get from one place
to another you have legs and you move from one place to another.
Or you take a vehiclean automobile, a taxi, a subway,
an airplane, a shipwe have many ways to move about.
But how does a soul move? Remember, a soul doesnt
have legs and a soul does not fit into a car or another container
like that. The Kabbalah gives a very fascinating answer: that
every soul needs a song to travel with. For a soul to move from
one place to another, it needs a melody, a song. And only with
that song can it move.
As a matter of fact, in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem,
there were fifteen steps called Shir HaMaalos. Fifteen
psalms that King David sang correspond to those fifteen steps
and to go from one step to the next you needed a song to sing.
Also, the Levites, the composers of music in the time of the
Temple, would compose different songs.
I know people who travel hundreds of thousands
of miles a year. Theyve got frequent flyer mileage and
all of that. But they dont move one inch spiritually.
And I know people who perhaps sit in the same
place, but spiritually theyre moving millions of miles.
You see that even in the birth of the jazz movement in this
country. In general, music was always a voice of rebellion,
a voice of outrage. People often sing as a result of oppression.
And those are the people who maybe couldnt
move. They couldnt even afford getting a ticket on an
airplane or on a boat, but they were able to move miles and
miles because they had song and spirit.
Perhaps even the oppression itself was a catalyst,
a springboard, for that music. So I dont think its
an accident in our day and timesomething which is unprecedentedthat
music has become an industry, especially for the youth, the
young generation. That was never the case.
In the days of classical music of the great composers
in the 16th, 17th, and 18th
centuries, music was a powerful force but it wasnt a fad,
it wasnt a craze, it didnt have the popularity that
it has today. Perhaps one of the reasons for that is that our
generation so craves for spirit, for soul, and music is a way
to speak to G-d.
Whether we call it as such is not the issue. The
point of the matter is, its a language of the soul. Thats
what I would like to say as an introduction, and to talk about
that a little more Id like to introduce a special guest,
a good friend, but as well as a good friend, a professional
musician who has been in the rock and roll industry for quite
some time. His name is Peter Himmelman. We have him here live
(over the phone) as a guest from California.
To introduce him, Peter Himmelman is a well-acclaimed
musician. He just received an ASCAP award for the musical score
that he does for Judging Amy. Hes been featured
on all the major circuits from MTV to Leno to Letterman and
so on, and has released eight albums, some by major labels,
and is an acclaimed artist who has his own following. He performs
all over the country, including here in New York. He has a very
interesting following because of his wit and his improvisational
skills, besides from his musical abilities.
So how did we get to know each other? First of
all, let me welcome him here. Hi Peter, youre on the air.
Peter Himmelman: I believe Im here.
That was a really good talk about music from a Rabbi. I think
if this whole Rabbinic thing doesnt work out, maybe you
want to get a job as an A&R guy at Sony or something.
Jacobson: So how did you get into music
and not into the Rabbinate?
Himmelman: Well, where I grew up in Minneapolis,
the best thing about my Rabbi was that, first of all, my Rabbi
had a nice goatee. One of the striking things about this guy
is that his wife, a heavyset woman, made excellent chocolate
chip cookies, of which Im sure she partook, and thats
pretty much all I can remember about a Rabbi. I knew there must
be more to a Rabbi than goatees and chocolate chip cookies.
But at that point it wasnt inspiring enough for me to
go into the Rabbinate.
I mean I could grow my own goatee at fifteen and
make my own cookies shortly thereafter, so
Jacobson: So when did you first pick up
Himmelman: I started becoming really interested
in music... I would listen to my sisters record collection
(she was six years old) and she had records of the Beatles,
and I was probably five years old, and all the hits, I
Want to Hold Your Hand, you know, the original Beatles
had just came out. I just really thought that was great. There
was something about it.
And it couldnt have been that the Beatles
were just hyped up as the new fad because I had never seen them
or anything. I heard all their music, along with Mitch Miller
and Burl Ives. They was pretty good but the Beatles were something
special. In other words, they really did have something that
was attractive, even to an unbiased five-year-old.
And there were other songs. It fascinates me now
looking back that even at a very young age, I had strong likes
and dislikes, the same way that I do now. Things either attracted
me musically or repelled me, and looking back at the things
that I liked back thenbands like Credence Clearwater Revival,
Jimi Hendrixtheyre bands that I still like today.
I was a sophisticated seven-year-old.
Jacobson: I should say for the audience,
Peter and I know each other (were not strangers) I met
Peter back in New York in 1985. We had just met, and I was giving
a class to people from the arts, entertainment, music industry,
and Peter walked in, this tall lanky guy from drawling Minnesota.
Himmelman: Do I still have that drawl?
Jacobson: I dont know. Its
a drawl. I dont know where its from.
Himmelman: Your father thought that I might
have been mentally ill in some way or just mentally slow because
the way I speak is so much slower than you New Yorkers.
Jacobson: So it was a very interesting
interface when we hit it off, using my introduction before about
music and soul and spirit, I found it fascinating that I, coming
from a traditional background where spirituality is very much
a part of the system, but it is a traditional background, and
Peter coming from a place that had been turned off from Judaism,
with goatees or chocolate chip cookies, or whatever, the bureaucracy
of it, and we were really able to communicate.
So I want to ask you this. When you started playing
music in a more serious way, how would you describe the soul
connection? Are there words for it or is it just that music
has its own language? Is there a way to bridge the two worlds?
Can you describe the spiritual journey you went through, or
you still go through, when you play or listen? How do you see
music in the context of a spiritual thing, in other words, do
you identify with that parable that I mentioned before about
music being like the wings and a way for a soul to move from
one place to the next?
Himmelman: Well, there are a number of
great parables. Before I speak about how I identify personally,
Im going to give another parable, or a metaphor. Somebody
told me this once. The reason that music is the art form thats
become so popular as opposed to sculpture or painting for that
matter, is that it is the art form with the least amount of
physicality. For example, architecture, if you can consider
that an art form, is huge, its material. Sculpture is
a little bit more refined, but its still dealing with
materiality. Painting is a light refracting material which depicts
things in a physical world. And then you have music which has
no physical substance at all.
For that reason, perhaps, its the art form
that most instantaneously has an effect on a person, you could
say on a spiritual level.
For me, growing up not using the term soul or
spirit, and for that matter people have all sorts of stereotypes
that they can come and apply to those terms, so what I found
moving when I hear a live band, for example, a rock band (which
is somehow the music that I most readily respond to) is this
irrepressible laughter that I would sometimes get that would
fill up my body and I guess you could say my soul to such an
extent that it was actually such a surprise. I never had such
a powerful experience. I could not repress my laughter for the
way that all the instruments played together with each other,
the way they were connected.
And I used to get that when I was a kid, and very
infrequently now that Ive become older and jaded. It still
happens to me occasionally where Ill get that sense of
utter delight and joy and surprise from music. Sometimes Ill
be able to cry from music more easily than a painting perhaps.
Jacobson: But think for a moment from a
secular point of view, taking G-d out of the picture for a moment,
how do you think human beings would have innovated a language
like that? Where did it come from? Did you ever think about
who was the first person who sang a song and under what
Himmelman: You know, somebody would hear
birds and people learn by imitation, so it would be natural
to hear a bird, for example, or a howling wolf or something
and try to imitate that. Certainly the sound of rain and rhythms
could be imitated. Beating out rhythms on logs and taking a
piece of stretched out skin and turning it into a string and
hearing it drone, sounding something like the wind.
I would imagine the first thing was trying to
imitate sounds in nature. To have them at their disposal. Like
the wind sound, or Id like to hear that sound even when
the wind isnt whipping up, I can play it on a string of
Jacobson: Okay, were going to take
a short break and well be right back.
(Announcement break regarding obtaining a copy
of Meanings, the free newsletter of the Meaningful
Life Center. Call 1-800-363-2646 or
write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or write Meaningful Life
Center, Suite 303, 788 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213 to
receive your free copy.)
Were back. By the way, that music that youre
listening to (Peter Im sure you recognize it) is actually
a song of Peters called Impermanent Things,
and thats the musical introduction to that song.
Do you have your guitar with you by the way?
Himmelman: Its nearby.
Jacobson: Always within arms reach.
My question to you is this. Rosh Hashanah is coming up. And
on Rosh Hashanah they blow the shofar in the synagogues.
A shofar is a wind instrument, a simple sound instrument,
a rams horn thats carved out and people blow.
As a kid, did you ever identify the shofar
Himmelman: It wasnt so much music.
I dont even know if I consider it music today, but it
certainly is. But its really a haunting sound. I guess
its role is to pierce through and make you come back to your
senses, remember things and priorities and get everything straight.
Its just a raw sound thats such a primitive, final
sound. But I think it really works well.
Jacobson: The reason I ask is that you
were speaking about the sounds of nature and emulating them,
and thats what brought me to that. I wonder again (even
though we know each other I never asked you this), the most
inspirational songs that youve come up with from your
heart and soul, did they come in times of pain or in times of
joy? In other words, is one or another more powerful when it
comes to song and music?
Himmelman: Well its easier for me
and for most songwriters that I know to write songs in times
of pain. In essence, it could come down to when youre
feeling happy and contented, you have no reason to rush to the
soothing balm of music. You almost dont even need ityou
dont need the medicine.
Its harder for me to write a convincing
happy song. Even at my shows Ill ask sort of a rhetorical
question, Would you like to hear something happy or sort
of a solemn dirge?
Jacobson: You sound a little solemn now,
you know. Youre in California, were in New York.
Were supposed to be the serious ones, and Im
the Rabbi here and you sound really serious. You sound like
youre about to play for a funeral!
Himmelman: Why thank you. Its a bit
earlier here, too, isnt it, and I just had some cereal
thats sitting like lead in my stomach, weighing me down.
Jacobson: Id like to welcome Phillip
Namanworth who just came into the studio.
Namanworth: Hi Peter.
Himmelman: Now Phillip. He can be
Jacobson: I dont know if I ever shared
this with you, Peter, but I want to tell you something. In Chassidic
thought it talks about the difference between music of the East
and music of the West, that Arabic music is very melancholy
and haunting because Ishmael, the son of Abraham, comes from
chessed (the attribute of kindness), and therefore, their
pleasure, their delight, and entertainment, comes from the opposite.
So their songs are very gevurahdik, from the gevurah
(the attribute of strictness) side of things.
And Western music comes from Eisav, the son of
Isaac. Western music is much more upbeat because they come from
gevurah, so their entertainment and their pleasure comes
from the opposite extreme which is chessed.
Himmelman: I have to tell you that when
I was in Israel a couple of week ago I was really in love with
that Arabic music on the radio station. I was tuned in all the
time. But who knows? Id better check my genealogy.
Jacobson: Peter, the first time you came
to see me, if I remember, the next day you called me and said
that you had composed a song. Do you remember the name of the
song? I remember.
Himmelman: Yeah? Well, what was it?
Jacobson: Its called Blue Shadows.
Why dont you tell us the circumstances how you met me.
I always find that pretty cool.
Himmelman: Well, the whole story works
out well. I have four children and sometimes I say that the
kids were born as a result of this blues singer who I think
died of alcohol poisoning in Minneapolis. How could that come
to be, one asks? And I said, well, this guys name was
Doug Maynard, a blues singer in Minneapolis, and he was really
revered by a lot of people in a way. I got to know him and he
introduced me to this lawyer who was I think doing something
in the music business in Minneapolis. He introduced me to another
lawyer in New York and that lawyer introduced me to a record
producer/musician named Kenny Vance. How come you didnt
get Kenny on this show?
And Kenny Vance was supposed to come listen to
my show down at the Ritz in New York City, listen to my band,
and give me an appraisal of what he thought about the band.
After the show, it was a pretty good show, this really tall
guy comes up to me and goes, I dont really know
what to tell you about what I just saw.
And Im thinking, Well, who asked
you? It wasnt told to me that some tall guy was
going to appraise my show. And Im thinking, Who
is this guy? Get him out of here. But then I got to know
him and really fell in love with him, and Kenny Vance knows
a lot of people in New York. Im sure many of your listeners
know Kenny as well. Hes one of these people thats
like a hub, a conduit, to a million other people. I think there
are 14 of those type of people in the world and hes one
Anyway, he said, I know a lot of people
in this town. And he started naming names, but not in
a bragging way, kind of in a funny matter of fact way. He named
all the names of all the people in the entertainment business
and he was trying to freak me out. And he said, But today
Im going to introduce you to my main connection, a religious
Jew in Brooklyn.
And we drove in his white BMW over the Manhattan
Bridge, and as I looked back at the lights of Manhattan as we
were crossing over to Brooklyn, I realized that this was one
of those auspicious moments in my lifethere have been
14 of those tooIm looking at my 15th
today, and then we went to your house. And I wasnt turned
off to Judaism because of the goatee and the chocolate chip
cookies, I always knew there was something about it. I just
hadnt found it in Minnesota.
And because Id never seen anyone who kept
the Sabbath or kept kosher, I wasnt prejudiced against
it either, that was the good thing. It just was like some archaic
tradition from a Sholom Aleichem story.
And so I went to your house, Simon, and you started
talking, and I was ready for this Jewish thing. Just like you
spoke about music, in a way that a musician spoke about it,
you understood it, I felt you werent coming up with some
ancient, irrelevant subject, you were coming up with something
very important. As a hook line, as Ive told you before,
that really hooked me in, other people have not found it as
fascinating or as moving as me because its probably just
germane to my personal experience, you started talking about
a tzaddik, and a tzaddik is not just like Herb
Goldstein, What a tzaddik, what a wonderful guy,
but a real definition of a tzadik, someone for whom there
is no selfishness, everything is an act of giving. It would
be hard for me to even imagine that such a person exists.
And you were saying, For such a person,
anything is possible.
And I thought, well listen, anythings possible.
Look at this guy with a beard saying anything is possible. And
I said, well, can he fly? I thought Id give you
the ultimate challenge. I thought maybe youd just break
down and weep at the authority of my questioning, but you didnt
weep, you didnt even pause, you said, I personally
never saw some fly, but the point is, to the tzaddik,
is there a greater miracle in flying say 30-40 feet above the
surface of the earth, or walking on it? From a tzaddiks
point of view, the miracle is equally as great.
And I thought, wow, if thats Judaism, if
it had anything to talk about the miracle of mundane, day-to-day
existence, which you dont see it beat out of you by popular
culture (and people always try to sell you things and paying
your mortgage), I said, this is really for me.
And it was not far for me to start taking on more
Jewish observance. At the same time, when I was meeting you,
I was also having my record playing on MTV, and I got a record
deal which I had been working on for years and years with Island
Records. A lot of things came together at one time. I always
wanted to be a rock star, but at the same time, I always felt
that I wanted to somehow be involved in something Jewish. I
went to Israel with my advance money, and my mother thought
Id flipped out, everyone thought Id really flipped
out, except the guys in my band, who knew, Yeah, hes
going to Israel to get some tefillin. And I did
this right away when I got the record deal, and the first thing
I did was come to the record company president and say, Oh
by the way, I cant play on Friday night.
And he started laughing. He actually laughed because
I was somewhat of a funny guy. I still am but not in the morning
I guess. He thought I was just joking because why would you
want to be a rock star on the one hand, you know, people just
dying to aggrandize themselves and blow their egos out of proportion.
How could you just say I wouldnt tour on a certain night
of the week? Theyre giving you hundreds and hundreds of
thousands of dollars and youre saying youre not
going to take that for tour support?
He had a big tour planned. There was a tour with
Rod Stewart that was big at the time. And I said, Well
you know I cant do that because I keep this thing called
the Shabbos. And this guy literally laughed because it
was really funny. You got to be kidding.
Jacobson: And you did this before Senator
Himmelman: Yeah. Well, thats another
story. My wife and I were in Israel when that story broke, and
she said, Well, what do you think? and we looked
at each other and said, Its somewhat what youre
thinking. Its kind of vindication for the way weve
been living our lives. I mean its impossible to
do it in rock and keep Shabbos just like its
impossible to do it in politics.
And yet here is a precedent for it having been
done. You know, Ive had a very successful career balancing
my belief and my family life and not compromising my music at
Jacobson: And I know personally the challenges
that youve faced. I want to hear some more and I want
to hear you play something.
Himmelman: You want me to play something
over the phone, huh?
Jacobson: Why not? But lets first
take a little break and then when we come back I want to hear
more about the challenges you faced.
(Announcement break for Rabbi Jacobsons
weekly Wednesday Night class at 346 W. 89th St.,
corner Riverside Drive in Manhattan at 8pm)
Jacobson: Okay were back. Peter,
its such a pleasure to talk to you this way because in
a way its like a reunion. Even though we do talk, to reminisce
is quite powerful.
Himmelman: And youre asking good
questions. I never heard you asking me these things.
Jacobson: Look, were on radio here.
Wed better do something right! Thank you very muchafter
16 years you tell me that I began to ask the right questions?!
It took a long time. Okay, let me ask Phillip, how have you
dealt with that integration issue now that its come up?
Namanworth: First let me say hi to Peter.
I always remember when we used to come out to Simons,
one of the first times we had Purim out there together
Himmelman: That was the first time
Namanworth: And we went over to 770 and
everyone was saying, You gotta see the Rebbe, and
we didnt know what was happening. We were standing outside
the building peering in the windows. Do you remember?
Himmelman: I sure do.
Namanworth: We were saying, What
is this? Who is this Rebbe? Thousands of guys in black
coats. I thought we were being invaded, like the Martians, and
were standing out there in our dungarees and our whatever.
It was great.
Himmelman: And the food is so good.
Namanworth: Right. Thats the main
Jacobson: Okay, lets talk about Phillip.
Phillip is a singer-songwriter and a great blues player. I guess
for some reason, soul, music and Judaism all come together so
I was asking about your integration.
Namanworth: Well I think I made a good
move when I first started coming to you and I decided I was
going to take on some of this stuff. The first thing I did was
say, Im not going to play on Shabbos anymore, because
any job that comes in on Shabbos is not my job, its not
for me. I think that vis-à-vis a lot of my friends who
did things in a different order, it really helped.
But over the years, as Peter said, I have my bottom
line and thats what I do. If you want me to play blues,
rock and roll, if you want me to write a song for the theater,
great. But come Friday, Im out of here, Ill be back
I remember writing a film score with Kenny Vance,
who also introduced me, which I can thank Kenny for, writing
a film score, and then right before Shabbos lighting candles
in the studio, and the engineer said, Where are you guys
going? And I said, Its Shabbos, weve
got to go, and the director looked at me like, Are
you kidding? And I said, No, Ill see you after
In fact, a funny thing happened on a score that
Kenny and I recently wrote for a movie called Looking
for an Echo, I was out there and helping with the sound
on live recording and it was a scene at a Bar Mitzvah, but Im
the only one there wearing real tzitzis. Ive got
a yarmulke on but its my yarmulke, you know what
I mean, its not a casting thing, and one of the producers
comes over to me and says, I see youre wearing your
tzitzis out, you know like What are you doing?
and I said Its okay. Thats what I do
Later on, everyone went to eat and I had my blue
freeze bag with me, and theyre eating off the thing and
I take out my food and the guys are watching me eat the kosher
but the bottom line was at the end of the day I really
helped them work on a scene and get the sound right and conduct
the whole thing that wasnt going exactly right, and they
all came over and we were all hugging each other, and you know,
it really didnt matter.
I think in our business, in any business, people
want to see the performer live up to his responsibility as a
musician, as a person, and thats the bottom line. The
other stuff doesnt make any difference, especially when
youre in trouble.
Himmelman: Yeah, on that note, I was once
mixing an album down in Memphis. I told this mixer engineer
who we flew in from LA, you know, and I said I cant start
mixing till after the Sabbath, which you have to look for three
stars. And then you know that its over.
And hes out there looking. And he said,
Well, I guess its better looking for three stars
than looking for three grams of blow. Thats what
he said to me. Right. At the end of the day, if the music sounds
good, who cares?
Jacobson: So, Peter, Id be honored
to hear something from you. Something soulful, anything moving.
Himmelman: Over the phone like that?
Jacobson: Why not?
Himmelman: I guess. Do you have a guitar
pick near you?
Namanworth: I do, but I cant get
it to you over the line.
Himmelman: Okay, Ill put the phone
on the stand here. I think Ill play your theme song which
you never hear the lyrics to, which really irks me. No, it doesnt
irk me that much.
Jacobson: Dont worry. Were
Himmelman: Its called All These
Impermanent Things. Its music of the East, not of
the West. (Plays a song
click here for the lyrics).
Jacobson: That was great, Peter.
Himmelman: I have this studio that I can
just record something and blow the music out to anybody all
over the world in one second with just a touch of a button.
You couldnt have even dreamed of that five years ago.
Jacobson: Youll get a website as
well, Peter, is that correct?
Himmelman: Well, Im working on it.
Theres a Himmelman-fan website.
Jacobson: Whats the address?
Himmelman: You can type Peter Himmelman
in one of those search engines and you can come up with a lot
of things. But theres a new Peter Himmelman website thats
under construction. A massive one.
Jacobson: Is it larger than you?
Himmelman: Much larger. A hundred of me
can fit in it easily and comfortably.
Jacobson: So where is it up to?
Himmelman: Its www.peterhimmelman.com.
It will be up in a few weeks. Its got a lot of music.
You can get live webcasts from my studio, interviews, photo
albums, those kinds of things.
Jacobson: Okay, were going to take
another break and then well be right back.
(Announcement break inviting listeners to visit
the website of the Meaningful Life Center at www.meaningfullife.com or call 1-800-3MEANING
for all the activities of the Meaningful Life Center, transcripts
of the radio show, seminars, special events, books, and other
(This show and all of the activities of the Meaningful
Life Center activities are made possible by the contributions
from people like you who wish to achieve a life full of meaning
and purpose. We invite you to join us and become our partners
in creating a better world. For contribution and sponsorship
opportunities, please call 1-800-3MEANING, 1-800-363-2646, or
write to the Meaningful Life Center, Suite 303, 788 Eastern
Parkway, Brooklyn, NY 11213.)
Jacobson: Okay, let me ask you both a question
from your perspectives. If you could sum it up in one sentenceIll
speak as the cynic or the skepticsince you guys are so
Shabbos observant and do the letter of the law, do you think
that its really possible that musicians across the board
will be able to straddle the fence as they say and integrate
these two worlds, or are you guys just anomalies and are just
able to have the ability to on the one hand follow, so to speak,
the letter of law of tradition in Judaism, build families, and
at the same time be spiritual and soulful and musical? What
do you think?
Himmelman: Well, I think that to be effective,
music has to always be slightly radical, it has to have a certain
edge of radicalism, it has to break the status quo. As a skeptic,
from your point of view, you look at these guys who keep the
laws of Shabbos and may say, Well, thats very staid
and antiquated and really right-wing and conformist. I
can understand why youd say that, but to me, thats
the final frontier of radicalism: overcoming your own desire
for fame and money and an easy pace and shaping yourself to
sort of fight against your own, as they say in Hebrew, yetzer
hara, your own selfish desires. In other words, putting
on more nose rings and nipple rings, it might appear to you,
as a skeptic, to be a radical statement. To me, its sort
of tired. It doesnt point to radicalism, it points more
to a conformist nature.
Jacobson: Fascinating! What do you think
Namanworth: You know, Peter, you once said
something I loved, you said, Im doing the most radical
thing in the world. Im believing in G-d. This whole music
business and everything is functioning on this material plane,
and Im radical. Im following my inner self.
And I agree with you.
Himmelman: Well, I would just like to amend
that. I try to be radical. I mean, to be actually a radical
is to be like a tzaddik, to be living in that radical
world where youre sayingand whats the most
radical proclamation of allis to say that the physical
world is not reality, though it appears to be. The pull of it
is incredible. Its something more than meets the physical
And I cant say that Ive succeeded
at being that radical. I try.
Namanworth: I remember another thing you
once said. Weve been friends for a long time; do you mind
me quoting you?
Jacobson: Rabbi Peter!
Namanworth: I remember someone once said
to you, Youre a baal teshuvah, and
you said, No, Im a baal taaiva! (Meaning,
youre not a master of return [to G-d], youre a master
Himmelman: Right. Someone said that baal
teshuvah means people who have returned to the Jewish faith,
and it literally means that youre a master of that
process of return. So I never call myself a baal teshuvah.
It almost gives me goosebumps. Its like calling yourself
a genius or something. Im definitely not a master of the
return, Ill tell you that.
Namanworth: Its a good thing that
theres a fine line between genius and madness, cause
Im never sure which side Im straddling myself with
my own kind of songs. To me, I was at a Shabbaton with Rabbi
Jacobson last week and he asked me to speak, and the name of
my talk was, From Hinduism, to Sesame Street, to Yiddishkeit:
Hearing Your Own Inner Music. And I guess the thing was
that my own inner music and the music that I play and write
is all the same music. There are different expressions of the
same self in this world, and when you think of Shema
Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echod, [Hear
O Israel, the L-rd thy G-d, the L-rd is One] this whole
world is one fabric, one piece. Now I havent mastered
the seeing of that, but some part deep inside me knows that.
For me, not to play on Shabbos is not a contradiction because
thats not happening on Shabbos for me because theres
something in me that has returned to another place that wouldnt
do that. Dont think I havent been tempted. You know,
in the jingle business I got $10,000 when I sang for an hour,
and when you have to tell somebody no, its not so easy.
But to me, Ive learned over the years that
its all one kind of music, and if I can give up who I
think I am, if I get out of my own way, I really have learned
to try to be myself, and the only way I can judge that is the
effect it has on the people around me.
Jacobson: What do you think about this
thought, Peter and Phillip? It says in the Zohar, interestingly,
that when the Jews were in the wilderness, the mon, the
bread from heaven, would fall every day of the week and they
gathered it. On the Sabbath, they were not supposed to gather.
But in the Zohar it says that the creation of that bread in
heaven happens on the Shabbos. Its formulated and created
then, and then the six days just actualize it. So the blessing
I was thinking about it as you were both speaking
about Shabbos and music, that perhaps Shabbos is not just a
day when we take off from music, but maybe its a day of
creating inner music that when your soul speaks to you, when
you dont use that physical instrument, when you cant
rely and depend on any type of physical manifestation, it allows
you the ability to reach into your own soul and let your soul
play the music, and as soon as Shabbos ends, you can begin to
manifest it in the six days in the physical plane. Does that
resonate to you guys?
Namanworth: I cant tell you how many
times after Shabbos has ended, Ive finished songs that
I was stuck on. It wasnt like I was saying, Im
going to give myself a rest, but the music just came to
me after struggling for days and days on different songs, that
something was there that was never there before, because Ive
been in my own way. And then when I got out of my own way on
Shabbos to really be myself, whatever was there could be and
Jacobson: Peter, do you think there could
be a trend that maybe people who do keep Shabbos, maybe their
music gets more enhanced and even more powerful?
Himmelman: Well, I hate to be the cynic
here, the skeptic, but I would say that its very possible
that your music would get a lot worse before it gets better.
I know certain people who started keeping Shabbosmyself
includedand the music that comes out is kind of weak.
In other words, you find Well, I cant really say
that now that Im a religious Jew, you know,
I dont really want to write about feelings about a certain
thing, Id better write about Shabbos candles. You know,
it sort of stifles the creative process.
Its I think a stage along the way. To contradict
to a certain extent what youre saying about, well maybe
not necessarily contradict, but to add my feelings about the
inner music thats created on Shabbos, well, I wrote many
songs that I think are really good before I even thought about
In other words, if youre going into Shabbos
thinking its going to help your songwriting, forget it.
Thats not the incentive to keep Shabbos. I think that
there is an inner music formed, but its of a sublime nature,
and I dont believe that Ive fully reached those
musics that are formed on Shabbos. In other words,
the Zohar says that the mon was created on Shabbos, and
youre saying that perhaps the music is created as well,
theres a certain blessing there, but its so sublime.
I think (and Im just being frank) Im still working
on music thats not as deep as that music. I dont
think Ive ever come up with anything quite that deep as
the music thats made on Shabbos.
Jacobson: Thats fair. Very good.
You know, when you talk about music and soul, there have to
be parallels. You talk about radicalism. The most radical statement
in the Torah of course is that there is nothing but G-d. And
yet you see musicians who are really burned out either through
drug overdoses or who went so high they just couldnt return.
How do you see that search for G-d, Judaism and soul through
music? Are there parallels? I mean, the challenges are quite
Himmelman: Well, I think the parallels
are there. I definitely think that almost all the musicians
that I know that are really good, and by good I mean that theyre
technically proficient enough to manifest their deep ideas.
In other words, theyre not just skimming the surface and
doing things by rote. They all believe in G-d. Theyre
all firm believers in G-d.
Whether or not somebodys in the position
to actually implement serious potentially frightening changes
in their lifestyle, and one of the most frightening is: I am
not going to work on this night, which is Friday night, which
in music is usually one of the more lucrative nights, its
a huge leap of faith to say Im not going to do this. It
doesnt make any sense. It absolutely defies logic.
I cant say that its any great thing
that I possess, any greater intelligence whatsoever that allowed
me to do it, I think its just a matter of a certain grace,
a certain blessing that I had, just to be allowed to be able
to do that.
The other thing about people on drugs and music,
especially with jazz musicians, somebody once told me, its
not that they use drugs (these jazz musicians in the late 50s)
to try to reach creative levels, its that their creativity
was so intense, it was pouring out at all times, it was that
they couldnt sleep, they couldnt get away from it.
It was almost a haunting pressure, and they needed a drug as
a release from the music, not the other way around.
Jacobson: Thats quite interesting.
Himmelman: Yeah. Not that Im anywhere
near that level, but I certainly have had experiences where
the creativity just wont stop. Its near to driving
me nuts. And the insomnia that ensues for nights and nights
at a time, and just hearing music and just thinking about it.
Jacobson: You know, Peter, one of my favorite
analogies from music is that music is the paradox of structure
that defies structure. On one hand there are that many musical
notes on the scale
Himmelman: Its such a beautiful metaphormusic
and Jewish observance. One of the metaphors that I once constructed
to talk to musicians was that theres two pianists, for
example, and one is of a school thats very free, he will
not be confined by any structure, convention, whatsoever. His
nature is pure freedom. And he claims to be able to express
any idea. Hes unencumbered by anything. And another musician
comes around and says, Well, Im structured and Ive
been playing the way people have been playing all the time for
hundreds of years. And it turns out that the musician
whos completely free and unencumbered by structure cant
play anything. And the person who has gone through the structure
has the ability to manifest the infinite through that structure.
Jacobson: Well, thats amazing Peter.
So I want to thank you both, Peter and Phillip, thank you very
much. This has been Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson.
See you next Sunday at 6pm.