|High on HimanHe's Openly Gay on the Pop Pike
Eric Himan is in high demand these days. Not only is he a formidable singer, pianist, and composer/lyricist of some of the catchiest songs to come down the pop pike since Elton John teamed up with Bernie Taupin, but Himan is also a rarity among openly gay performers. He's a he.
"We'd like to book more good male singers, but there just aren't many who are out of the closet," complained the events coordinator for Florida's gay Sawmill Camping Resort (yes, that's where John and I have our trailer). The entertainment planner made her comment as Himan signed copies of his latest CD after an enthusiastically received performance during last month's inaugural Southeast Gay and Lesbian Arts Festival. Himan was such a hit that he twice had to run to his luggage to grab another box of 50 albums for patiently awaiting fans.
The Sawmill resort frequently books touring female singers folk, blues and country chanteuses, including the delightful Tori Quick who never fails to bring down the house with her anthem "I'm a Hard Working Lesbian." But, aside from large choruses, there have been relatively few opportunities for audiences to hear a male pop vocalist sing the special stories of men's livesunless you count the closeted crooners who win radio airplay for their songs by substituting female pronouns for their male romantic references. Eric Himan doesn't play that kind of game either in concert or on record. While he would like to see his star shine brightly among straight as well as gay fans of contemporary rock and folk music, the 25-year-old won't compromise his integrity as a lyricist.
"To me, all that is important is to be honest," he said in a recent interview. "I cannot be who I'm not, simply because somebody else doesn't like it. I'd rather have people listen to my music and know everything about me [so they can] understand where I'm coming from."
Each of the three CDs that Himan has recorded since his first five years ago is more personal than the one preceding it. He also is represented with a song on Love Rocks, the new fundraising album issued by the Human Rights Campaign; on that collection he appears among a group of mostly female superstars, including Melissa Etheridge, The Dixie Chicks, Dolly Parton and Carole King. "Imagine my excitement!" he told the crowd at Sawmill. "I picked up a copy, and there was my name right before Carole King's!"
On his newly released solo disc, Dark Horse (Thumbcrown Records), Himan takes listeners on a roller-coaster ride of upbeat rockers and tender ballads. One of my favorite tracks is "Habit/Curse," in which the narrator tries to figure out why he keeps going back to the same guy who has let him down so many times before. In the rollicking "Have Me," Himan seems determined to let the listener do just thatand the short, muscular brunette with an armload of tattoos is good-looking enough to have plenty of potential partners vying for the opportunity.
In addition to singing his own material, Himan is gifted at interpreting the songs of others. His reworking of Simply Red's "Holding Back the Years" is even more touching than the original. His voice is deeper than Red's. In fact, his style of delivery has drawn comparisons to Tracy Chapman. In concert, he laughs agreeably at the comparison ("Imagine, a little white guy like me...") before launching into one of Chapman's bluesy numbers.
Himan's delivery and songwriting remind me a little of Billy Joel, and a lot of the late openly gay folk-rock pioneer Steven Grossman, whose only album (Caravan Tonight, 1974) John and I still count as a favorite.
But Eric Himan is his own man, and that's what makes him special. He doesn't like the attempts of the music or gay press to force him into a stylistic pigeonhole. His tattoos may say hard rocker, but that label annoys him as much as being bunched with such folk-fusion artists as Dave Matthews or Jack Johnson. Fortunately, Himan doesn't need to worry about any of the comparisons. His musical presence is as personal and eclectic as his stories, and his stage presence is warm and friendly.
In a conversation with him after his recent appearance at the arts festival, the South Carolina native told me that he is in the process of moving his home to Pittsburgh. I asked him whether he was planning any performances in Rehoboth Beach (so I could alert my readers), and he told me that he loves visiting Rehoboth and hopes to schedule a date soon. Right now, the closest to the beach his current concert tour is set to take him is Baltimore May 22 (Grand Central) and again on June 19 (for Baltimore Pride). He also has been booked for a return engagement to Sawmill Memorial Day Weekend. But Himan is traveling far and wide, winning converts in cities from Charlotte to Des Moines to Omaha. Whenever, wherever you get a chance, you would be well advised to catch Eric Himan live. (For updates on his schedule, visit www.erichiman.com.)
Speaking of a breath of fresh air in gay culture, the aforementioned inaugural Southeast Gay & Lesbian Arts Festival, for which I had the pleasure of serving as a judge, brought together in one outdoor venue dozens of imaginative visual artists and craftspeople of various mediumspainting, photography, mosaic glasswork, woodcarving, mask-making, jewelry design, etc.from throughout the region. Art shows everywhere, of course, feature large numbers of gay artisans, but it was a special treat to have a show entirely of our own. Plans are already underway for a second annual festival next April (send inquiries to www.flsawmill.com), and the concept could become successful all over the country, perhaps held in conjunction with pride festivals or as fundraisers for charitable causes. Maybe, one of these days, we will have a nationwide gay and lesbian art-show circuit.
And, with a few fine singers like Eric Himan blazing the way, we may also see a lot more out-and-proud male singers on the popular-music concert trail.
Bill Sievert can be reached at email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 4 May 6, 2005