Eric Himan’s Battle Cry
BY James Hillis
September 04 2008 11:00 PM ET
“I write songs about my feelings, my opinions -- things that have happened in my life,” says Himan. “Sometimes, I just want to know that somebody else feels the same way. And sometimes that’s the greatest thing in the world. To make that connection.”
Himan’s ability “to make that connection” in such an authentic, person-to-person way is what makes him special. Drew Waller—a gay Borders Books executive responsible for a major deal Himan has with the chain to carry his new CD and sponsor in-store concerts—says part of the reason such an under the radar artist got the gig was his ability to create the kind of “interactive” atmosphere Borders was looking for.
“He would draw new people in,” says Waller, and whether it was an audience of 10 or 100 “everyone had a great time, I think that that was really his one jewel. His connection with the audience.”
Just don’t call them “fans” in front of Himan.
“I have this hate relationship with the word ‘fans’,” he says. “It sounds like somebody’s talking down from their big mountain… It’s very territorial.” He leans in, gingerly touching my arm with the mock condescension of a preening celebrity: “Hey, fan!” He leans back laughing. “It just sounds awful.”
No matter what he calls them there are a lot of them and from all walks of life. Himan’s last single “Little Boy Blue”, tells the story of a transgender boy Himan met at one of the many LGBT youth centers he visits while traveling the country. Himan says that after he put the song up on his myspace page one trans youth messaged him with the screen name littleboyblue telling Himan the song had saved his life. Another trans fan devoted an entire web page to the song and video.
Himan’s own story was shaped by early tragedy. When he was four, he was the sole survivor in a car crash that killed his mother and a sister. His father, a military man, had to move Eric and a younger sister frequently and often at short notice. Living in Southern Florida in 1992 when Himan was 13, the family lost everything in Hurricane Andrew.
Himan’s aunt wisely invested insurance money from his mother’s death so he could attend Penn State. Then, on the heels of his 2001 graduation, Himan hit the road as an indie artist. And that’s where he’s been ever since.
Unlike most gay rock or pop acts, Himan has been out since his first, self-titled CD release in 2000 while he was still in college. He says he felt dissatisfied with the gay male role models that were out there.
“How can I sit here and write songs about my life and omit one part of it that I have a connection with an entire community of people. That’s ridiculous.”
Starting out, Himan played small, grimy bars and coffee houses where he might only get one or two people at a show. But within just a few years Himan was packing small but established rock clubs like Uncommon Ground and the Bitter End in New York. The last two years he’s been playing even bigger venues: World Café Live in Philadephia, and New York’s Zipper Theater—not to mention playing the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago where he performed for 80,000 screaming fans in Wrigley Field as the opening act to Cyndi Lauper.
As an artist known for his accessibility, Himan expresses sincere concern that as things have grown, “It’s getting a little out of hand, where I can’t email everybody as fast as I used to,” explaining that because of the volume of correspondence he receives, it may take two weeks to respond where it used to take two days.
And he’s not talking about journalists, club owners, and promoters. He’s talking about his audience, and considering most artists never correspond directly with their fans, I tell him a two week turn around is pretty good.
“I can’t imagine how some musicians say ‘Oh I never check my MySpace, or I never answer anybody back,” replies Himan. “And I’m like -- ‘You’re losing out on making so many connections with people.’”