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Peter Himmelman Headshot

Soul Singer Takes to Flight

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I'm in a cramped apartment in South Minneapolis auditioning some songs I've written for a rhythm and blues singer named Doug Maynard. Doug chooses a song of mine to sing. It's called "My First Mistake."

"You taste like pepper frosting on a granite cake. Baby fallin' in love with you was my first mistake."

A month later Doug is found dead in his living room. Stone drunk and drowned on his own vomit at the age of 40 -- but not before introducing me to his manager, who introduces me to a lawyer, who introduces me to a record producer, who after a meeting on Christopher Street in Manhattan one evening, drives me in his new BMW across the Brooklyn Bridge with the lights of the city burning behind us. We arrive at a brownstone in Crown Heights and he introduces me to his friend, a Chassidic Rabbi with a long black beard.

I'm sitting at the rabbi's table, looking around at the various paintings of Shtetl life hanging on the walls. He offers me some tea and passes me a dish of chocolate-covered coffee beans.

"There are people for whom there is no sense of self," the rabbi says. "People for whom there is no need of personal gain. They live only in the service of others and they can do anything they wish.

"Really," I say, trying my best to trip him up. "Can they fly?"

"I've never seen anyone fly," he says. "But understand, for people like these, the act of flying is no greater miracle than the act of walking."

Now, at this table in Brooklyn -- with the paintings of the Shtetls, the tea and the chocolate covered coffee beans, I start thinking about the little known rhythm and blues singer, Doug Maynard.

I'm remembering the sound of his voice and considering the infinite number -- the impossible number -- of tiny coincidences that brought me to this particular apartment on this particular night.

I can hear Doug singing again. Singing most soulfully, most truthfully, about the joy and the sex and the sweat and the pain of the world. His voice was his gift. We loved him for it. It was how he was lifted up and how he lifted us as well.

For Doug, while he was singing at least, the act of flying was never a greater miracle than the act of walking.

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