Photos by Kara Frame/NPR.
When it comes to music in D.C., Bob Boilen’s the guy. His presence is noticeably missed on the rare occasion that there are two conflicting shows in a night and Bob chooses the one you’re not at. If you’re a band, getting invited to play a Tiny Desk or even being featured on All Songs Considered is like receiving a Golden Ticket: you know your career will be different the next day.
And because he’s the guy, Bob gets to talk music all day long. A lot of the time, he talks music with music makers. He’s talked music with so many influential music makers that he wrote a book. That book is Your Song Changed My Life and Bob got to celebrate the launch of that book at an exclusive NPR event.
Everyone in attendance got a copy of said book, and some were getting it signed by the man of the hour while the rest of us filed into the auditorium to hear a short set by Weaves, Bob’s CMJ favorites from this year.
And damn, does the man know how to pick ’em. Weaves did something I’ve never heard a band do before. Half surf-rock, half…something else, lead singer Jasmyn had what could only be described as a vocal conversation with Morgan’s guitar while Spencer slayed a physical drum kit/drum machine and Zach kept the songs on earth with his bass. Anyone who couldn’t see what Bob saw in them shouldn’t have been there.
From there, the event turned into a sit-down conversation between Bob and Ari Shapiro, co-host of All Things Considered, about the book.
Bob’s insights were just fascinating. After a few years of conducting interviews, he soon found that musicians don’t really want to talk about their music. It’s exhausting. So he eventually became what Ari deemed “psychiatrist Bob,” asking them about their childhoods, about what role music played in their personal evolutions. He found one question that inspired the most enthusiasm: what is the song that changed your life?
For most musicians, this question could be rephrased as, “What is the song that made you decide to do this forever?”
The answers were plentiful, and can be found inside the pages of the book. One that stuck out to Bob was Phish’s Trey Anastasio, who, instead of choosing some trippy jam band like the one he went on to establish, chose the Broadway cast recording of West Side Story. We listened to a clip of him deconstructing the finale and the passion in his voice in discussing this show tune was unexpected and completely disarming.
I think the most touching moment of the evening was when, as predicted, Ari flipped the question back on Bob. What was the song that changed his life?
The answer: “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles.
We sat there and listened to the entire track in utter silence as it blasted on the incredibly pristine NPR speakers. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one getting chills as we put ourselves in a young Bob Boilen’s head, experiencing for the first time something that didn’t (and arguably still doesn’t) sound like anything on this earth. It was a spiritual experience for sure.
We all want to get into our favorite musician’s heads. We’ve got the perfect psychiatrist asking all the right questions for us, and fortunately, he’s letting us in on his notes.