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NPR’s “All Songs Considered” host Bob Boilen on the songs that change our lives

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    Finally tonight: Many of you may know Bob Boilen as the host and creator of NPR's "All Songs Considered," one of the most downloaded music podcasts.

    At the popular 9:30 Club here in Washington, D.C., recently, Jeffrey Brown sat down with Boilen, whose own band was the first to play at that club 35 years ago.

    His new book, "Your Song Changed My Life," recounts the history of modern music through voices Boilen has encountered.


    Your book, "Your Song Changed My Life," right, that's true. I mean, a lot of people would say that, but why? Have you figured out what it is that — about music that has that impact?

    BOB BOILEN, Author, "Your Song Changed My Life": I think it's so visceral.

    Music is so different than everything else. It's not tangible. You don't see it. It hits you on a level that is deeper than what we do and see in everyday life. I think it's pure emotion and tone, and a lyric. Somebody saying a lyric that repeats over and over can be a call to action for somebody.

    I tell stories of people whose lives were changed by a song, and often in those formative years, what some people call the reminiscence bump, where you're more likely to be susceptible to something, with hormones raging, or the first time you ever like heard somebody go, yes, you know, like, those things are impactful because they're firsts. And…


    You were looking for those moments from people.


    Well, then it wasn't hard to find, either because so many musicians — there are 35 in my book, from — you know, you get Jimmy Page or a new artist like Hozier or St. Vincent.

    You get artists who became musicians because something like that happened to them, where they heard a song on the radio while they were 8 years old strapped to the back seat of a car.

    Or, for Jimmy Page, he moved into a house that was empty and there was a guitar in that house, the only thing, right?


    Yes, with a page of Led Zeppelin.


    Led Zeppelin, yes.

    But then sees a kid at school playing a guitar. And this is the '50s. It's not like today, where everybody's got a guitar. This was a rare thing.


    It happens to all of us, as lovers of music, but it also happens to the musicians themselves. That's what made them who they are.



    And those musicians go on to spawn a whole crop of new ones. I see it all the time, like someone like Courtney Barnett, who is a musician from Australia that many people might not know. She's 23 years old, one of the best musical poets of this generation, I think.

    I think people who love Dylan could connect to Courtney Barnett, for example. She was influenced by, you know, a band in America that's been a band for 20 years, Wilco. So, it's interesting to see someone 23 being influenced by someone, say, in their 40s who has been making music since they were that age.

    So, I just love those connections that happen.


    Did you see themes emerge when you're talking to all these different musicians, anything that really stood out or surprised you?


    Well, I think one thing is that parents, listen, you have a large influence on what your kids are going to like.

    And for my generation, I was rebelling against my parents' music.




    But that's not true anymore. Most kids embrace their parents' music. Most kids look back with some sense of, I want to know more.

    I'm curious what's going to happen in the land of playlists. Like, is your kid going to inherit your playlists? Not likely.


    What is going to happen? I mean, because we're sitting here talking amid so many changes in the world of music, right, the industry, the way we take in music, how we listen to it.


    I think that we will still have the auditory experience.

    We will still have that experience of sitting next to your mother or father, hearing a song, and — but you're not going to get that physical thing that, for me, was really important. I mean, I miss the album. I miss the physical thing that I can hold and — while I listen.

    But, that said, people today have the choice to listen to anything and everything. They can listen to Louis Armstrong, or they can listen to, you know, Alice Cooper, and they can do it all in the same three minutes of each other without having to purchase anything, without having to run to the local library or go to somebody's cousin's brother's house.

    So, I think that's exceptional. And so the understanding of what music is and its history is much deeper than it will ever be.


    And you talk about people's moments when they — moments of discovery. What about your own?


    Well, I grew up at the time when the Beatles came to be, and it may seem almost cliche for some, oh, the Beatles, you know?

    Here's a band that in 1964 were writing really cute, catchy songs, and then three, 3.5 years later, from '64 to '67, were writing unimaginable sounds, with a record like "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," lyrics that were no longer about how I love you and how I want to hold your hand.

    It was much deeper life philosophy. And the orchestrations were just mind-boggling. And I love that progression in the music. I love what happens when a band can be one thing one time, and grow up and become something else. And I'm always looking for that group that wants to keep innovating.

    I just find that fascinating, endlessly fascinating.


    Sometimes, cliches are true, right? The Beatles.


    Yes. Yes.


    All right, Bob Boilen, thanks so much.


    Yes. Pleasure.

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