Bob Boilen’s NPR podcast “All Songs Considered” is one of iTunes’ most popular music podcasts and his mini jam sessions at his cubicle, Tiny Desk Jams, is like a cooler Carpool Karaoke. Now, Boilen is sharing snippets from some of his biggest interviews in his new book, “Your Song Changed My Life,” out today. The chapters revolve around the title’s sentiment, and many of the artists’ picks are surprising. We talk to Boilen about the stories behind the stories.
You start the book by sharing the song that changed your life, The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”
When I was a kid growing up, there were many exciting things happening in music. Things like — and I know it’s a cliché to say this — The Beatles coming to America. The amount of people who started buying guitars went from about 100,000 to over a million. It was a fever and I was caught up in that. I figured everybody who played music at some point or another must have had that moment.
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Most of the people in the book chose a song from their adolescence. Why do you think music has such a profound effect during that age?
People want to belong to something. They want to feel a part of something, but also unique at the same time. It’s not just about liking a song. Music comes with a clique or club, a fashion and a statement. With the musicians I talked to, music is something that hits your heart and at tender ages, people are searching to figure out who they are, and music is a big doorway.
Did you find that one music genre tended to affect people more the most?
Not really one style, but song lyrics had a stronger influence than simply the sound of a piece of music. Michael Stipe picked Patti Smith’s “Birdland,” three artists picked Bob Dylan. Carrie Brownstein picked “Bastard of Young” for the meaning of the song.
What does a song need to have staying power across generations?
For any song to make it past a generation, it has to have a universal message. Conor Oberst picked Don Mclean’s “American Pie,” a song he probably listened to 10 years after it was out. The ability to tell a story in an oblique way was appealing to Conor. If the song simply said, Buddy Holly died in a plane crash and it was sad and made us feel bad, it wouldn’t carry over into generations. But it really looked at who we were as a country in the late 50s and 60s and it was a reflected, inward look at pop culture.
A sampling from the book
Jimmy Page — “Rock Island Line” by Lonnie Donegan: “The blues had so much effect on me that I just wanted to [make] my own contributions in my own way.”
Hozier – “Cold Cold Ground” by Tom Waits: “It definitely was my starting point on writing songs, because I think a lot of his songs were the first ones I learned to play on the guitar. .., For me, his songs changed what a songwriter could be.”
St. Vincent – “Stolen Moments” by Oliver Nelson: “It was really, really, really, really intense. And I remember crying a little bit and just feeling so overwhelmed by the spirit of it. It was [a] pagan ceremony kind of thing.”
If you go:
New York City
April 12, 7 p.m.
(Le) Poisson Rouge
158 Bleeker St., 212-505-3474