Books

‘Your Song Changed My Life’: FYI Book Club readers feel power of music

Bob Boilen is the author of “Your Song Changed My Life.”
Bob Boilen is the author of “Your Song Changed My Life.” NPR

What could possibly bring together members of every facet of Kansas City’s music community — from rock to jazz, opera to bluegrass, engineering to promotion?

The opportunity to talk about a book. “Your Song Changed My Life” by Bob Boilen, the latest selection of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club, sparked a lively discussion of musical tastes, influences, and life- and career-changing songs.

Readers also relished the chance to talk with Boilen via Skype about this compilation of interviews with legends and rising stars in the music world.

After a tour of the recording studios of the Bridge 90.9 in the KCPT building, readers with and without musical backgrounds talked about the important place music holds in our lives.

While most readers appreciated Boilen’s eclectic mix of musicians, almost all wanted more insights from the musicians and less from the interviewer.

“There’s almost too many people included here, and it becomes rather surface. I wanted fewer chapters and more in-depth analysis from the musicians,” Elizabeth Spillman of Lee’s Summit said.

Lee Hartman of Kansas City noted, “But it is something of a memoir. Boilen says he’s not a creator of art, and this book shows the connections that helped him create music.”

Victoria Botero of Kansas City said, “I like that the artist seem to speak from a childlike point of view with a sense of innocence. I found it interesting that Boilen turned each chapter into relating to the larger idea of what that artist does. It made me think about my own choices and how it’s reflected in my work.”

A couple of readers appreciated being introduced to new songs, singers and bands. “I liked the way the musicians reached back into their formative years for influences,” Hanna Cusick of Kansas City said. “It shows how music grows and touches the future. I wish this book had come with a CD of all the songs.”

But the most discussed point of the evening was about how music can change your life.

“The way a song can change a musician’s life is different from the way it can change a non-musician’s life. When is that moment and aspect of connection for a non-musician?” Clarke Wyatt of Kansas City said.

Rich Wheeler of Mission mused, “Music changes musicians in a pragmatic way. We hear songs every single day and listen differently. I think the song change affects non-musicians more powerfully.”

Cody Wyoming of Kansas City agreed, “For a musician it’s working through the mechanics, the technique, the analytical side. I can miss the pure emotional impact of a song like I did when I was 10. That’s what I liked about this book, I was able to not be a musician while reading.”

Brad Allen of Lawrence said, “My life has been transformed more by music as a non-musician than as a musician. It’s situational inspiration and it’s fascinating what you’re ready for and when. Your music defines you even if you don’t want to be defined.”

When asked how he came to select the artists in his book, Boilen answered, “Most of us don’t take the time to sit and think about where we are and how we got here. I wanted to pick artists I’m passionate about who are very passionate about music and hear their stories.” Here Boilen chuckled and said, “But not Phish.”

The reader-musicians laughed and nodded and one said, “I don’t like that band but Trey Anastasio’s chapter was a surprise.”

Boilen agreed, “You don’t often see a connection between a jam band and ‘West Side Story.’ 

This chapter led to a conversation about musical influences from one genre on another. Michael Byars of Kansas City saw the connection between Anastasio and Leonard Bernstein. He said, “A lot of Phish’s music is improvisation. If you rely on improvisation your mind needs to be prepared for any eventuality. It seems out of left field, but Anastasio has to have a wide point of reference for what he does. He understands composition.”

Betse Ellis of Kansas City pointed out, “You can have an influence that’s negative that inspires you, too.” Krysztof Nemeth agreed, “You can especially be inspired by things you don’t like. And we all like music we don’t want to admit to. Those guilty pleasure songs.”

Angela Hagenbach of Parkville emphasized exploring genres of unfamiliar music.

She said, “Education is key. You might enjoy a certain type of music more if you learn about it and understand it. I didn’t grow up with rock ’n’ roll. I had to learn about it. And I respect it even though I don’t listen to it. I loved the journey of learning about rock and saw the same journey the musicians in this book were on.”

Rachel Christia of Kansas City summed up the evening’s conversation when she noted, “This book made me think of how inclusive music can be. Especially culturally. I was surprised by what other artists listed as influences. It’s the connections these artists make with all types of music. This is why we do music.”

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Kansas City Public Library’s director of reader’s services.

Join the club

The Kansas City Star and the Kansas City Public Library present a book-of-the-moment selection every six to eight weeks and invite the community to read along. To participate in a book discussion led by the library’s Kaite Stover, email kaitestover@kclibrary.org. Look in FYI on Sept. 3 for the introduction to the next selection, “Blood at the Root” by Patrick Phillips.

Readers share songs that changed their lives

Peggy Martinez: “YMCA” by the Village People

Wick Thomas: “Why Do You Love Me” by Garbage

Rachel Christia: “Young, Gifted & Black” as performed by Nina Simone

Victoria Botero: “A Train” as performed by Ella Fitzgerald

Lee Hartman: “Workers Union” by Louis Andriessen

Angela Hagenbach: “Black Coffee” as performed by Sarah Vaughan

Clarke Wyatt: Sun Ra Arkestra

Traci Murphy: “Untitled” by the Cure

Brad Allen: “Welcome to the Terrordome” by Public Enemy

Sondra Freeman: “Boots or Hearts” by the Tragically Hip

Joel Nanos: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” as performed by the Bee Gees and Peter Frampton

Rich Wheeler: “Our Man in Paris” album by Dexter Gordon

Cody Wyoming: “Dream Police” by Cheap Trick

Amy Abshier: “Soon” by My Bloody Valentine

Krysztof Nemeth: “Blue Monday” by New Order

Gregg Todt: “Anarchy in the U.K.” by Sex Pistols

Michael Byars: “Destiny” by Zero 7

Libby Hanssen: “4’33” by John Cage

Mark Lowry: “Winter” by Tori Amos

Rhonda Lyne: “Last Dollar” by the Gaslights

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