I joined a great discussion on Bob Boilen’s book “Your Song Changed My Life” (yep, NPRMusic/Tiny Desk Concert/9:30 Club Bob Boilen) for The Kansas City Star FYI Book Club, organized by Kansas City Public Library’s Kaite Stover.
Or rather, I didn’t join the discussion. Stover had collected a great line up of Kansas City folks (musicians and non-musicians: rockers, folkies journalists, enthusiasts, opera singers, composers, librarians, and one lapsed trombone player) and the places around the main area were taken by those with tons to say.
Works for me. I shored up in the back for a prime place of observation (my favorite). (And also so I could finish snarfing my Jimmy John’s #12.)
My only contribution, half way through, was a question: Were people’s songs/experiences from recordings or live performance? It seemed like when “the song” struck is was about 50/50, or, to make matters a bit greyer, often a recording of a live performance or music video. Other people had more valuable or more insistent insights to share and, even though most people had their say during the allotted time, the discussion could have gone on for many hours (and for some probably did).
I loved many of the references made by the group. Clearly, many had taken the time to really work on their choice and why. A few of my favorite references were to Ella’s laugh, Sarah Vaughan as calyx, “skronking” on saxophones, Thomas Hart Benton’s role in the recording of America’s folk music tradition by influencing the Seegers, and the image of vinyls full of “the devil’s music” left to melt and warp in the Oklahoma sun.
I liked the book just fine and was introduced to quite a few artists I don’t know or don’t know very well. I appreciated how Boilen tied his own experiences to the selected songs (though his frequent self-reference annoyed a fair amount of the group) because to me it spoke to the way these songs find us at all sorts of points in our lives (in one chapter a particular song touched Boilen when he was 15 and, a few decades later, attracted another 15 year old, setting him on the path to a musician’s life).
My take-aways were these:
For some, one song did drastically set them on a direct path to this current state, but for many others (and I include myself here) a series of pieces have contributed to an individual’s place in the universe, songs acting as turning points all along the way. I had a really difficult time coming up with “my song” and ended up deciding on John Cage’s 4’33” (which, happily, someone else mentioned, too). Perhaps a bit cliche, and doesn’t really fall into the “song” category, but it definitely changed the way I thought about music/art/sound in a way that no other piece of art, music or otherwise, ever has. I wasn’t the only one who struggled with selecting one (in discussion or in the book), but, like some of the others, I was glad to have the mental exercise to think about how I ended up where I am, even I didn’t have an answer as to why.
Bob Boilen Skyped into the discussion, which was a thrill for me. I love seeing a familiar voice and watching their mannerisms and off-the-cuff communication style, what jewelry they wear or what art is hung in their homes. About 20 minutes in, the audio went haywire and Boilen’s voice was captured in a stuck groove saying “on” which I regret was not recorded. It was great!
The “book club” included a tour of KCPT and 90.9 The Bridge radio station. I thought that was pretty neat, even before we ended up underneath the huge red radio tower on the corner of the property, seeing the studios and sets, the control boards, the old huge light switches hidden behind a curtain, the lightning bolt detail on the stair railing, a sign designation an area as a fall out shelter, AND the Guinness Book of World Records-holding ball of video tape. With its associated Emmy.
But the tower was the most amazing thing. You can see it from just about anywhere in KC and to stand inside and look up — breathtaking. I was reaching for my camera before I had completely entered the space (and wasn’t really listening, unfortunately …. something about it being the tallest free standing structure in North America…but don’t quote me!).
Our guide said that during the winter ice forms on it and when it thaws they have to shut down the roads around because the huge shards fall all around. She said it sounds like bombs going off. That I gotta hear someday. Ice Like a Bomb might be my next winter-ode poem.
ALSO: I met ELMO! PBSkids FTW!
Well, a papier-mâché version by Deb Pettid of The Rabbit Hole (formerly of The Reading Reptile, our favorite book shop). Her work is art in and of itself, but it brings a considerably amount of joy and whimsy to any situation!) (Sidebar: I got to go to The Rabbit Hole fundraiser this weekend and see some of the models for upcoming projects! Woohoo! So many favorites: Madeline, The Little Prince, Good Night Gorilla, the Phantom Tollbooth, even talk of Harold and The Purple Crayon.)
But putting my excitement for children’s books aside for a bit, the Boilen book sparked a great discussion. I’d be interested to get those same people reading Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever, which is one I’ve picked up and scanned through, but need to make more time to settle in with.
Let’s get reading! And listening!