Bob Boilen, the creator and host of NPR Music’s All Songs Considered and founder of the Tiny Desk Concert series, describes his first book, Your Song Changed My Life, as a “story of how a song can be a call to action, to pick up an instrument or a pen, to find your voice, to spill your soul and change your life—and, perhaps, someone else’s.”
In this collection, 35 musicians discuss the songs that altered their lives, in many cases inspiring them to dedicate their lives to music. As our reviewer noted in a starred review, “Boilen’s warm, engaging voice pervades this treat for music aficionados”—and not just aficionados of a specific era or genre: the author includes artists from all over the spectrum, from Smokey Robinson and Cat Stevens to more contemporary figures like Jeff Tweedy, Colin Meloy, Jenny Lewis, and Cat Power.
The enjoyment of this book comes not only from the diversity of the musicians, but also in the sometimes-surprising song choices they make. It seems appropriate that Robinson praises Jackie Wilson’s “Lonely Teardrops” or Lucinda Williams talks about how “Highway 61 Revisited” “changed everything,” but it’s a bit more eye-opening to read about Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio’s love for a tune from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story or Conor Oberst’s calling “American Pie” an “awakening.”
Fans of some of the other contributors, especially Jackson Browne, Jimmy Page, David Byrne, and Anastasio, will also find some fruitful cross-pollination in Jesse Jarnow’s Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America, which prominently features the history of the music of the psychedelic era. One of that era’s pivotal songs, the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” is Boilen’s choice for his collection, a song that, like his book, helps to “sum up life’s preciousness and magic.” Eric Liebetrau is the nonfiction and managing editor.