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Arts and Entertainment

Songwriters Challenged to Compose Music Based on Books

Once a month at a bar on Commercial Street, singer-songwriters take the stage to perform music they’ve written.  One thing they have in common is they’ve all read the same book.  Wild Bob’s Musical Book Club showcases the variety of styles of the songwriters and also the various ways a book can inspire a song.  KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has more.

It’s not your ordinary book club.  Yes, there are books involved, but there’s also songwriting and performing.  And the meeting place is a bar on Commercial Street in Springfield.

Wild Bob’s Musical Book Club meets once a month at Lindberg’s.  It’s a time when local musicians can show off their creative abilities and audiences can be entertained for a $5 cover charge.  As music played on stage, money and drinks passed across the bar.

The book that musicians were challenged to write about in July was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  Thirteen musicians took the stage, each inspired in different ways by the classic children’s book.

When Andy Carr read A Wrinkle in Time, he connected with how inferior the character, Meg, felt to everyone she encountered, including her little brother, Charles Wallace.

The performances were as varied as the drinks that were available from the bartender.  Earl Holmer brought his keyboard and sheet music he’d written.  As he peered over the keyboard at the music, he performed a song that compared the “It” character in the book to IT—information technology.

And Kyle Lacy, who took the stage with his girlfriend’s young daughters, stole some lines from A Wrinkle in Time for his song, The Happiest Sadist Song.

This was the 14th Wild Bob’s Musical Book Club “meeting.”  Book club organizer, Mallory Leicht, says more than 40 songwriters have taken part since the club started in June 2014, and they’ve created over 130 songs.

Musicians know well ahead of time what books they’ll need to read.  Leicht says part of the beauty of each show is the variety of the performances.

"Every musician offers a different take on the book, so it's really neat to see their musical styles come through," she said.

Jin JX is one of the regular performers at Wild Bob’s Musical Book Club.  He likes the challenge it offers.

"Even though everything is there in advance, I usually the month of start checking it out and then usually about a week out I start actually trying to write the song and so it's a challenge to try to put something together that is simple enough to perform but also doesn't sound like something that you've already done and also speaks to the heart of the book," he said.

He doesn’t write just one song—lately, he says he’s been writing two or three and then choosing the best one.

"Because I'll start on one and it'll suck.  To me this is like a humbling experience.  Sometimes you write some D minuses and you have to say, 'ok, that's not gonna be good enough,' and you try to do better," he said.

Brett Miller is another regular at Wild Bob’s. He says there are two reasons he got involved.

"I needed to read more books, and I needed to write more songs," he said.

He says with all the distractions in life, he’d started several books but never finished them.

"So this was a way to force myself to finish books and then I often would find every excuse in the world to not get songs written, and I think of myself as a songwriter and so this is a creative discipline for me to get songs written," he said.

Miller doesn’t write songs that tell the story of the book.  He focuses on a phrase, a line, an idea or a character that takes him somewhere else.  That way, the song can go beyond just the book club.  Jin J X is just the opposite.  He says he tries to write specifically to the story.

Miller describes his style as acoustic folk/Americana.  Jin J X says his is jazz and r ‘n b.  Blues were also part of the mix at the July meeting of Wild Bob’s Musical Book Club. 

Barry Rowell says the inspiration for his song came from Meg and her conflict with “It.”

"I found that, you know, if you're struggling to write a song just go to the most dastardly character in the book, and it give you something to write about," he said.

Emily Higgins identified with the characters, “Mrs. Whatsit,” “Mrs. Who” and “Mrs. Which.”  She performed her original song, “Unseen.”

Anyone can be part of the performances, but Leicht says they need to sign up ahead of time on Wild Bob’s Facebook page or by emailing wildbobsmusicalbookclub@gmail.com.

The next Wild Bob’s Musical Book Club performance will be August 15th at 6:30 pm at Lindberg’s on Commercial Street.  The featured book will be “Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee.