The Songs of Your Life: Brandi Carlile

Everybody has those artists who they listen to over and over again, enough that their music seems fused with your body in some way. My friend Andrea talks about singers like that as if they were kin – brothers from another mother, she calls Glen Hansard and Ray LaMontagne.

I’ve had a couple of those. When I was little, I listened to Reba until I knew every word, until I could perfectly imitate the growl in her voice. And as an adult, one of those kindred artists, for me, has been Brandi Carlile.

In graduate school, when I was coming out, I stumbled onto Brandi Carlile’s music. Her songs seemed to capture absolutely everything I was feeling – joy, confusion, resentment, shame, hope, love. Those are the kinds of artists I mean – the ones who you listen to and you think, “dang, she just gets me.” I listened to Brandi Carlile’s songs over and over – “Turpentine,” and “That Year,” “Pride and Joy,” “The Story,” “Follow.” They did what any good songs do:  they captured the tone and cadence and lyrics of what was going on in my own life, and regardless of the artist’s intention, I gobbled up those songs, re-appropriated them to be about me, and found solace and solidarity and healing in them.

I haven’t needed Brandi’s music in that way in quite awhile. Eventually, that tone and cadence of my life quieted, and I no longer needed those lyrics to clarify things for me. They were clearer on their own. I still enjoyed her music, still anxiously awaited the release of her newest album, “Bear Creek,” the style of which I’m definitely loving. But I wondered, as I stood in the crowd at the Norva last night and waited for the show to start, how it would be finally seeing her live. Had I waited too long? Was I sort of past it?

In a word:  no.

I’ll elaborate.

I went with Amanda, who was familiar with Brandi’s music (some of it just by virtue of hanging out with me) but didn’t know much of it. So I was a little worried that she would be bored. Also, we’re old women in young women’s bodies. I’ll say it now and I don’t care of it makes me sound ancient:  I hate standing up for concerts. It just sucks. By the end of the night, my feet, my back, and my ankles were so mad at me. Was it worth it? Yes. Was I whining about being sore anyway? Oh yeah.

The Lumineers opened, and they were stellar. I had only heard one of their songs before (because I’m not hip whatsoever), and they were great. Check them out if you haven’t already.

And then Brandi took the stage. And my worries – about Amanda not having fun, about my feet, about not having the music resonate anymore – all vanished. Because that’s the thing:  when an artist’s work is tangled up in your soul, you don’t lose that. I’ll never stop loving “Fancy” by Reba McEntire, or the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Those works are part of me. They contribute to the overall way that I am today. And the same with Brandi Carlile. Old stuff, new stuff, I was tapping my feet, bouncing to the music, singing along, doing tiny, barely contained claps at the start of every song, as soon as I recognized it. At one point, I turned to Amanda and effusively thanked her for getting us tickets, for coming with me, because I was loving it. And so was the rest of the crowd. Which does make it even better, doesn’t it?

I spaced on taking photos of dinner and the concert, so you’ll have to take my word for it on this:  the concert was outstanding. The music was still as much a part of me as it ever was, even if I don’t need its curative powers anymore. It’s still there. And it will be if ever I need it again.

And until then, there’s the memory of Brandi Carlile covering “Bohemian Rhapsody” and YouTube videos like this one (song starts about 30 seconds in). Enjoy!

What singers/bands are kindred for you? Which ones sing the songs of your life?

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