I don’t remember how I came across Brandi Carlile’s song, What Can I Say, but I knew immediately I needed to listen with my good ears.
I played the song over and over again, as one does when they discover important music for one’s soul. Then, some life things made me forget about Carlile for a while, but it didn’t take long for me to search her name on Spotify. The search for something I couldn’t yet know, was on.
As I listened to more of her music, I quickly fell for a song called The Eye.
“You can dance in a hurricane
but only if you’re standing in the eye”
~Brandi Carlile + Phillip & Timothy Hanseroth
Part of her 2014 album The Firewatchers’s Daughter, The Eye is a balm to the spirit. Its folksy sound and poignant lyrics give one pause, as the best music does. As I kept listening, another track from the same album played. The Things I Regret wakes the spirit up from the start. With this song, you get a taste of some of Carlile’s more upbeat work.
At this point I had become a fan, and I wanted to know more. I read a Rolling Stone piece on her, then listened to a short interview on NPR. That interview led me to Carlile’s 2018 song titled Hold Out Your Hand. I watched the video and, boom, a most powerful work had been done on my soul.
Brandi Carlile is one of the most important musicians of our time for several reasons. She is gay-married-with-children, a high school dropout turned famous artist, and wildly talented at what she does. To add beauty to beauty, she seems to have the remarkable ability to be this mega-powerful advocate, with grace.
During the NPR interview, Carlile tells a heartbreaking story about her childhood pastor at a Baptist church. She was 15 and wanted to be baptized, so she made plans with her pastor and invited all of her friends and family. At the very last moment, her pastor decided he couldn’t baptize her because she was gay.
Carlile is an advocate for practicing forgiveness, even when it’s difficult. She started a campaign asking people to share stories about people they wish they could forgive, or have forgiven.
She realized if she was asking others to practice forgiveness, she needed to be able to forgive her pastor, too. She shared the story publicly, in an open letter, and took one more step in the process of forgiveness.
“I love people who don’t think the same way I think. And I do want to hold out my hand and be joined to other people that are different than me, at the end of the day.” ~Brandi Carlile
This past February, Carlile was nominated for seven Grammys, and won three of them including Best American Roots Song. She performed that song, The Joke, live at The Grammys, and it was one of the most well-received performances of the night.
From Carlile’s latest album, By the Way, I Forgive You, The Joke is a song that supports and defends people on the margins. Boys growing up trans or gay, little girls seeing the world being run by men, oppressed immigrants — these are the people the song is for.
And here’s this gay woman, performing live at The Grammys, openly singing about how the joke’s on *them*: “Let them laugh while they can, let them spin, let them scatter in the wind. I have been to the movies and I know how it ends, and the joke’s on them.”
Carlile leaves her soul on the stage with this song. It’s evident how profoundly she feels her own lyrics. It’s like a catharsis. A lifetime of personal struggle meets the weight of the global struggle right there on an American stage. Her jumping and huge smile at the end seem to indicate she knows she just did good by the world.
“A morning is coming of silver and light
There’ll be color and language and nobody wanting to fight
What a glorious sight!
What a glorious sight!”
~Brandi Carlile + Phillip & Timothy Hanseroth
Whether or not Carlile would say she’s a nonviolence advocate, her actions and art would suggest so. As one example, she has partnered with War Child, an organization that works with people on the ground in conflict environments around the world.
And though she has nuanced opinions about guns, one of her recent videos was filmed at the March for Our Lives rally in Seattle, Washington. The video shows Carlile and her bandmates, Phillip & Timothy Hanseroth, performing live on stage at the rally, and features images of children and teenagers who were part of the march.
Some examples of protest signs readily visible in the video read as follows:
“Enough is enough”, held by Carlile herself
“Hug your kids, not your guns”
“17,102 children shot every year”
“Be careful with guns”, held by a small boy
“Books not bullets”
“Protect our children, not guns”
“Less guns more love”
And the video ends with an image of a little girl on her dad’s shoulders holding a sign that says, “Arms are for hugging”.
Whatever your beliefs and wherever you stand on the issues, Carlile is likely to at least make you consider another viewpoint. That is the grace and beauty she possesses. I want to be more like that.
Here’s the video for Hold Out Your Hand: