The Brandi Carlile Book

I didn’t grow up like that. I don’t know ANYBODY WHO GREW UP LIKE THAT!

Brandi’s parents had her when they were barely out of their teens. Not that she was planned. It was a shotgun wedding. At least that’s what we used to call them, before having babies out of wedlock was de rigueur, when it became almost a badge of honor for unmarried educated women.

Not that her parents were world-beaters. They met at the Red Lion Hotel, where her father was a prep cook and her mother a hostess. Yes, a twenty and twenty one year old on a fast trip to nowhere.

Not that this was ancient times. Actually, Brandi’s parents are younger than I am. HOW DID THEY PLAN TO SURVIVE!

The eighties were a time of huge transition. That’s when income inequality began. The educated boomers paid lower taxes and climbed the economic ladder and everybody else was left behind. Then Clinton came along and eviscerated welfare and now we’ve got a permanent underclass. How do they get by?

Not well. Living in trailers. Alcoholic. It’s brutal. The kids may know nothing else, but they suffer, greatly.

Brandi’s family moves so many times that she falls behind in school and eventually she and her brother drop out. I didn’t know ANYBODY who dropped out of high school, at least when I was growing up. Oh, there was this one guy, who thought school was b.s. And they accepted him at Kenyon College without a high school degree, and after less than a year he dropped out of there and got a gig at the library. Obviously this guy had mental issues. But the rest of us?

This was the sixties. Life was a boiling cauldron of excitement. Opportunities were on the horizon. We knew we were going to college from the moment we entered kindergarten, and everybody I knew did…go to college that is. There’s a college for everybody, don’t you know? If your parents can afford it, they can send you to a school where you’re helped through the classes. And parents do this because they know without a college degree you’re nowhere today. You can’t even work as a receptionist. A college degree is the new high school degree. Do I approve of this? Do I think those without college degrees can’t perform? Absolutely not. However I do remember Daniel Glass’s words, that he hires college graduates not for what they’ve learned, but because the degree demonstrates they can complete something, which too many people cannot.

So we read about kids who drop out and then enter the workforce. They see it coming. And they want that bread to live better than a student. But Brandi lounges at home and then eventually gets some low-level work and starts playing live.

Oh, did I mention Brandi’s gay?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but when you’re growing up off the beaten path in Washington there are no role models, you’re on your own.

I just can’t imagine it. Hell, Brandi is of the generation of my contemporaries’ kids. They invested in PRE-SCHOOL admissions! They had their kids on the path of economic success from day one, literally, but not Brandi.


Her love of music keeps her alive.

Her mother performed, and then Brandi did too. Entered competitions. Brandi was game. But she never ever won. That didn’t happen until she became a professional. That’s the way it always is. Those who make it are rarely recognized on the way up, they’re too different, unique. Competitions are about criteria established by the group, rules. Whereas the greats are originals who break the rules, if they’re even aware of them.

So, Brandi knows she can sing. She networks and gets an act together and is hooked up with Chip Hooper who laughs, tells her he can’t do anything for her because they’re a BAR BAND!

Chip. It’s funny how once Brandi gains traction, there’s commonality, but before that… As for Chip, he’s no longer with us. And she says how his favorite songwriter was Shawn Colvin. I’m the one who told her manager, Ron Fierstein, to go with Chip. But unlike Brandi I’m not invited to the singalongs at Joni Mitchell’s house today. I mean I’ve met Joni multiple times, and she’s not the woman in the songs, she’s not soft and mellow, anything but, if you connect with her have your wits about you! I mean I know Elton and Bonnie Raitt, but I’m not part of their everyday social circle. If you’re in the business and you read this book there comes a point where you feel inadequate, at least I did.

So, Brandi and the twins, i.e. “Brandi Carlile,” get a deal with Columbia and make a record with T-Bone Burnett and there’s friction. Brandi is not about to be steamrolled by anybody. Even though she regrets some of her actions in hindsight. But the bottom line here is that first LP (well, in reality the second, but the first was a glorified demo) done by T-Bone is her most successful and then she ultimately gets dropped from Columbia and has to go independent. This used to be the kiss of death, once you lost your major label deal you were on the downhill slide. But speaking of those aforementioned rules, they no longer apply, everything’s up for grabs. Brandi continues to make music, goes on the road, appeals to her fans and the rest of the world ignores here. Until…

“The Joke.”

One cannot overstate the skill of Dave Cobb. He’s the new Don Was. Squared. Acts that have been kicking around forever work with Dave and ultimately break through. Can you say “Chris Stapleton”? Brandi works with Cobb and he needs another track, one as good as “The Story,” from ten years before. That’s the last thing an act wants to hear, to replicate what they’ve done far in the past. They like to believe what they’ve done since is every bit as good, even though many times it is not. And then almost instantly Brandi writes “The Joke,” inspired by her interaction with a friend’s son, and the rest is history.

Yup, one song. That’s all it took. And suddenly Brandi Carlile becomes a household name. Nominated for a slew of Grammys, appearing everywhere! It’s not like she didn’t have it, she just needed seasoning and someone to push her in the right direction. And unlike too many wannabes, Brandi has that voice, it was her secret weapon, it’s still her secret weapon. Too many of today’s acts plot their success on paper, whereas it’s the fundamentals that ultimately serve your career, without underpinnings, you won’t last.

Not that Brandi seems to change.

Oh, well, she changes along the way. She tries being a boy. That doesn’t work. She embraces her feminine identity and has a relationship with a woman seventeen years older, who is still part of her life. She meets a woman who works for McCartney and gets married and has kids and you’ve got a great illustration how gay people are just like straight people, they want the same things, even though their partners are of the same sex. Yes, Brandi can’t stop talking about her kids.

And fishing. And…

Despite all the trappings, the advantages of stardom, on so many levels Brandi is still the same. Living in a log cabin in the woods. Embracing the outdoors. And then she gets on a plane to play the starmaking game.

Oh, that’s another thing. Making it requires constant work. You’ve got to hop on a plane on a moment’s notice, fly for a one hour meeting, turn around, go home, and then maybe come back the very next day. You’re so fried you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the money, even if you had it. Lifestyle only happens when you’re not working. Because first and foremost you’re a musician, not a star.

So Brandi is pinching herself when she gets to meet her heroes. She and Elton are connecting constantly. Then again, they’re both outsiders, both gay, they’ve got a lot in common in a world that thinks it understands them but does not.

The truth is when you break through you get inundated with offers, and in 2018 Brandi decides to take each and every one of them, including the offer to write this book. And if you’re not in the business you may not know that these offers rarely come around again, you’ve got to make hay when the sun shines, you’ve got to work even harder when you’ve worked so hard to get where you are.

And it’s clear that she wrote every word. No cowriter is credited and it sounds like her voice.

And it’s written from the perspective of a performer. Unlike the male rock star books, Brandi’s is more intimate, she reveals more of her feelings without sensationalism. It’s truly her story.

But, once again, it’s not my story.

But when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.

And Brandi needed this, there was no safety net in sight. And she was a fan of the music, not of stardom, being a brand never occurred to her.

And that I can certainly relate to, the music. Which takes second place in all discussions these days. It’s always about the money. Chart positions. But Brandi Carlile has a CAREER! She can play music profitably for the rest of her days. As for the acts on the hit parade?

So during lockdown Brandi cut a new album. And although it’s not scheduled for release until fall, she’s now out on the road. I came across a story in “Rolling Stone,” there was a video, an audience recording by a fan. And these are almost always a waste of time. You get the feeling, yet little more. But if you watch this clip you’ll instantly get it. Brandi’s voice is loud and clear, the twins’ harmonies enrich the sound and there are no machines involved, it’s just the basics, human beings, their voices, the essence.

“Brandi Carlile Performs ‘In These Silent Days’ Songs at Forest Hills Stadium Show – ‘They don’t make nights more gorgeous than this,” singer-songwriter proclaimed while belting her hits and covers to New York audience'”:

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