Last week I read in an interview where singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards said she used to listen to music on the bus to school and wonder what others were thinking. Feeling so moved by what she was listening to, she “couldn’t understand how people weren’t as affected as [she] was.” Edwards went on to talk about the real music bug you eventually get when “you start discovering music on your own and not music that friends are telling you about.”
I caught that bug a few years ago. It’s still in my system, and always will be, I guess. But sometimes, the bug tries to get the best of me.
Late last year, I saw Brandi Carlile in concert for the first time. I hadn’t listened to much of her stuff before the show, and honestly, I was sort of dragged out to the performance. The bug affects me this way sometimes—me foolishly thinking that I’ve heard it all, that no one new will be able to impress me much. I assumed Carlile was just another name, and since I didn’t find her myself, why was I wasting my time? I was tired, in a bad mood, and pissed off at my day job.
I’m glad I didn’t make a big mistake about Brandi Carlile.
While there are many things that I took from the show, I was most impressed by how versatile of a performer and songwriter she presented herself to the audience. She covered Elton John, Counting Crowes, Leonard Cohen, and even performed a song she had written that day on her bus. Sort of like the female Ryan Adams.
On the drive back home, I was singing her songs. I had to have them on my iPod for my next day at work, especially “Fall Apart Again,” “My Song,” and “Turpentine,” all which I had heard live that night. So much for being dragged out to a concert. Instead, I was dragging myself into her world, which currently consists of two albums, Brandi Carlile and The Story.
I began to think about a song that she played for us, a tune that I couldn’t download and instantly listen to again because it was unreleased. It was called “That Year,” and Carlile chose to perform it solo acoustic, making it even more haunting. Carlile later told me in an e-mail that it is a song she wrote about her friend who committed suicide.
“It was a way to help me cope with something I wasn’t ready to deal with 10 years ago. Writing a song made it a much less blameless issue for me,” she says.
I think of Neil Young writing for Danny Whitten. Bob Dylan writing for Lenny Bruce. Kathleen Edwards writing for Alicia Ross. Lucinda Williams writing for Blaze Foley. Steve Earle writing for Townes Van Zandt.
And I now I think of Brandi Carlile, almost 27 years old, writing for her friend.
I also think ahead of the next kid on the school bus, patiently listening to one of Carlile’s songs and thinking that it is special. Still not caught by the music bug, still in wonder, waiting for what is next.
And yes, as Brandi Carlile showed me once again, there is always something next.
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