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Brandi Carlile: Bear Creek

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jul 10, 2012
Category: Rock

It’s embarrassing. No, really, it’s humiliating to admit this, but somebody wronged me in 1989 and I still haven’t dealt with it. I’ve tiptoed right up to the door of a conversation I need to have with this person, a close friend who very nearly cost me the best job I’d ever had, but I’ve never taken the final step and told her that I know what she did and asked why she did it. I have my reasons — I mean: I have my rationalizations — and first among them is that I know why she did it: She was desperate, there was something she had to have, and it made no difference what lie she had to tell about a close friend to get it.

One could have compassion for someone so over her head that it didn’t matter who she had to burn to survive. But for more than two decades, I haven’t been able to forgive this person. When I think of her — and it’s not often — I’m suddenly sitting on a powder keg of fury, with no way to locate compassion or forgiveness.
In a moment like that — a moment of loathing for her and self-loathing for myself — I heard a song from Brandi Carlile’s new CD, “”Bear Creek.” If you’ve been hanging around here, you know which one it is: “That Wasn’t Me.” It’s about addiction — not hers — and dealing with it, and that person changing, and friends wanting to believe in that change. It’s about love and compassion and hope, emotions that Brandi Carlile can access with astonishing speed. Of course I bawled when I first heard it — the way I know something is Art is that it makes me cry — and I got teary all over again the next dozen times I heard it. So I stopped playing the CD. For a never-before reason: It was too good. [To buy “Bear Creek” from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.] 

But now there’s been an event — you don’t need the details — that has reminded me of this long-distant betrayal. And the wrong done to me has been gnawing at me. Often. So, seeking solace in somebody else’s drama, I put on “Bear Creek” again. And, in “That Wasn’t Me,” I heard the words fresh: “Do I make myself a blessing to everyone I meet?”

And you know what? I don’t. It’s not obvious that I don’t, because I can fake it as well as anyone in this city, but it became very clear to me that as long as I’m holding onto this bile, I’m treating everybody I deal with just a bit more defensively than I ought to. That’s got to stop. And I’m gonna stop it.
Why tell this story?
I’m not minimizing the importance of entertainment — life is hard, a good night out is to be cherished — but some entertainers are healers as well as performers. And over three CDs, I find qualities in Brandi Carlile that are worthy of admiration. Healing qualities. And not, I’d bet, just for me.
These deeper qualities are not immediately apparent. She has a powerful voice — when she lets go, she’s right up there with Janis Joplin — and that showmanship dazzles. 
And although she can rock, she can also do country, which is no longer a genre that seems to allow for much real feeling. But most of all — and this requires some careful listening to notice — as a writer she can communicate very directly: “I want to leave this town/ Fake my death/ Never look back.” I’ve been there. You?

Old fans are divided about this CD. They’re partial to The Story and Give Up the Ghost — “authentic” Brandi. They fear she’s lost her edge in this outing, that she’s reaching out to the pop music arena crowd. I’m impressed by their ability to read her mind and know her goals.

Me, I hear cellos amid the guitars. I hear harmony. I hear a woman in her early 30s writing her diary. And at the end of “Just Kids” — the last song on the CD, a song that, not accidentally I suspect, bears the same title as Patti Smith’s book — I hear these lyrics: "Over the rainbow, out in the snow / Learning to walk with sand in our toes / Long to be tall, kissed when you fall / Hoping that someone will come when you call." And then, as the music fades, I hear … frogs. Recorded by the creek near the studio. In these hellacious days, that strikes me as beauty.