Brandi Carlile: By the Way, I Forgive You
There’s something profound that comes with following and listening to an artist for the majority of their career. It’s particularly poignant when that career runs parallel to your journey from your confused college years all the way into early parenthood.
Brandi Carlile was the first female artist whose music made me confront truths about myself and appreciate music’s ability to draw them out into the open. Brandi and her career-long bandmates, twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth, released their first album—Brandi Carlile—in 2005. 2005 was also my sophomore year of college and the year I first fell in love.
The summer before, I had come out to my parents and was still grappling with the general otherness I felt in the world. The track titled “Happy” sang openly about a lost love named Amber Lee, and I remember listening on repeat, shocked at the singer’s willingness to sing a love song about a girl.
Her subsequent albums, The Story and Give Up the Ghost, followed the trajectory of that first relationship from 2005, and songs from there would continue to haunt me with memories of the heartbreak I thought would break me.
It’s fitting that Carlile’s newest record—By the Way, I Forgive You—looks deep at forgiveness, a theme many of us grapple with in adulthood. When looking back at the early part of our lives, we’re often confronted with the crimes committed against us and the ones we committed against others. And perhaps most of all, we’re hit over and over again with the injustices of the world. The record weaves the internal and external, and all the ways and people we might look to for forgiveness and also seek to forgive.
The track “The Joke” has been compared to her title track on The Story, a love song with a symphonic and majestic tune that brings you to your knees. But in many ways, “The Joke” is a love song to those the world mistreats, leaves behind, forgets, abandons. It’s a plea for forgiveness, an apology letter from us all and a reassurance that goodness wins in the end.
“Hold Out Your Hand” at first reminded me of Ani DiFranco’s unapologetic “God’s Country,” except instead of giving the middle finger to everyone, Carlile’s hymn is an anthem in service of togetherness, of sticking together. “The devil don’t take a break . . .” felt like a reminder for everyone that the fight for humanity, for equality, for the underrepresented and the forgotten, and for basic human rights—those fights are never-ending in some ways.
The album takes a deeply personal turn, touching on the pain of love gone wrong and the ways we bury that pain to find peace. In “Harder to Forgive,” every line could be followed by “amen,” with its gospel-like prose in service of what is true. “Yes, my life has seen some wasted time. I have suffered for the peace inside my mind. And some things are better left unsaid, while some things work out different when they’re in your head.”
As I think about the place I am today, looking at ways I parent my child and forgiving myself for my shortcomings, and looking at habits that are hard to break and forgiving reasons for that too—I see myself in every track. I want peace, and I know I have a long way to go in life and many more mistakes to make. By the Way, I Forgive You—start to finish—is an anthem, a self-help, a #metoo, and “I’m sorry” all in one. It’s a journey that doesn’t have a hard lesson at the end, except that forgiveness is hard and something we have to keep working at. Over, and over again.
Ashley Daigneault knew she was a writer before she left kindergarten and has a particular
love for writing about tech, literature, music, and politics. She is currently the VP at Caster
Communications, a full-service tech PR and social-media firm, and works with B2B and
B2C tech brands. She lives in New England with her family, which includes kids and dogs
who think they are kids.