David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 114: Brandi Carlile (The Story)

August 18, 2020

Maybe I have said this before (it's hard to remember after 16 weeks of these things) but a great song distinguishes itself from a million good songs by having a singular moment where the song transcends the moment. These moments can occur from an ad-lib or improv-ed line (Ben Orr's "so bleed me" at the end of "Just What I Needed"); from unexpected surprises (The Raspberries' fake ending, twice, for "Overnight Sensation"); or from a blistering instrumental insertion (Mick Fleetwood's drum fill while Lindsey Buckingham's rips through his guitar near the end of "Go Your Own Way"). It takes real talent to be able to pull off such a moment simply with voice. The moment is similar to that moment in a great story when you know you are sucked in and don't want to stop reading.

How applicable for Brandi Carlile's "The Story." Before I even get to what makes me shiver every time I hear the song, let me point out that I had never even heard of Carlile until someone asked, "You ever hear this song?" and then introduced me to "The Story." This recommendation came several years after the release of the song, years after it had been featured as part of the 2008 Summer Olympics, or as part of a General Motors' ad, or as musical backdrop in Grey's Anatomy. What can I say? I don't watch much television.  Had it played between innings of a Pirates' baseball game (what shame that must be for an musician) or during an episode of Forensic Files ("all of these lines across my face" show you that I was freaking murdered by my husband, don't you ever see the patterns!), I wasn't going to stumble into it.

Upon first recommendation, I am not sure I held out hope that the song would really grab me.  In the classic case of "looks can deceive," I thought Carlile was a Jewel clone, or even worse, a Carrie Underwood wanna-be. Luckily my friend knew me better than most, as "The Story" is exactly what I love in music (and has also been borne out by other Carlile songs): changes in tempo, emotional pull, and superb musicianship.

However, ultimately it comes down to what Carlile is willing to do with her voice, frankly three times:

"Swam across the ocean blue"

"All my friends who think that I'm blessed"

And then the second "All of these lines across my face."

The screaming recitation of the lines, especially the last one, which is the ultimate hair-raising moment, must be impossible to replicate night after night through performances. She pulls off an especially deep-from-the-gut howl in "all of these lines across my face" that completely defines the song. I wonder if she sometimes regrets putting so much into it for the studio version, knowing fans will expect it every night.

Part of the fun here is the story behind "The Story." It was not written by Carlile, but primarily by her bassist, Phil Hanseroth, although all of her songs get credited to her, and both Phil and Tim Hanseroth, her primary band. A 2018 interview reveals the love these three have for each other, including the self-deflection about any of their individual roles in "The Story."1 Phil says he brought a song with "a couple of chords" and a "melody" but that Carlile "put some power into it."

Uh, you think?  That power has to equate to about 200 horses.

Carlile says she brought "insanity and intensity."

Again, you think?  I am sure her throat doctor has some observations about the intensity she brought to the song. I have no idea what her shrink thinks.

Somewhere in there, somebody orchestrated the great musical bridge, where the ringing guitar dances along with a rolling drum beat that propels the intensity. Even if the song faded out right after that, the hairs on your neck would be prickly. Not the case, though, as the intensity drops so that Carlile can work her way back through her vocal histrionics to that insane, intense powerful projection of "all of these lines across my face."

Ultimately, I wonder, why that line? Why does she do the Emeril Lagasse kick-it-up-a-notch for a reference to lines on her face? I might have screamed "It's true, I was made for you," but maybe that kind of emotion is why I didn't do real well with the ladies for so long.

I guess I wasn't good enough at hiding that "my head is a mess."

"The Story." Brandi Carlile. The Story. Columbia. 2007. Link here.

1Rodgers, Jeffrey Pepper. "Inside The Song: 'The Story' by Brandi Carlile." https://www.jeffreypepperrodgers.com/blog/behind-the-song-the-story-by-brandi-carlile

Day 113: Jefferson Starship "Runaway."

Day 115: Pearl Jam "Not For You."->

See complete list here.