Whew. I’ve just taken 19 deep breaths and think I’m ready to write down some thoughts about “Broken Horses.”
Brandi Carlile’s highly anticipated memoir comes out on April 6 via Crown, an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.
I devoured an advance copy in, no lie, 24 hours, stopping only to eat and sleep and not much of either of those things happened such was my state of rapture over what I was reading.
I’ve been a pretty devout Carlile fan since her second album “The Story” was released in 2007 but I still learned SO MUCH about her in the pages of “Broken Horses.”
Fear not, I will not give away the farm with any huge spoilers but do feel OK about sharing some of what I learned.
First and foremost, she almost died as a young child from meningococcal meningititis. We learn this on page one and she delves deeply into countless hospital stays, treatments and the connection between illness and stress which is something she still grapples with. A couple of times I got teary. It’s that intense and raw and real. I also dropped several f bombs of worry and surprise when reading through what those illnesses put her through.
From there we learn the trajectory of her life and the roles that religion and music have played in it, both of which are spoken about in detail. My heart broke open, healed itself and broke open again over the course of 309 pages but I also smiled a hell of a lot.
Carlile tells us all about her friendship -both personal and working- with Elton John and she shared a TON about the friendship she’s developed over the past couple of years with Joni Mitchell. The part about something very special that happened one night at one of the many jam sessions at Mitchell’s California home absolutely floored me. You’ll know it when you read it. Holy shit.
Carlile also lets us into her relationships with her sister Tiffany and brother Jay as well as their parents and grandparents and she shares some about her past romantic relationships. She does this because those experiences are part of her story and none of it feels out of place within the book’s pages.
Then of course there’s her wife Catherine and their two daughters Evangeline and Elijah. Carlile tells us just enough to appreciate their significance in her life without letting us into sacred chambers of their private lives. In other words, Carlile’s mastered the art of being an open book without telling us TOO much.
The other major topic that’s a huge thread running throughout the book is her musical partnership and gigantic friendships with Tim and Phil Hanseroth. Some of us hardcore fans know some of the backstory but in “Broken Horses,” Carlile puts all the pieces together eloquently and with hilarity and poignancy. These two dudes are the goddamn wind beneath Carlile’s wings and she wants to make sure we know this. I love this.
Carlile also shares stories about the long slog of gigs in her early days and the ins and out of getting signed along with the endless complexities, challenges and triumphs that come with it. The inner-workings of the music biz are something of a mystery to most of us and reading about some of it (the good and the bad) was hella enlightening.
By the end of “Broken Horses” you’ll also come to know and love her horse Sovereign and the significance he had in Carlile’s life in myriad ways.
I also completely NERDED OUT many times because Carlile talks about several key events in her career and I was lucky enough to have witnessed some of them including the Joni Mitchell 75th birthday tribute show in Los Angeles, the first Girls Just Wanna Weekend festival in Mexico, her introduction of Dolly Parton at the 2019 Newport Folk Festival which was also when The Highwomen made their debut and her epic, sold-out show at Madison Square Garden
Then there are the photographs! Dozens upon dozens of old family snapshots, current moments in time, studio moments and more are shared several times throughout the pages of “Broken Horses.” For all of you super fans out there, the photos alone are worth the cost of the book!
There are many songs referenced in “Broken Horses,” some Carlile ones and many others. The lyrics to ALL OF THEM are included at the end of the chapter they’re mentioned in and I love this. Carlile and the Hanseroths are not only phenomenal songwriters themselves, they have immense respect for other artists’ words and seeing lyrics to songs like Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s “Skyline Pigeon” is to me, Carlile’s way of saying “Hey, stop and read these before you head to the next chapter. These are important.”
One of my biggest takeaways from “Broken Horses” is a better understanding of Brandi Carlile the brand/entertainer and Brandi Carlile the person. She peels back some of the layers of this and the book is better for it as its easy for those lines to get blurred.
I know more about what Carlile cares about most (and worries about too) and it felt all the more authentic learning about them in the written form, in her own words.
“Broken Horses” flows along a path that is sometimes well-lit and sometimes dark and haunted. I held on tight, leaning into every twist and turn, walking over every hot coal and celebrating every victory right along with Carlile.
Brandi Carlile knows how to write a song. And she sure as shit knows how to sing them. She knows how to own a stage and engage with an audience and to empower people.
Wanna know something else?
She wrote one hell of a book.
Pour yourself a Jamesons or a tall glass of whatever and plan on losing yourself, just like I did, in “Broken Horses.”