Despite being familiar with Brandi Carlile’s music, her new book Broken Horses took me by surprise. Generally, I would expect memoirs by artists to be enjoyable, perhaps gratuitous, for fans, but Broken Horses is, I daresay, of a different breed. It is impressive in its wisdom and authenticity, and a book that I would recommend regardless of whether the reader has listened to Carlile’s music.
The book chronicles Carlile’s life and development as an artist through present-day, and is punctuated by song lyrics (Carlile’s, as well as other songs and artists mentioned in the prose, including the Indigo Girls, Elton John, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and others) and annotated photos. It is part narrative and part introspection, and it is self-deprecating, humorous, and raw. The cast of characters is extensive, anchored in the center by Carlile’s musical “family,” including her bandmembers Phil and Tim, her wife, Catherine, and two daughters. It is a vivid portrait of a human being who also happens to be a GRAMMY-winning singer-songwriter.
Broken Horses also traverses a wide range of themes in its three hundred pages: family, friendship, sexuality, religion, forgiveness, and many others. Carlile offers her thoughts and experience of each, without pretending to have all the answers. One of my favorite passages in the entire book is in relation to the genesis of the 2018 album By the Way, I Forgive You. In addition to its insight (even in its admission of lack of insight), it also, in my opinion, captures the essence of Broken Horses as a whole:
“Before I start sounding too earnest, understand that I wasn’t “teaching” forgiveness. I was and still am learning it. I’m not evolved. I’m as much a part of the problem as every other person in the world. This isn’t wisdom or insight, it’s a work in progress and it never did come from me. It came from our parents and grandparents. Our flawed heroes and our favorite TV shows. We were just playing dress-up and trying forgiveness on like a costume. We intend to learn these lessons over and over again the hard way for as long as we’re human. If you want the real thing 100 percent pure, the Everclear …you should talk to Lazarus.”
-Brandi Carlile, Broken Horses (2021), Chapter 17: By The Way
Quite fittingly, I would describe Broken Horses as a song above anything else (which makes sense, considering the author). It is a song of the human experience, and one that is not to be missed.