I tend to be a bit of a binge-listener, meaning that when I find a musician that I like, I often end up listening to them on repeat until I finally get them out of system, however long that takes. I shall point a finger at my brother for getting me started on my latest kick, “alternative country and folk rock” artist Brandi Carlile. Before this summer, I had only a passing familiarity with her. Then, my brother took me to see her in concert, and now I own three albums that have been playing on rotation for the past six months, and I am close to counting her as one of my favorite artists. I hold back from outright declaring it, however, as Carlile comes with a few messy strings attached.
Stylistically speaking, I’ve no complaints. Carlile expertly shifts between interconnected genres, bleeding from bluegrass-inspired tunes (“Raise Hell”) to sweet honky-tonk carols (“Caroline”) to rock anthems (“Mainstream Kid”) to the occasional near-on pop ballad (“Dreams”). That said, lyrically, I’ve to wrestle with what I would consider to be a fair amount of bent theology. Nevertheless, for good or ill, I find myself persevering through these elements, in favor of dwelling on Carlile’s poetical sentiments, “I know I could be spending a little too much time with you/but time and too much don’t belong together like we do” (“I Belong to You”), and on her rather pointed critiques of modern society, as seen throughout her latest album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter: “But nothing scares me more/than the stranger at my door/who I fail to give shelter, time, and worth” (“The Stranger at My Door”).
But, back to the crooked theology. I was riding the bus early one morning, with those little Apple headphones in my ears, as is the modern college student’s wont, and listening to Carlile’s fourth album, Bear Creek. In the quiet of the nearly empty bus, I had the time to really focus on the lyrics making their way into my subconscious, and thus, I reencountered a song that I hadn’t really paid much attention to before: “That Wasn’t Me.”
The catchy, gospel-style melody starts with a plea for forgiveness,
Hang on, just hang on for a minute
I’ve got something to say
I’m not asking you to move on or forget it
But these are better days
To be wrong all along and admit it, is not amazing grace
But to be loved like a song you remember
Even when you’ve changed
which then immediately transitions into the chorus:
Tell me, did I go on a tangent?
Did I lie through my teeth?
Did I cause you to stumble on your feet?
Did I bring shame on my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
Whatever you’ve seen, that wasn’t me
That wasn’t me, oh that wasn’t me
Later, browsing the internet for clues as to the inspiration of the song, I discovered that it’s a story of a recovering addict. In fact, it was directly influenced by the healing process of one of Carlile’s friends. That makes a great deal of sense, and makes some questionable aspects of the lyrics much more understandable. However, sitting on the bus that morning, I didn’t know that. I thought that it was written from the point of view of someone like me, an ordinary damsel, with no tangible demons plaguing her. I think, perhaps, that I had had something of a hard week, which is why I found myself quite liking this sentiment, “that wasn’t me.”
I’ve gone astray many a time, and probably led others astray, and lied to get there. If that’s not bringing shame on my family, what is? I know that I show my many weaknesses time and time again, weaknesses that are too numerous to mention here. Wouldn’t it be nice to tell my friends, those I love, “that wasn’t me.” It’s a comforting refrain, and a just reason to be found innocent of a crime.
Unfortunately, or fortunately, rather, as I listened to the song again later that day, I though better of this excuse, “that wasn’t me.” You see, the dark, ugly truth is that it was me. I, sinner that I am, lie and sabotage and shame my way through this life, and my desperately wicked heart does so quite intentionally. That thing that I did, that was me. I’m sure readers can think of their own that as well, and probably a whole pile of other thats.
But what keeps me from skipping this song whenever it comes on, lest I fall prey once again to attempts at rationalization, is the last chorus:
I wanna believe, do I make myself a blessing to everyone I meet
When you fall I will get you on your feet
Do I spend time with my family?
Did it show when I was weak?
When that’s what you’ve seen, that will be me.
When, through the grace of God, I do something that can be considered “right,” when I say something true and honorable, when I am pure, when I make something lovely and send news of good report, when I am virtuous and praiseworthy…well, it’s not quite me. I am still so weak. But it will be me, someday.
…and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen. (The Nicene Creed)