Yesterday it finally came in the mail. Karyn called me in my office and she held the phone up to the speaker so that I could hear the music through my office handset. Hardly high fidelity, I was still tapping my left foot as my right shoe propped itself improperly on my desk. The Giving Up the Ghost CD, Brandi Carlile’s release of just a few days, is just as good as we’d hoped. Maybe better. It was still playing when I got home (finally), and it’s been playing through various speakers and earphones throughout the day today.

It might seem obsessive, and it all makes me worry that maybe it isn’t really that good. So I’m slow to endorse it as much as I’d like. The truth is we — the entire family — could listen to BC for hours on end. There are plenty of good reasons for this: a voice that makes my heart soar and a soul weep almost simultaneously? But, as I said, I am trying to show restraint in this endorsement. There’s the musicianship of Brandi and Band, including the never-acclaimed-enough twins, Tim and Phil. And then Josh kicks in with a cello and that stuff I said about heart and soul is hard to deny.

But I suspect that this assessment is all biased by several events. To start, there was the first performance we saw Brandi, opening for Indigo Girls and later joining them on stage. That’s where we saw her channel Johnny Cash, getting the audience on their feet and screaming during the opening act. A few minutes after that, she was signing my CD with a heart via Sharpie marker. A few months later I’d be giving a keynote address and using Brandi’s example of apprenticeship to a young girl, and this example would not only stick but spread. Besides my own repeated use, others I’ve talked to continue to use this in their own academic venues. My own class told me a few weeks ago they’d never heard of Brandi Carlile, so I plan to find a way to pull this out for the purpose of a lesson on teaching.

I think that none of this would have mattered, though, if it wouldn’t have been for going to her first show of the tour promoting the new album. In short, it was amazing: a great venue ; she looked into my eyes (we were that close) and pointed out to me (Karyn can verify this); the cover of Folsom Prison Blues included a guitar solo by one of the twins (Tim) that would make you want to run away with him forever; the three part harmonies — from the audience — orchestrated by the band; the songs themselves that literally and figuratively moved us. But none of this really describes a good, not to mention inspiring, concert. I’ve been trying to make sense of this for weeks now, and I’ve decided that it all comes down to joy .

I can’t explain the essence of joy any more than I can describe love , death , or cholesterol . But I know it when I feel it, or see it through others. And I think that this is what I ultimately experienced through that concert. There’s a conflict within me between wanting to pick up and join the band, wanting the concert itself to continue playing forever, and wanting that feeling — the one you get from 8 feet away and the rhythm of the band and the crowd and the voice I described — to all become frozen in time somehow. There’s joy in all of this, especially in the band. More than the music that comes out of the instruments, there’s this:*


and this:*


These people are clearly having fun in what they’re doing, and maybe that’s the fun in watching them. I have decided that I probably don’t need to pack my bags and trail after them**, but, instead, savor the joy in what I already do. Fortunately, I’ve found that. Surely, there are still days I’d like to run away and be a rock star, but there are many more days where I can lead a discussion on the contrasts between science and religion, or launch a steel ball across the room to shoot a blindfolded monkey, or lots of stuff in between. Moreover, the people I’m surrounded by also are joyful in their work.*** There’s a band, complete with guitar riffs and a thumping cello, and likely a chorus of voices. I don’t expect that any of us have fans/students screaming their love for us during classes (except those rare moments), nor do we emulate Johnny Cash. But from within the hallways and in the classrooms and even in conference proceedings there’s a clear joy.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to that CD again, and get ready for class on Monday.


* I’d provide a better link to these images, but they’re all embedded into via Javascripts. Just go here and click on “photos.”

** But Brandi, Tim, Phil: CALL ME, please, if you need someone to fill in on piano.

***Sigh: there’s a notable exception in my daily workings, but there a helpful perspective in recognizing that the source of one person’s discontent is probably a simple lack of joy in the act of teaching.


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