Friday Song: "The Joke"

Returning to Brandi Carlile for a terrific live performance of an inspiring song

Friday Song: "The Joke"

Well, my musical crush on Brandi Carlile continues, this time via her magnificent 2017 song “The Joke.” The song was written in the wake of the 2016 US Presidential election, and contains the memorable lyrics:

Let ‘em laugh while they can
Let ‘em spin
Let ‘em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies
I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them

In her excellent book, “Broken Horses: A Memoir,” Carlile relates how the song came to her while she was watching a boy with great fashion sense and dapper qualities being teased by others. Uncomfortable and in an oversized shirt, he kept tugging on the sleeves while scuffing the ground with his feet — all of which yielded these lines:

You’re feeling nervous, aren't you, boy?
With your quiet voice and impeccable style
. . .
I see you tugging on your shirt
Trying to hide inside of it and hide how much it hurts

Feeling protective, and noting how the atmosphere leading up to 2016 had become so charged with intolerance and hate, she jotted down the the idea for the song — that this boy may be teased now, but ultimately, the joke will be on those teasing him.

The song won the 2019 Grammy Award for Best American Roots Song, while the album By The Way, I Forgive You won Best Americana Album.

The performance below is from that Grammy Award ceremony.

In her book, Carlile also talks about how the stress of preparing for major performances like this inevitably brought on illness. She was in the midst of conquering the pattern when this show was approaching, and went into the performance on a razor’s edge — would her voice hold, and could she find the big note at the end?

You be the judge of how she acquits herself. (Spoiler — she recalls this as the moment she turned the corner on her anxieties.)


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