The first album Brandi Carlile ever purchased was Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, on cassette, when she was about 14. Unfortunately, she didn’t get to listen to it long — as she reveals in Rolling Stone‘s “The First Time” video series, some kids “ruined it on the school bus with a magnet.”
Carlile, whose album By the Way, I Forgive You triumphed at February’s Grammy Awards, shares more pivotal firsts. Among them: the first time she stood up for herself (she pretended to know karate); the first time she performed in public (singing “Tennessee Flat Top Box”); and the first time she was inspired by a woman (Ellen DeGeneres’ decision to come out).
But it’s activism that is at the core of Carlile. She recounts how a book report about Ryan White, the teenager who became an AIDS activist prior to his death from the disease in 1990, set her on the path to making a difference, and also introduced her to Elton John, a friend of White’s.
“The first political thing I ever did was to disagree with my father and begin to grow up at a young age because of my education and my access to books,” says Carlile. “I knew growing up and going through my life that if I ever got a chance…that I would be an activist musician.”