A great song crystallizes the time and place where it’s first heard, embedding itself into one’s DNA, permanently placed onto the soundtrack of one’s life. As a young child during the summer of 1969, I was captivated by a magical song that featured ethereal guitar playing, angelic vocals, and a timeless message that has lost none of its original resonance nearly 50 years later. Written by Chet Powers aka Dino Valente, the interpretation of “Get Together” recorded by Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods is the universally definitive version, one that has retained every ounce of beauty, elegance, grace and hope for humanity since its release a half-century ago.
With a career spanning six decades and nearly 20 albums, the outspoken artist is returning to the concert stage, armed with powerful new material and backed by a seven-strong band of young musical wunderkinder, led by his son Tristan. Dreamers is the new album. Recorded earlier this year, it features topical songs whose mission it is to awaken and inspire listeners to rise to the challenges that face our society during these deeply troubling times. Young and his band will be performing at the Boulton Center in Bay Shore on Thursday, Oct. 4. In our recent conversation, Young proved that he is back with a vengeance after an eight-year retirement, eager to share these new songs while celebrating the old, ready to take on the status quo and encourage everybody to get together, right now.
Q: I understand you’ll be introducing songs from your latest album Dreamers that’s in the works.
JCY: It’s not in the works, it’s done. The work is in getting BMG to release it. I wanted a couple of things to come out (first) because there’s some political music on here. I really hate to call it political but that’s the way it is. I don’t think I’ve found a better word for it yet. If I call it “human condition music” everybody will just go blank. So, “Shape Shifters” will come out and that will be our first single on Oct. 12. In late October, a song called “For My Sisters” (will be released). Just let me quote you a little bit of this. After I’d written 13 songs, I thought I was done. My wife and I live in Hawaii in our little house over there that we raised our kids in. She came up to my writing room and I said, “Wow, I’m done!” And she said, “I wish you would write a song for my sisters just to let them know that you’re here and that you support them.” She meant all of her sisters in the world. So I did. As we go into the chorus, the lyrics are:
And though the darkness surrounds us
We feel the love that has bound us
And we won’t take it anymore
You can’t take it anymore
Time to even up the score
Don’t mistake it
And I left out “you sons of bitches” …
After I say
This is a song for my sisters
This is a song for resistors
Everything we hold dear
A world where everyone’s welcome
And all our voices are heard
And though the darkness surrounds us
We feel the love that has bound us.
That’s exactly what I felt. It’s funny: Two days before that, I had watched a film of the Women’s March; the one that came right after Trump took office. In the body language of the women and men who were in that march, I got (the message) clear, right across my brain. It said, “We won’t take it anymore.”
Q: On your website, you make the statement that you feel “compelled to speak about these times.” I applaud you mightily, because in my opinion, I don’t see enough artists that are actually taking a stand.
JCY: It’s kind of weird. I was retired. My son graduated from the Berklee College of Music in 2016 and we went to his senior recital, my wife Connie and I. The band that he had put together to play some fusion were all in their early 20s and they just blew me away. That light had gone out in me. I hadn’t toured in eight years, I think, but it just came back on. I said, “You know, before I hang it up, I’m gonna play my music with some kids like this.” They are amazing, and that’s who I’m bringing with me. There’s seven of them and me; they’re all in their 20s and they’re all young geniuses.
Q: Let’s talk about “Shape Shifters,” the first single from the new album.
JCY: As far as I’m concerned, there are no “alternative facts.” [laughs] There is the truth and the facts, and then there’s half-truths and half-lies, and all this other stuff. I just realized the other day when I saw a clip of Nikki Haley—you remember how they laughed at Trump at the U.N., when he was saying that he had the greatest administration since George Washington or something, and there was chuckling going on. And there was Nikki Haley on Fox and Friends saying, “They were laughing with him. They love him because he’s so human and available.” It’s Disneyland! They’ve created another world! How confusing that must be to young people. I mean, what are the facts? They turned that right around to the opposite of what I’m assuming it was, and they’re presenting that as the truth. They’re shape shifters; that’s what I call them, and that’s what the first song we’re releasing is about, and it’s important that it comes out before the election. It’s just crying out, it’s saying for God’s sake, get off your ass and get out there and vote!
Q: As a songwriter, how have you reconciled your relationship with “Get Together” as its popularizer as opposed to being the author of so many other songs?
JCY: I’m kind of glad I didn’t write it! I would be more like Trump. I would think I was the best thing since white bread if I wrote that song. [chuckles] The lyrics are so incredibly angelic. So, when I discovered it, I thought I was kind of a tough guy; at least I was an arrogant, angry young man—I was happy to be an angry young man, and my manager said, “What are you singing that song for? That’s not up your alley.” He was destined to leave … [laughs] It was right up my alley. I knew that it was my path forward; it has always been out there in front of me. It’s like a great eagle, a great message from heaven that flaps its wings and reminds me, “Come on, man. You’re not quite making it here.” And it’s what called me to come back. We had our second rehearsal with this band, which my son Tristan helped me put together; these are all his friends from Berklee. Our second rehearsal was after Election Day, which was a terrible day for me and a terrible day for them. Three of them are here by the grace of the United States government on artist’s visas. I thought, “What’s gonna happen?”And of course, we just went straight forward. But I don’t want to skirt around your question. Nothing that I’ve written has been as accepted as “Get Together,” even “Darkness, Darkness”, and that’s okay. Maybe some of this (new music) … is some of the best writing I’ve ever done.
For the complete conversation, please visit Island Zone Update.
Jesse Colin Young will be appearing on Oct. 4 at @ the YMCA Boulton Center for the Performing Arts, 37 W. Main St. Bay Shore. For more information, visit www.boultoncenter.org or call 631-969-1101.