Joe Grushecky, who included a humorous song about aging titled “I Still Look Good (for Sixty)” on his last album, 2013’s Somewhere East of Eden, returns to the topic, in a more serious way, on his new More Yesterdays Than Tomorrows. But that’s not what Grushecky initially thought his next album would be about.
“I was in the midst of doing a blues record,” he says. “I had been working on some covers, and writing some songs in that vein. I didn’t have a real particular point of view, and the songs weren’t that strong, lyrically. And my son came to me one day, and he said, ‘How’s that new record of yours coming along?’
“I said, ‘Oh, it’s great. I’m almost done.’ He was like, ‘It sucks. I expect more out of you.’ I said, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘Yeah, these songs suck. You’re not saying anything.’ So then, I immediately started writing the good stuff.”
Grushecky’s son, singer-songwriter-guitarist Johnny Grushecky – who performs in his his father’s Houserockers band as well as co-leading his own band, Milly — ended up co-producing the album, one of the strongest of Joe Grushecky’s long career. It’s both reflective and rocking, with resonant, deeply personal songs about looking inward (“The Voice”), remembering the good times (“One Beautiful Night”), expressing anger over recent political developments (“That’s What Makes Us Great”) and facing mortality (“Don’t Mourn for Me Like That”). It also includes the kind of sweaty working class anthems that could come from any point of Grushecky’s career (“Got to Go to Work Today,” “Blood Sweat and Beers”).
Grushecky, 70 — who will perform solo at the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival, June 23, and with the Houserockers at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, July 14 — says he sees the album as “the whole story of myself, or my friends who are getting to the end of the road, and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and not in a good way. And there were so many losses in music: Tom Petty, and David Bowie, Glenn Frey. One after another. I guess I just got in a reflective state, along with the age thing, and the state that the country’s in … it’s easy to write about stuff that’s affecting all of us. It’s pretty much right out there, in the open.”
The album, he says, is about “a guy getting older, looking around, and appreciating the things he has, but maybe being pissed off that things aren’t better for a lot of people. There’s a lot of loss. The idea that … your time is finite and you don’t have it to piss away, like you used to.
“When I write a record … even if it doesn’t make sense to anyone else, I have a beginning, middle and end. I’m sort of like writing a book or screenplay, in my mind, anyway. Most everything I write, my really good records, I have a train of thought that goes through it, that I can follow.”
The first single, “That’s What Makes Us Great,” was written by Grushecky but performed as a duet with Bruce Springsteen, and is one of the most powerful protest songs to emerge from the Trump Era. It’s partly (though not totally) about immigration, so it’s only become more powerful since being released in April 2017.
The first three verses go:
They come from everywhere
All longing to be free
They come to join us here
From sea to shining sea
And they all have a dream
As people always will
To be safe and warm
In that shining city on the hill
Some wanna slam the door
Instead of opening the gate
Ah, let’s turn this thing around
Before it gets too late
Elsewhere, Grushecky lashes out at the Trump administration as a “a con man and his crooks.”
“I felt the song was something that I had to say, personally,” Grushecky says. “I just went with my gut feeling on it, and then Bruce joined in on it, and after that, it was like a no-brainer, really, that you have to go for it. I told people, I was never a fan of Trump to begin with, but when he mocked that special needs reporter … I’m a guy who’s worked with special needs kids my whole life, and I was really, really offended by that. And I just wanted to let people know how I felt.”
The song, of course, got a lot of publicity when it came out, and generated some outrage — much of which turned out to be fake.
“I was getting — at one point, on the second day — four to five hundred negative tweets an hour,” Grushecky said. “I had enough, so I blocked about 20 or 30 of them, and they all disappeared. So they were all linked.”
He has also received, he says, complaints from “one or two real fans, here and there.”
But, he adds, “I think people, at this point, pretty much know which side of the plate I bat from. They understand what my social stances are. I don’t think anybody who’s been listening to me for years is going to be too surprised by it.”
As part of the Rockland-Bergen Music Festival, Grushecky will perform acoustic sets at German Masonic Park in Tappan, N.Y., June 23 at 6:10 p.m., and at the Turning Point in Piermont, N.Y., June 23 at 8:30 p.m.
He’ll also perform with his band The Houserockers at the Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, July 14 at 8 p.m.; visit wonderbarasburypark.com.
For updates on Grushecky, visit joegrushecky.com.