Jesse Colin Young laid down the classical guitar and vocals for his first Christmas album in just two or three hours -- virtually live-to-tape. It was the first time he'd done that since his debut album, "Soul of a City Boy," 40 years ago.
He finished the live recording on Jan. 6, 2002 -- the 12th Day of Christmas -- the Day of the Epiphany.
"It definitely was an epiphany," he says. "Now I understand the meaning of that word."
Young, who plays his special acoustic Christmas performance at the Upstage Center on Friday, feels a special passion for these holiday songs. He hadn't sung them since he was a boy, he said, and had to learn to play them on the guitar for the first time.
As he played them, he felt a strong sense of nostalgia.
"I realized they were giving me chicken skin to the max when I played them," he said on the phone from a hotel room in Marin County, Calif., on Wednesday.
The songs are especially meaningful this holiday season because of the attacks on America, he said.
"Because of Sept. 11 these songs were so healing to me," he said. "They made me feel so safe, like I did when I was a child."
After a string of hardships including being expelled from the exclusive all-boys Phillips Andover Academy as a teen for playing guitar, losing the drummer from his band the Youngbloods to a brain tumor in 1980, and having his home above Point Reyes, Calif., burn to the ground with all his belongings in 1995, Young is ready to feel safe again.
His home on a ridge above Kona, Hawaii, where he grows organic coffee with his wife Connie, is a safe haven from the difficult memories of the past. But he hasn't forgotten where he came from.
"After the fire, I thought to myself, 'Hey, I'm supposed to be doing something else,'" he said of the California fire. "'I've been ejected -- rather forcefully.'"
When Young returned to his beautiful California sanctuary two days after the fire, he found an inch of ashes where his 20-year collection of nature photography and the rest of his life had been.
"The fire burned me down to the essentials," he said. "I learned who I am without records ... without an audience or applause ... without STUFF."
Rising from the ashes, Young has come back stronger than ever and with more purpose.
"A year later I started writing again," he said. "That's what saved me. Being able to pour it all out allowed me to move on."
Now, Young is not only solid on his feet, he's also helping others feel better. At last year's Christmas tree lighting in Holualoa, Hawaii, for instance, he and Vito Truglio played to the crowd.
"Those people needed the music," he said. "They NEEDED tidings of comfort and joy."
Another reason he feels listeners need comfort these days is the potential war with Iraq.
"I saw the nation torn in half over the Vietnam War," he said. "So I'm worried about my country. I love this country so dearly."
He figures, as with most wars, the folks who will suffer are the innocent civilians on the battlefield.
"I hope Bush and the Congress will not take us down this dark path. We have run from tyranny throughout our history and now we are in danger of becoming tyrants."
Young hopes he can instill calm and peace with music today as he did with the song "Get Together." That song, first released in 1967, was used in a TV commercial for the National Council of Christians and Jews. Its message was intended to help end racism.
The lyrics of the song go: "Come on people now, smile on your brother... Everybody get together, try to love one another right now."
He hopes he can get that message across with his Christmas tour through Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York and Carson City.
"That's why I'm here," he said. "That's why I'm here."
IF YOU GO
What: Concert By Jesse Colin Young
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: The Upstage Center, 900 Mallory Way
How Much: $27.50
Call: 882-8900 ext. 121