Charles Bradley worries about America’s youth. At the age of 65, Bradley has seen his fair share of troubles — homelessness, poverty, years of wandering, dead-end jobs that kept him away from performing — but he has persevered. And in 2011 he released his very first album, No Time for Dreaming. If anyone knows what it means to hold onto their dreams no matter what, it’s Charles Bradley. However, he believes that too many young folks have given up. Instead they’re wandering in a materialistic wasteland of quick fixes and fleeting pleasures.
“It’s not all about running out and jumping in bed with everybody you see, drinking your life away, getting messed up taking these drugs,” he says. “A lot of them are grabbing these guns and going out and trying to kill to get the things they want in life. That’s not the right way.”
Bradley adds, “It’s up to us as leaders, as believers, to help these kids. If we don’t, we’re going to have a lost generation. And that’s why when the kids come up to talk to me [after shows], I listen to what’s on their minds.”
And Bradley knows exactly what the children of today want, what they desperately need. “They are looking for love,” he says.
Fortunately, Bradley knows where to find it. “You’ve got to find God. You’ve got to find the love of yourself inside yourself before you go out to the rest of the world, to show the world what you are,” Bradley says. “That’s what I did. I took hurt and I believed a lot of the things that I heard in the Bible and that my grandmother had taught to me. I kept these things in life inside of me, and that’s what kept me going.”
Like fellow singer Lee Fields, who was in town last week for the Dig South Interactive Festival, Bradley is a soul man in both senses of the word. They both see performing as a spiritual exercise and their singing as a gift bestowed upon them by the good Lord. “I do believe there’s a deeper spiritual motive inside of me that hasn’t been touched and now it’s trying to come out,” Bradley says. “Sometimes the words sneak out of me without my knowledge of it coming out of me.”
And when he steps out on stage to deliver another one of his electrifying performances — he got his start as a James Brown impersonator after all — Bradley sets that spirit free. “I try to give them the depths of my soul. I try to give them the true things that happened to me and put it into music,” Bradley says. He also notes that if you tell your story in anger, the audience won’t hear your message, but if peace and love are your guides, they will listen, and hopefully they will see the love that is around them. “Keep your harmony. Keep your peace. Express yourself.”
These days, Bradley has no difficultly expressing himself. His latest LP, Victim of Love, proves it — from the slow-groove love song “Strictly Reserved” to the Exile-era Stones-meets-James Brown do-wopper “Victim of Love” and the psychedelic supernova of “Confusion,” a good old-fashioned protest song about fear-mongers in the media and Washington, D.C. On it, Bradley sings, “Leaders like to talk that talk/ Too afraid to walk that walk/ Who you gonna trust/ Before the world turns to dust.”
“It’s like 20 things are hitting you at the same time, all of them telling which way to go, what to do, and how to do it, and I’m trying to listen to all of them, and I know that what they are trying to guide me to is confusion,” he says. “I just remain the same.”
Bradley also sings about this sense of dread on another one of Victim‘s best tracks, “Hurricane.” “A hurricane to me is more spiritually motivated,” he says. “Nature and life is trying to say something to all humanity, and we don’t understand what it is saying.”
Given his focus on spiritual matters, it’s no wonder that Bradley’s heart is set on recording a gospel album. “I really want to do gospel, but I want to do gospel as I see it, as I feel it in my heart. I want to bring the truth out of my experience and my love of God and humanity. I want to sing something from my spirit, ” Bradley says.
Sadly far too many performers — in particular those who have something special to offer the rest of us — have given up before the world has heard their songs, before we have seen them do what God created them to do. Thankfully, Charles Bradley isn’t one of them.