As Biden wrote in Promise Me, Dad, his 2017 book about his relationship with his son, Beau, who died from a brain tumor in 2015, the former vice president would often accompany his son to his chemotherapy treatments every other Friday. “We would always go out for breakfast afterwards, sometimes just walk the city or go get his hair cut,” Biden writes. “I will forever treasure our time together — the many conversations we had about life. During breakfast, he would often make me listen to what I thought was his theme song, ‘You Get What You Give’ by the New Radicals. Even though Beau never stopped fighting and his will to live was stronger than most — I think he knew that this day might come. The words to the song are: ‘This whole damn world could fall apart/ You’ll be OK, follow your heart.’”
Alexander tells Billboard he didn’t know about the passage in the book — or that the song’s lyrics had been recited at Beau Biden’s funeral — until a friend alerted him.
“It was only after Joe’s book came out and a friend said ‘Ya gotta read this!’ did I come to learn of Joe and his son playing the record together on the last breakfast they’d had as father and son before Beau succumbed to cancer,” Alexander says. “In the music business it’s easy to get hardened to life, but when I read that I kinda started crying in 30 seconds because it sounded like Beau tapped into the song’s true meaning and used it as a fight song to never give up or let go in the face of adversity, [which is] the song’s real message despite the bells and whistles. That’s what the song’s about even more so now than when I wrote it 23 years ago.”
Goldring, who was Alexander’s attorney for 17 years, brought the artist into Democratic circles. “Fred’s the one that dragged me to Oprah [Winfrey]’s house in 2008 to meet Obama, who’d been using New Rads to warm up his crowds. That was a thrill to see Oprah, Babyface and Stevie [Wonder] bopping along to the beat,” he says. Goldring and Alexander also paired up for “Forward,” a song for Obama’s 2012 campaign, featuring Herbie Hancock, Ne-Yo and Johnny Rzeznik.
“When Fred asked me a while ago how I felt about his Coda Campaign making a get-out-the-vote video with ‘You Get What You Give,’ I, of course, said yes,” Alexander continues. “Fred and I are equally passionate about politics and global justice for the disenfranchised.”
For Alexander, the song’s latest usage is just one more chapter in the unpredictable life of “You Get What You Give.” “Lord knows when you write a song, you never know where it’ll go or who’s gonna connect with it, which is also the magic of why it’s an exciting medium despite all life’s distractions on phones or TV or computers,” he says. “But learning that the song’s been embraced by heroes like Obama, Biden and his son, or even artists I looked up to as kid like Joni Mitchell or Bono, is part of the wider mystery of music — how it connects to people from different eras or backgrounds, which inspires us as songwriters to still keep trying to write the best song we can.”