God must have been watching singer-songwriter Julie Gold one winter morning of 1985 while sitting down at her childhood piano to write “From a Distance.”
During that time, Gold was working as a secretary for HBO, making both ends meet. But on her 30th birthday, she received a very special gift from her parents back home in Philadelphia that would change her life. The piano she used to play as a child was delivered to her apartment in Greenwich Village.
Unfortunately, it had gotten pretty cold while on route, so she needed to wait a little time for it to adjust to its new surroundings before she could play it. Though she wanted to play it very badly, she resisted the urge and just hugged and polished the piano.
The following day, Gold sat down at that piano and wrote the song “From a Distance” in just about three hours. But Gold likes to say that it took her three hours and thirty years to complete the piece.
“I had some preliminary lyrics,” Gold said. “My songwriting ritual is always scales and arpeggios and chords, but that specific day I remember just feeling so connected to my instrument. And when these majestic chords came out of me, I knew they were going to be something I could use. Usually, if I get one good keystone, then I can build the house.”
When she’s finally done writing the song, she did another ritual on the piano by kissing the keys. “Why? Because I know what it feels like to write a song, and I wonder if I’ll ever be given that opportunity again. So I’m grateful every time,” she said.
Gold immediately went into the studio and recorded a demo. She started pitching the song to everyone she knows; however, no one wanted to record it.
The Song One Day Changed The Life of Julie Gold
Julie Gold’s friend Christine Lavin was the first person to fall in love with “From a Distance.” Lavin then introduced the song to Nanci Griffith, who loved it so much the moment she heard it. Griffith then recorded the song in 1987 for her album, Lone Star State of Mind.
Griffith performed it live on several occasions from that day on.
Gold would recall the very first time she saw Griffith perform it live. While sitting at The Bottom Line, Gold noticed how the audience would sing-along to her song. That’s when the songwriter realized that her life would never be the same.
“Nanci would call me from Belfast,” Gold recalled. “And she would tell me, ‘Julie, you don’t know what I witnessed last night. Catholics and Protestants were crying in the aisles, embracing.’ And I was like, ‘Wow!'”
Since then, the song has been covered several times. Bette Midler‘s version was the most successful one, which turned out to be a big hit in 1990, helping Gold earn a Grammy for Song Of The Year.
“From a distance, we are instruments marching in a common band, playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace. They are the songs of every man. God is watching us. God is watching us. God is watching us from a distance,” the song goes.
You can listen to “From a Distance” in the video below.
Bette Midler, Julie Gold, Nanci Griffith