A spiring songwriters would be wise to listen to advice from songwriter Julie Gold. “I tell people to stick to their dreams,” she said in a Ladies’ Home Journal interview, just a few months after her song, “From A Distance,” captured a Grammy for Song of the Year. Gold toiled in near anonymity for a decade before hitting the big time with Bette Midler’s cover of her song. Since then, Gold’s songs have been performed by the likes of Kathy Mattea, Donna Summer, Andrea Marcovicci, Cliff Richard, and Judy Collins. “From A Distance,” her best-known composition, remains one of the most memorable hits of the early 1990s.
Julie Gold was born in Philadelphia on February 3, 1956. One of two children of a Russian-born mother, who worked as a school secretary, and an American-born father, who worked in the Philadelphia police department’s personnel office, Gold seems to have been born to write songs. She made up her first songs when she was four years old and began writing them down when she was 13. It was during her college years at Temple University in Philadelphia that she began performing them at local clubs. Gold graduated from Temple in 1978, then immediately moved to New York to be at the epicenter of the music industry. She landed a job as a barroom piano player after less than a year, but lost it when the management decided to discontinue live music. Over the next few years, Gold moved through a progression of menial day jobs—including stints as a department store vacuum cleaner demonstrator and as a secretary at HBO—to support her nighttime career as a struggling musician.
Throughout these hard times, Gold never gave up her dream of making the big time as a songwriter. She actively sent out demo tapes of her songs to publishers and record companies. Usually there was no response. In spite of the rejections, Gold continued to work at her craft, developing her songwriting skills even in the absence of encouragement from the industry. According to Gold, the turning point in her career came on her 30th birthday, in February of 1986. As she explained to Shana Aborn of Ladies’Home Journal, “Until then, I had been writing on a junky electric keyboard. For my birthday, my parents shipped me the upright piano I had grown up with. The very next day, I wrote ‘From A Distance’on it.”
Writing the music and lyrics to “From A Distance,” the song that changed the course of her life, took all of one hour. The record companies and music publishers still failed to take notice. It was through the intervention of
For the Record…
Born February 3, 1956, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of Ann (a school secretary) and Aaron Gold (a police department employee); Education: Temple University, BA.
Wrote first song in third grade; began performing in folk clubs, c. 1975; moved to New York to launch professional songwriting career, 1978; “From A Distance” recorded by Nanci Griffith, 1987; hit version of “From A Distance” recorded by Bette Midler, 1990; performed and toured with Four Bitchin’ Babes, c. 1992; publishing agreement with Cherry Lane Music, 1993–; released solo CD Dreaming Loud, 1997, rereleased by Gadfly Records, 1998.
Awards: Grammy Award for Song of the Year for “From A Distance,” 1991; New York Music Awards, Rising Star Award; BMI Million-Airs Award, for “From A Distance;” Seven Seals Award, U.S. Department of Defense.
Addresses: Office —Julie Gold Music, 332BleeckerSt., Suite D39, New York, NY 10014; Publishing company —Cherry Lane Music, 10 Midland Ave., Port Chester, NY 10573; Record company —Gadfly Records, P.O. Box 5231, Burlington, VT, 05402.
Gold’s close friend, folk singer Christine Lavin, that “From A Distance” finally saw the light of day. Lavin played a tape of the song for another folk singer friend, Nanci Griffith. Griffith liked it so much that she decided to use it on her album, Lone Star State of Mind, which was released in 1987.
Griffith’s version of “From A Distance” became a hit in Europe, where she enjoyed a strong following. Griffith then invited Gold to tag along on part of her U.S. tour and provide piano accompaniment on the song, including a performance at Carnegie Hall. In spite of these successes, Gold was still not able to support herself through songwriting—receiving royalties from Europe is a slow and grueling process—and by 1989 she was still toiling at her day job as a secretary at HBO. Nearly discouraged, Gold asked her parents to pay her rent for six months so that she could quit HBO and concentrate on music full time. Just as her six month reprieve was about to expire in January of 1990, two events changed the course of her career. First, the foreign royalty checks from Griffith’s version began to arrive. The second was a call from Bette Midler’s musical director saying that Midler wanted to record “From A Distance.”
Midler’s version of “From A Distance” was released in September of 1990, and by mid-December it had risen to number two on the pop charts. The single went platinum—one million copies sold—a few weeks later. On February 20, 1991, Gold found herself on the stage of the Grammy Awards ceremony accepting the honor for “Song of the Year.” Since then, the song has been redone by scores of performers, including James Galway, Jack Jones, and Patti LaBelle. There have even been marching band arrangements of it. Tens of thousandsof copies of the sheet music were purchased, and it was translated into and recorded in, among other languages, German, Spanish, French, Hebrew, and Cantonese. It also became something of an anthem among armed forces personnel serving in the Gulf War.
With the success of “From A Distance,” Gold was finally able to devote herself to music full-time. Griffith recorded another Gold composition, “Heaven,” on her 1991 album Late Night Grande Hotel. In addition, another song of Gold’s, “The Journey”—originally written for, then cut from, the feature film For the Boys —was recorded by singer Lea Salonga and Gold’s “Try Love” was chosen by her former employer, HBO, as betweenmovie music.
Gold also began to cultivate a performing career of her own, touring the East Coast and Midwest. She also appeared on television, often with Griffith, including spots on the Nashville Network’s “American Music Shop” and PBS’s “Austin City Limits.” She became a member of the Lavin-led group Four Bitchin’ Babes, which toured extensively and recorded on the Philo label. In 1993 Gold signed a publishing deal with Cherry Lane Music. The deal made Cherry Lane the international administrator of “From A Distance,” and called for Gold to continue churning out songs on a steady basis. The following year, Gold’s song “Thanks to You” was featured in the Paramount motion picture Andre.
Eventually, Gold came to the realization that the life of a touring musician was not for her. She much preferred to spend her time at the keyboard crafting songs. “I’m not made of the right stuff to go on the road and instantly tour, and I became very comfortable with my role as a songwriter,” she was quoted as saying in Billboard. “That is what I am, and that is what I love.” Gold was not prepared to give up performing altogether, however. She has maintained a steady presence on the Greenwich Village cabaret scene, and received glowing notices for her one-woman show “From A Distance & Other Songs of Hope.”
As the 1990s continued, Gold began to feel the urge to put out an album of her own. In spite of her success as a songwriter, however, she received no encouragement from record companies, which shied away mainly because of her stated distaste for touring. Undaunted, as usual, Gold decided to go it alone. She made her own CD, Dreaming Loud, a collection of 12 songs originally recorded as demos to be sent to record companies and music publishers. The sincerity of Gold’s own versions of her songs captured the attention of Mitch Cantor, president of the Vermont-based indie label Gadfly Records. “Lots of people have had the opportunity to hear Julie’s songs as recorded by others,” Cantor was quoted as saying in Billboard. “But the truth is that she delivers them with an impact that is more powerful than any of the covers I’ve heard.” Gadfly made plans to reissue Dreaming Loud in the spring of 1998, in hopes that the strength of the songs themselves would lead to radio airplay, even without the benefit of a supporting concert tour.
Meanwhile, Gold chooses not to let the ups and downs of a career in the music industry change her. Her success as a songwriter has meant that she could move into a bigger apartment and stop working at other jobs. Aside from that, she continues to do what she had always done; namely, hang out with friends, perform when she feels like it, and, above all, indulge in her main passion: writing songs. “I’m a simple songwriter putting out a simple product,” she told Billboard’s Jim Bessman, “and hoping that some of the public gets it.” Obviously, millions of members of the record-buying public get it.
“From A Distance”
“Thanks to You”
“Good Night, New York”
Dream Loud, Julie Gold, 1997 (reissued by Gadfly Records, 1998).
Billboard, December 1, 1990, p. 30; October 5, 1991, p. 43; November 20, 1993, p. 23; August 27, 1994, p. 18; January 24, 1998.
Fast Forward, Winter 1998, p. 1.
Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1991, p. 20.
New York Times, February 20, 1991, p. C14.
Additional material was provided by Julie Gold and by Gadfly Records.
—Robert R. Jacobson