Bette Midler – ”From a Distance” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Brendan Briggs

Brendan is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer. In 2022, he released his first album "Dive" under the name "Arctotherium".

“From a Distance” is about viewing the human race as a united family instead of competitors against each other. The lyrics focus on the insignificance of human conflicts, the beauty of living peacefully with nature, and human brotherhood. In addition, this song specifically calls out war as an unnecessary stain on the world.

Julie Gold is the songwriter behind this track, though not its performer. Interestingly, Gold was not even working as a full-time musician when she came up with the idea for the song. The first artist to record “From a Distance” was Nanci Griffith, who enjoyed significant success with the song in 1987. After this, Bette Midler took the song to an even higher level of recognition in 1990.

In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these poetic lyrics to decipher their intended meaning. We’ll also take a look at the songwriting story and the universal themes that make this track accessible to anyone. Without further ado, let’s get started!

“From a Distance” Lyrics Meaning

The lyrics begin by focusing on nature. Instead of the brutal, competitive elements of nature, it focuses on the serene and peaceful side. By zooming out, we see that the earth looks “blue and green” to a distant observer. Everything is in its place – the eagle “takes to flight,” and the streams flow to the ocean.

In the first chorus, the spirit of nature is portrayed as innocent and kind. “There is harmony” to be seen that “echoes through the land.” Instead of seeing ourselves as separate from this natural order, we should view ourselves as a part of it. “The voice of hope” is also “the voice of every man.”

Verse two argues that, though we cause scarcity and inequality, there is really enough for everyone. “From a distance,” it looks like mother nature has ample supplies for all people. It is humanity, not nature, that brings “guns” and “bombs” into the picture. The lyrics claim that this is unnecessary.

The second chorus emphasizes a feeling of brotherhood between people. In a brilliant metaphor, the lyrics call us “instruments marching in a common band.” We ought to work together, each one doing his part, to produce something greater than the sum of the individuals.

What should we produce? The song’s answer is “songs of peace.” Celebrating life and flourishing, rather than strife, should be the goal.

The song’s refrain adds a spiritual element to the mix. Simply but powerfully, we’re reminded that “God is watching us from a distance.” This is not just meant to cause guilt but is also meant to inspire love. By seeing the good in God’s creation, we’re meant to set aside our anger and hatred.

This section of the track has caused some to label it a “Christian song.” Julie Gold certainly had a religious outlook when writing the song, meaning the label may be somewhat accurate. However, she did emphasize the freedom of everyone to interpret it in their own way.

Verse three attacks war, specifically. It does this by making humanity’s conflicts seem small and unimportant. If an impartial observer looks at human beings, “you look like my friend.” Basically, the lyrics argue that we are all one and the same; it is only our constructions that make us think otherwise. With this in mind, it’s hard to see “what all this war/fighting is for.”

From here on out, the lyrics are repetitive. In summary, “From a Distance” asks us to take a step back, see ourselves as part of a whole, and focus on peace, hope, and love. Who can be against that?

The Story Behind “From a Distance”

Regardless of which version of “From a Distance” you’re most familiar with, you owe most of the credit to Julie Gold. She was the songwriter behind this piece, and there is a very touching story to be told about its origins.

For years prior to the creation of this song, Gold was working various “temp jobs” to pay the rent while pursuing her dreams of songwriting. In 1984, she finally got a full-time job as an HBO secretary. Nonetheless, her free time was dedicated to honing her craft and chasing her “mountaintop.”

In 1985, around the time of her 30th birthday, her parents sent her the piano she “grew up playing.” After a day of waiting (for the sake of the piano, which needed to settle in for a full day before being played), “From a Distance” emerged.

On the morning following her receipt of the piano, Gold sat down and received her inspiration. The song simply “flowed out” over a period of two hours. After sending it out to the various contacts of her friend, Christine Lavin, Gold struck Gold (I couldn’t resist).

The Nanci Griffith version came first, putting the song and Julie Gold herself on the map. Three years later, Bette Midler took the song to an even higher level of notoriety with her cover. Both versions charted well and received commercial and critical success.

The next time you play this sentimental tune, let these pieces of music history make it special!