Entertainment » Music

’Love is Love is Love’ for Grammy-winner Julie Gold

by Kevin Scott Hall
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Jun 22, 2011

It was twenty years ago when Julie Gold won a Grammy for writing Bette Midler's smash hit, "From a Distance." With over four million plays on radio, the song became a modern standard and changed Gold's life.

This spring, Gold released her fourth studio album, "Love is Love is Love," which offers a collection of her new compositions.

Gold, who lives in Greenwich Village with her partner of eight years, Laura Pearson, greeted me with a hug at our first meeting in a park along the Hudson to talk about her new music and the songwriting life.

An idyllic childhood

EDGE: I always assume that an artist who is gay had a miserable childhood, but you’ve said in concert that yours was idyllic. That certainly comes across in "The House on Maple Hill."

Julie Gold: Everything I write it absolutely honest. I think anything that is honest speaks to the masses and most people are veiled. It’s not like I was an out little girl. I was closeted until I was in my 30s but I was unconditionally loved. I think that all living things that are unconditionally loved thrive, whether it’s a plant or a cat or a human. I was in the sunlight of love from the day I was born. Of course I had trials and tribulations growing up - who didn’t? - but I felt safe and valued and loved. Most people have terrible sorrow in their past and they are dealing with it the rest of their lives. Untangling it. I know how lucky I am.

EDGE: So you grew up in Philadelphia. Do you claim dual citizenship?

Julie Gold: Yeah, but I love New York. I’ve been here more than half my life now. I’m 55 and I came here in 1978. I went to high school and college there and my brother is still there and my mother still lives there. But unfortunately the journey home is so painful and is very laden with sorrow and loss, so I don’t enjoy going to Philly right now. I have a million friends there who want me to meet them for a drink after I see my mother but I just want to get back. I go in the morning and I take the 6:50 back and I’m home by 8:15. You know, I’ll see my mother and tell her I had an interview and she’ll ask me about it, but she can’t read it and she won’t remember tomorrow if I tell her today. But she’s the greatest mother that ever lived.

EDGE: You have been so influenced by the journeys of your parents and grandparents.

Julie Gold: My father is American-born but my mother is Russian-born. My mother’s family came here in 1930 with nothing, absolutely nothing. My grandfather was an orthodox rabbi, believe it or not. And he was promised a congregation in Philadelphia by family that had more money, so they financed their passage to America.

Watch this video of Julie Gold performing "Come To Me As A Bird" from her new CD "Love is Love is Love":

Reasons for optimism?

EDGE: You often nod to the past but so many of your songs are about hope. "The New World" really sees reason for optimism.

Julie Gold: Everyone sees my songs the way they want to and it’s not always the way I saw them. I don’t hesitate to tell you that I wrote "The New World" on the day that Obama got the nomination for the Democrats. I said to myself, this is a new world, and as a child of the ’60s I thought it was really going to be a change for the better until I realized how racist America is and that is really what it has brought up. It’s brought up some of America’s best traits and some of America’s worst traits, Obama as President. And the worst trait is racism, period. I don’t care what anybody says, I believe it’s racism. And I’m ashamed.

EDGE: Where does your hope come from?

Julie Gold: Because of the way I was raised, I never believed in the possibility of abject failure. I never ever did. You know what you’re good at. It’s not like I ever entered a beauty contest or the sports arena, but I was encouraged to satisfy my ambitions and my goals were, in my mind, attainable. I believe in hope. Until you become unconscious, if you do, there is always hope. Even for humanity, which I’m finding harder and harder to believe.

EDGE: Likewise there is such joy and generosity in your concerts. Most of us think of you as a songwriter first, but do you think you give yourself enough credit as a performer?

Julie Gold: I know what I have is unique. Sometimes it doesn’t always go the way you want it to, but if everyone is there to experience love and music, we can take a magical journey together. I never saw myself as a singer. I see myself as a sincere presenter of my work. Sometimes it may look as if I’m a good piano player, but I’m not. I’m average at best. If you ever ask me to join your band and jam, I can’t. I don’t know how to jam. I play on the white keys because the black ones are too hard. If I end up doing a gig, I can only play the songs I grew up playing or my own. I can’t play the American Songbook, but I can appreciate it. So what I do is limited, but I think I do it well and I know it’s about love and communication. Fortunately, I have something to say and they let me say it. I love songs and I love songwriting. The fact that three and a half minutes can contain a journey and give someone an experience is a beautiful thing. I can’t think in terms longer than three and a half minutes.

EDGE: Have you ever considered collaborating?

Julie Gold: I tried it a few times in my early days when I had a publishing deal and they tried to get me to collaborate. I had a few that did work. Something with Patti LaBelle. But she brought me the completed song and wanted me to change the verses and such. But it wasn’t a true collaboration. I collaborated with a guy to write the theme for "I’m 4 New York."

EDGE: [Laughing] Were there more words than that? That’s all I can remember!

Julie Gold: There were a million verses, believe it or not! Sometimes they’d play the whole song and they’d want verses about the outer boroughs or Niagara Falls, so we had to write a lot of verses. That jingle lasted for years! That was a fun collaboration.

EDGE: You’ve said that the period of invitations to high-profile parties lasted about three years after the success of "From a Distance." What are the pluses and minuses to that kind of instant success?

Julie Gold: There are no minuses except I didn’t have the clothes for fancy events. The real minuses were later, in realizing "He didn’t love me" or "She didn’t love me" all along. They never read my letters to their record companies. No, it was because I was a high-profile person for a short time and it was a credit to have a Grammy-winning songwriter at their table. And I’m talking the head of BMI and heads of record labels calling to invite me to these big parties - Songwriter Hall of Fame events, the Grammys, the Grammy after-parties! Every music organization had me play at an event or be at an event and for some reason I thought everything had finally fallen into place. I thought I was in. But you know, that door slowly closes and when it closes, it’s a cold, heavy, metal door. I still have the song and the Grammy and, thank God, my good name, but I’m no longer wanted at the head table at these events because it happened twenty years ago. That’s the truth. They want Will.i.am and Kesha and Alicia Keys. I understand that. They want the table to look hot. Incidentally, I’m still invited to everything, but it’s a thousand dollars a ticket! I politely decline.

Those in New York City can catch Julie Gold on Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 8:30 pm for Target Free Thursdays
at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, New York, New York.

A beautiful thing

EDGE: When you have a hit of that magnitude, do you put any pressure on yourself to come up with another one?

Julie Gold: The only reason I felt pressure is because all I’ve ever been is a songwriter. I was a songwriter before "From a Distance" and I’ve been a songwriter ever since. Unbelievably, the light shined on me for a few years. I did sign two publishing deals that lasted me about ten years. They pay you to write songs, but the pressure is on because you’ve got to write a certain amount every year and you might not feel inspired. When I was a paid songwriter, it didn’t seem as God-given. But being a paid songwriter is a beautiful thing, don’t get me wrong. I wish I still was! But the pressure to duplicate "From a Distance" . . . not really. And don’t forget, it had been rejected by some major people in the business and recorded by others before it became a hit for Bette Midler.

EDGE: OK, so I’m going to ask you a crass question but I bet a lot of people are curious about this. How much money can be made from a big hit song?

Julie Gold: Let me put it to you this way. I remember Peter Allen and before he would sing "I Honestly Love You," he’d say, "This is the song that got me my condo." And I would think, "God, if could have that song." Without saying how much it has made, let me say it has been very rewarding and continues to be because it continues to be played and it continues to be recorded. It was all radio play and it came out at the time of the Persian Gulf War and it was a very requested song. Also, I’m not a reckless person. I was very careful and I’m still very careful. I got my condo, I put money in the bank. I don’t travel, I don’t have cars, I don’t have kids. It was a beautiful thing and it continues to be a beautiful thing.

EDGE: What do you think is your best song that was perhaps overlooked?

Julie Gold: I think "Goodnight New York" is the best song I’ve ever written. I wrote "The Journey" for Bette Midler for her film "For the Boys" but she didn’t record it. But for Lea Salonga, it became her signature song. When I was new in New York, "Send in the Clown" was on the radio. Those days are gone. So when you say "overlooked," as for radio play, I don’t know if those days are ever going to come again. I know "Heaven" has a big following and Bette did record it. Spectacular.

EDGE: Do you ever get an idea to write an anthem or protest song about the gay rights movement?

Julie Gold: I think that my songs aren’t exclusive. Anything that I write about love includes the gay population. And in fact if I wrote something that was just for gays, I would be excluding the rest of the world and that’s just not me. I don’t feel any of my songs are at all exclusive from anyone who is gay. How could it be if I wrote it? "Love is Love is Love" is probably most pointedly making that kind of statement.

EDGE: Among your other interests, you are an avid swimmer. How do these other passions round out your life and your art?

Julie Gold: If I don’t smell like chlorine, something is wrong. The truth is, I’m a very simple person. I’ve never had wanderlust. I’ve always been very content with where I am. My days are pretty much the same. I wake up, I water my plants and feed the cats. I meditate and pray. I walk to the gym and swim and work out. I come home, I make a salad. Then I sit at the piano. My evenings vary. We go to the theater, walk to movies. I can see the river from my house. The sun rises on my bed and sets on my piano. What else would I want?

EDGE: What else are you working on?

Julie Gold: Well, I’ll continue to do gigs to promote the CD. I’m also working on a project for Oxford University Press. There’s a program called "Everybody Up" that teaches people around the world to speak English. They use songwriters to help with the curriculum, using a CD to go along with the book. The fact that my mother learned English in America and now I’m teaching English to non-English speaking people around the world is the most beautiful privilege.

EDGE: Final question. In your song "Blink," you sing "I feel so alive in the miracle slide show." Can you tell us what that means to you?

Julie Gold: Believe it or not, that was written on assignment for "The Nanny Diaries," but it wasn’t accepted. When you blink, it’s sort of like a slide show. Every time you open your eyes it’s a different slide of life. That’s how I feel about life.

Those in New York City can catch Julie Gold on Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 8:30 pm for Target Free Thursdays
at the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, New York, New York.

And to learn more about Julie Gold, visit her website.

Watch this video of Julie Gold performing "From a Distance":

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).


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