Close To The Bone
We’ve been best friends since we were kids
Since the days of dirty high tops and blacktop jungle gyms
Tell me, how has it come down to this
Are you somewhere lying low, or do you just not give a shit?
At the funeral I said “anything you need”
I’m sure I’ve let you down more than a time or two in between
Are you still “living in blasphemy?”
In your “linoleum exile,” do you ever think of me?
Do you remember me?
How long has it been now since you’ve been going it alone?
The staying and the leaving, the living close to the bone
How long have you been watching your rearview mirror for the dawn
Would you be here now, even if you’d never gone?
We used to tell stories and bend the light
You’d say “A man’s past + his present = his place in life”
But you and I, we never did fight
Well, maybe a time or time or two; but, still something don’t feel right.
This don’t feel right.
Taking your turn on the merry-go-round
You’d say, “In a circle, nothing’s lost, only waiting to be found”
But that was all so long ago now
Maybe all that’s gone before is finally coming around.
It’s coming around…
I began “Close To The Bone” very shortly after finishing “Lately.” It picks up right where the closing lines of that song leave off and serves as a kind of second act to a trio of tunes which resolves with “French New Year.”
I remember jotting down the title phrase after hearing it during an interview with screenwriter Anthony Tambakis on The Bryan Callen Show—a comedy podcast, of all places. I was dismayed to learn it was already the name of a Tom Tom Club album from 1983, but I proceeded to write my song anyway.
Using the title as a central metaphor, I began trying to work through the sadness, confusion and vulnerability I felt when I thought I might be losing my best friend of 25 years. In an effort to get out my own head, I was trying to think of what he might be going through at the time—a novel idea for someone as self-involved as I can be.
Ultimately, the song is still filtered through my own feelings. However, at least trying to put myself in his position lent me a little perspective. I considered how difficult the challenges of his life are and have been, and I questioned how good a friend to him I’d really been all these years.
The resulting lyrics were pretty raw and cathartic.
Musically, the song hinged on a riff played in Am. This one flourish gave me a sort of self-granted “permission” to pursue the well-worn “Watchtower” progression of the chorus.
As you can see in the 1-29-2013 video playlist directly below, I had initially thought the “Close To The Bone” part would be the bridge.
In the second and third clips, there’s a less ballad-y approach explored than the song ended up having. Watching this now, it makes me wonder what would have come of that sort of direction.
The reason I elected to publish these blogs on Sunday afternoons is because much of the work on these songs took place during that window of time. Weekends were a common time for me to set aside an hour or two to sort through the ideas that had been percolating throughout the week. So far, it’s also been the time during which I finish writing these reflections.
Over the course of the four clips in the 3-2-2013 playlist you’ll see the chord sequence crystalize into what the song ultimately became and hear a handful of different lyrics than appear in the album version posted above.
A note on the extensive use of videos here: I would capture video while trying out ideas on the fly so I could go back and make note of not only the lyric and melody choices, but also the chord formations. During these early writing sessions, I never would have guessed I’d be sharing the clips with anyone. Later, they became useful tools in sharing the songs with Brian in Ohio as he worked up arrangements for the recordings.
Often times, I’d be peeking at lyrics typed on the same computer screen as was capturing the demo, which can see happening a bit in the video below, which features a nearly finished set of chords and lyrics.
About a year later, when Brian and I were working on recording the song, the one thing I knew I wanted him to try was a low, mournful electric guitar similar to the one in Joe Pug’s “Hymn #76.” He nailed not only that, but also a very subtle tension created by mixing distant-sounding ebow guitar with pedal steel by Larry Griffin. Only he knows which sound is coming from which of those two instruments at a given time.
Here's what Brian had to say about recording "Close To The Bone":
PRODUCER'S NOTE: This is a classic David Ullman extended power ballad. It shows again why he makes music. Very poignant and direct lyrics tell a story of a distant, stretched friendship. This song, demo-wise, started the same way as it ended up.
PRODUCER'S NOTE (continued): My fondest memory of recording this song would be traveling with my brother to meet up with Tara the cellist, on Christmas eve! Squeezed between her other concerts and life schedule, she quickly came up with beautiful, haunting melodies that really elevated the song to where we always hoped it could go. She’s a true professional. Second best, was tuning my Gretsch-style Epiphone down to C to get a really cool “cowboy” tone.