The Indigo Girls, Emily Saliers and Amy Ray, each write individually, although they have performed together since they were teenagers. Closer To Fine, their biggest early hit, was written by Saliers.
In an interview with the website Songfacts.com, she spoke about the song:
It is based on real experiences. I mean, all of my songs, they’re a combination of real experiences and what I observe through other peoples’ behavior and experience. So that song… I was with my family in Vermont, and we were sitting in this, like, rustic cabin, and I was sitting on a front porch and looking out into the trees, which, you know, whenever you’re such a bucolic setting, it can make you feel very philosophical. So that’s how I was feeling. And that song is about not beating yourself up too hard to get your answer from one place. There’s no panacea, that in order to be balanced or feel closer to fine it’s okay to draw from this or to draw from that, to draw from a bunch of different sources. So it’s about being confused but looking for the answers, and in the end knowing that you’re going to be fine. No seeking just one definitive answer.
I remember in high school one of my teachers had a poster of Rasputin on his door. You know, and his pictures just looked so bizarre to me, and always struck me. And I sort of put those images together, and it was sort of a poke at academia and the way it can sometimes be removed from reality. So I was saying I don’t think this professor has the right to judge me in terms of real life, when we’re caught up in this insular, sort of strange academic world. So that was sort of a comment about that.
Amy and I used to be a bar band, and we would play ’til 3 a.m. like every night. So practically… for 13 nights in a row. Three sets, finishing at 3 a.m., so I had some early experiences at bars at 3 a.m., certainly.
The Indigo Girls were nominated for a best new artist Grammy following the release of their self-titled, second album which contained “Closer to Fine.” They lost that Grammy to… guesses? Milli Vanilli. Harsh.
Their recording of the song featured members of the Irish band Hothouse Flowers (on mandolin, tin whistle, bodhran and backing vocals). You might remember Hothouse Flowers’ song “Don’t Go”:
The song also featured backing vocals from Luka Bloom (Christy Moore’s younger brother), a great songwriter and performer in his own right.
The Girls must have been in some sort of Irish phase.
I learned how to play guitar around the time “Closer To Fine” came out and it was one of those songs that people passed along because the chords are just a little bit different from standard but if you master them, you sound just like the record. (Or so we told ourselves.)
In particular, this was a moment when the C9 chord was huge. Learn this chord and it seemed like you could play a whole bunch of songs.
Just on acoustic guitar, you hear C9 on “Closer To Fine” (1989) and Guns n Roses’ “Patience” (1989) and the same chord shape is used in Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat” (1987) and Oasis’ “Wonderwall” (1995).
On electric, you can hear it on “Welcome to the Jungle” (1987) (Izzy Stradlin’ must like this chord) and the GoGos’ “Head Over Heels (1984).
Once you master that C9 — and figure out the strumming pattern — “Closer To Fine” sounds great. There aren’t too many oddball covers of the song, but here’s a small selection of other versions:
“Closer To Fine” with male voices, from two guys from Sister Hazel
A punk version:
The Indigo Girls play “Closer To Fine” at every concert (fans might not go home until they do). They claim they are not tired of doing the song, in part because they invite their opening act, audience members or other guests to sing along so it’s always a little different.
So here’s… sigh… a version with ADA Claire Kincaid — I mean, actress (and former Toronto busker) Jill Hennesy:
For some reason Jill keeps giving the satan salute. Not sure if I like her more or less because of it.