When a Song Gets Bigger than the Movie: Walking on a String

‘Walking on a String’ — a collaboration between The National frontman Matt Berninger and solo singer/songwriter Phoebe Bridgers.

This song is featured in the Zach Galifianakis comedy Between Two Ferns: The MovieIt plays during a short scene where Team Two Ferns gathers at a bar.

I have been a fan of The National for quite some time, since my friend turned me onto their third studio album Alligator (2005) back in college. If Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler were born in Ohio, you would get Matt Berninger. Their voices are uncannily similar. But then you add the ethereal beauty of Phoebe Bridgers to the soothing baritone of Berninger and . . . well, I’m sorry; I love Zach Galifianakis but this song is just so much bigger than the movie. It pretty much eclipses the movie by some measure, and to be clear I don’t mean that in the sense it became more popular but rather in terms of emotive power. But I prefer to think of it this way; I would have never heard this song if I never watched Between Two Ferns: The Movie.

Berninger: “[Zach] had an important scene in a honky-tonk bar in middle America and needed a band and a song and said I could do whatever I wanted. My wife Carin and I wrote the lyrics really quickly and I called Tony Berg to produce. I didn’t realize he was in the studio [with Phoebe] at the time but she graciously let me crash her sessions and that’s when we had the idea to turn it into a duet.”


Walking on a String (lyrics by Matt Berninger and Carin Besser)

The things you said are hanging in the middle of my mind tonight
I can’t turn them off
I try to worry for your soul but I forget to
All the time
I’m in a twisted web and I can’t pull my
Head from it

I think about you walking on a string
It always brings me back here
Into the garden
By the hand
You’ve always had me
Walking on a string

I knew that I was dead before you touched my lonesome skin
You’re never running out of ways to warm your way back in
I hang my head and feel the oxygen drain
I think about you walking on a string
And it always brings me back here

Into the garden by the hand
Anyone who knows what love is will understand
You’ve always had me
Walking on a string

In a web, I can’t escape it
You’ll always warm your way back in
To my lonesome soul and take it
You’ve always had me walking on a string

In a web
I can’t escape it
You’ll always warm your way back in
To my lonesome soul and take it
You’ve always had me walking on a string

12 thoughts on “When a Song Gets Bigger than the Movie: Walking on a String

    • Great to hear! Yeah Alligator and their previous album (Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers) is really mellow, low-key indie rock. If I may suggest you check out a few songs from their more upbeat, mainstream album High Violet: take a listen to ‘Afraid of Everyone’ and ‘England.’ Two of my favorites.

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  1. Pingback: Month in Review: December ’19 | Thomas J

  2. I’ve never heard of this movie dude, but goddamn this is brilliant. Something about it reminds me of recent Nick Cave albums.

    God when their voices combine…. its goddamn beautiful.

    Thanks for this mate, I’m off to check out more songs and probs grab an album. If you have a favourite one, let me know eh! =]

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    • The song features but only briefly. And the movie it’s in is definitely minor; it’s a silly thing that’s basically an extended version of Galifianakis’ Between Two Ferns web series, YouTube ’em if you’re curious/like his brand of insult humor. 🙂

      The song, however, is — yes — beautiful! I’ve been a big fan of Berninger and The National for years, his baritone voice is pretty amazing. And like you said, combined with Phoebe Bridgers — oh man. It’s a great bit of footage I just felt compelled to share.

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        • My absolute favorite is their 2010 album High Violet. It’s probably their most mainstream, pop-y stuff but dammit if I don’t love that album beginning to end. I would recommend starting with Alligator. It’s the first album that really got them attention. It’s their third overall, I am not as familiar with their most recent two records though, I’ve fallen off listening to them in the last 3-5 years. Shame on me.

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  3. I’ve never heard of this movie dude, but goddamn this is brilliant. Something about it reminds me of recent Nick Cave albums.

    God when their voices combine…. its goddamn beautiful.

    Thanks mate, I’m off to check out more songs and probs grab an album. If you have a favourite let me know eh! =]

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  4. Ummm…my favorite band of all time! Great stuff, Tom! They kept playing a new version of “Terrible Love” on the The Goldfinch trailer, but that movie got such bad reviews, I didn’t see it (even with The National being applied). Love this band and love this blog. My wife immediately pointed out Matt Berninger in “Ferns.” I was proud of her. That dude is amazing.

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    • I hadn’t noticed the use of that song for trailers for The Goldfinch haha that’s funny. Terrible Love’s a great one. I love that album perhaps more than the others — yeah it’s more “mainstream” than the likes of Alligator and Boxer, and I haven’t even listened to anything from their most recent album. I need to get back into them again, they really are a great American band.

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      • Not a huge fan of their latest, but I admire their ambition to keep pushing the envelope on their sound. I just can’t choose a fave, but I guess it would have to be High Violet (or Boxer, haha). Great research on this song/movie!

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