Gerry Goffin died yesterday, and while I don’t usually join the obit wave that follows musicians’ deaths (it seems like this is becoming a cottage click-generation industry, which seems more than a little problematic from an ethical standpoint), Goffin’s passing has been affecting in ways I wouldn’t have anticipated.
My first (and still primary) window into his songwriting genius was Caroline King’s Tapestry. I found a copy of King’s legendary album at a thrift store just after falling in love with Donny Hathaway’s version of “You’ve Got A Friend.” Goffin didn’t write that one, but he’s all over side two of Tapestry, having contributed to “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”, “Smackwater Jack” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” He and King (his wife, for a little less than a decade) were a powerful songwriting team, to put it mildly, and I’d highly recommend a stroll through Goffin’s Wikipedia page to see all the other hits he helped create.
When I decided to post something today, I tried to find the Tapestry version of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” (the Shirelles originally recorded it, but I just love hearing King sing it) on Soundcloud, but I had a hell of a time sifting through covers and eventually gave up. If you blog about music, you might have experienced this: When using Soundcloud, it’s often impossible to identify original studio recordings without pressing play (you can look at the running time, but even that isn’t terribly reliable, since people often add or remove time to evade the site’s copyright detection bot), so you end up listening to the first few seconds of all these covers people recorded at home with their laptops. It can be maddening, but this time, it struck me as incredibly meaningful.
All those home recordings seemed to be answering the question the song’s title poses. The narrative may be about romantic love, but it’s clear that we still dearly love that song 54 years after it was first released (I saw one cover that was uploaded just 17 hours ago). To a greater or lesser degree, all art strives to outlive its creator. We shout into the darkness, hoping that what comes out will be appreciated and useful, and part of that hope is that those positive effects will extend beyond the people in the room, or the people in your town, or the people in your generation. It’s a light shade of immortality. Songwriters get to experience an especially powerful life after death. Unlike paintings that sit on display, or movies that are rewatched over and over, songs are different each time new people voice them, and a little piece of who Goffin was and what he was able to achieve comes alive for those three or four minutes.
Given the recordings of Goffin/King standards we’ve already seen, and the river of renditions that is clearly still roaring, I think it’s safe to say: Yes. We will still love you tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.
As it happens, today would have been my dad’s 70th birthday. I snagged his copy of Tapestry last time I was in Norfolk, and I’m looking forward to taking it for a spin later this evening. Another light shade of immortality, I’d like to think. You can spin it digitally below and buy it here.
Carole King — “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” [Spotify/iTunes]