“Covers,” Peter Trachtenberg writes in his wonderful, multi-layered essay “Tomorrow and Tomorrow,” “connect us with our past selves, the selves we outgrew and discarded, the selves we abandoned in shame, the selves we betrayed.”
At first, the essay appears to be the origin story of a song, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” which spawned fifty-seven covers. But after this brief history, Trachtenberg reveals the true nature of this investigation. “At issue is what we mean by the original of any song, or at least any pop song, and who can truly be called its creator.” Are the creators Carole King and her husband Gerry Goffin, who wrote the song for the Shirelles, the first group to record it? With each version of the song, the context changes so that it is impossible to hear the lyrics the way the listeners of the original version heard them. Even without changes in instrumentation, each new version of the song becomes its own song, a complicit rearrangement between listener and performer. Songs have power over their listeners, despite (or especially because of) their reiterations.
Rather than slog through fifty-seven more versions of the song, Trachtenberg goes straight to the last one, Amy Winehouse’s stripped down “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” Watching the video, we can’t help but wonder, as Trachtenberg does, how much of our response hinges on the cultural moment in which pre-marital sex no longer carries the same moral weight and consequence it once did, but also on our knowledge of Amy Winehouse herself. And in case you’re unaware of her violent relationship with her “twit of a husband,” Trachtenberg provides links to tabloid photos, so that you too can hear the song the way he does.
The links embedded within the essay provide another layer—visual and aural—to the words on the screen. Trachtenberg uses them well; they are neither disruptive nor distracting. You can click on them or not, but my guess is most readers won’t be able to resist at least some of them.
“Covers,” Trachtenberg writes, “are cantilevered things. . . . Even as we listen to those songs, we’re also hearing their prototypes, or our memories of those prototypes.” In bookending the essay between these two versions of the same song, Trachtenberg is able to cover the sexual revolution, the nature of memory, and the stories we tell ourselves. A song like this can take us backwards and forward in time, as the essay itself does. It’s a personal history that everyone can share because like Trachtenberg, we all remember the first album we bought, the first song we claimed. We remember the first time we heard a particular song, and when we hear it again, ten years, twenty years later, we can’t help but go back to that first time.
In the end, however, to really understand why we chose this one, all you need to do is click the link to Amy Winehouse’s YouTube recording of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” Listen, then read it. Better yet, listen while reading.