‘Gilmore Girls’ at 20: How its theme song was a full-circle moment for Carole King and daughter Louise Goffin

Lyndsey Parker
·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·10 mins read
Carole King and daughter Louise Goffin at the 2014 MusiCares Person of the Year gala honoring Carole King in Los Angeles. (Photo: Getty Images)
Carole King and daughter Louise Goffin at the 2014 MusiCares Person of the Year gala honoring Carole King in Los Angeles. (Photo: Getty Images)

Nearly 50 years ago, the track “Where You Lead” almost didn’t make it onto Carole King’s 25-million-selling breakthrough album, Tapestry. King’s daughter with legendary songsmith Gerry Goffin, musician Louise Goffin, tells Yahoo Entertainment, “My mom's producer [Lou Adler] said it was the one song that was considered to maybe not be put on the album, because it was more pop and didn't really fit in quite as much with the other singer-songwriter-type things. But they decided to put it on, and found a place in the sequence for it.” Still, King was “never really comfortable” with its co-dependent lyrics, so she rarely performed it live. Therefore, when King was approached three decades later by Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino to have “Where You Lead” be that TV show’s theme song, King asked if she could update it as a mother/daughter duet.

“The original romantic lyric had a ‘Stand by Your Man’ flavor — you know, ‘I'll go anywhere to follow you.’ She much preferred having that be about her kid. … It almost feels a bit like you wouldn't want to say that about a man, because it kind of lacks the dignity of self-value, whereas with a child, it's this great act of sacrifice that you're willing to make,” Goffin explains.

Goffin recalls when she got the call from her mother about the duet, she’d just had a child with her then-partner, producer Greg Wells: “I remember perfectly where I was. I had this round rug covered in a sheet with my baby in the middle of it, just playing with a ball.” Goffin and King eventually recorded the remake, with Wells producing, at Goffin’s former bachelorette pad — a one-bedroom Laurel Canyon apartment that she had converted into a recording studio. “The control room was in the bedroom, the vocal booth was in the laundry room. The day of the recording, my mom and I were in the laundry room doing it,” Goffin chuckles. “I like the fact that it was this whole domestic thing. Like, I had a baby here, my mom was coming over, and we were sitting in a laundry room.”

Goffin, who was signed to DreamWorks at the time and was working on a solo album, remembers that King told her that the Gilmore Girls opportunity was “kind of a longshot.” (“Don't get your hopes up,” King warned. “Pilots usually don't go anywhere.”) So, after the “Where You Lead” recording session was finished, Goffin “didn't really do any following up” once the series premiered on Oct. 5, 2000, as she was too focused on her family and career. It took years for her to realize that she’d been part of a massive pop-culture phenomenon.

Louise Goffin and Carole King on 'The Tonight show with Jay Leno, in 2002 (Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)
Louise Goffin and Carole King on 'The Tonight show with Jay Leno, in 2002 (Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

“I was never a TV-watcher. I was really busy raising my son, and also whenever I had any time off when he would sleep, I would work on my own records. I'm a compulsive creator, so things are usually coming out of me, rather than me receiving and consuming other things. Although I do watch more now because of on-demand television, that didn't exist when Gilmore Girls came out, and I was never, ever a person who could drop what I was doing to sit down and watch a show at a scheduled time. So I had no clue whatsoever until about 2014,” Goffin chuckles. “I was making a record, and I had a backing vocalist who in her twenties. She came over and she was like, ‘Dude, you sang on the Gilmore Girls theme? Oh my God, you have no idea how famous that is! Like, that is the most famous thing you've ever done in your whole life! You need to tweet that s*** immediately. Give me your phone, now.’ So, I have since been educated. I now understand. Gilmore Girls is so much more than a TV show. Gilmore Girls is a universe. It’s a world. It's a planet. It's a way of thinking. It's a lifestyle.”

Though it took a while for Goffin to grasp the impact that Gilmore Girls had on a generation of avidly TV-viewing mothers and daughters, she was eventually able to see the parallels between the show’s Lorelei (played by Lauren Graham) and Lorelei’s daughter Rory (Alex Bledel), and her own close but occasionally complicated relationships with both her mother and her two sons.

Gerry Goffin (second left) and Carole King (far right) pose with their daughters Louise Goffin (far left) and Sherry Goffin Kondor in 1988. (Photo: Donna Santisi/Redferns)
Gerry Goffin (second left) and Carole King (far right) pose with their daughters Louise Goffin (far left) and Sherry Goffin Kondor in 1988. (Photo: Donna Santisi/Redferns)

“I spoke to a fan recently who said she felt that the mothers liked the show better than the daughters, because she felt that it was an idealized way that mothers would like their daughters to think of them — but that daughters don't necessarily want their mothers to be that way,” Goffin, now age 60, muses. “It's basically like, no matter like how ‘cool’ I am — and I'm pretty damn cool, like I have young females telling me I'm badass! — with my kids, no matter what I do, it's not quite cool enough. I just can't win in the cool department.

“And of course, I had the most enviable coolest-of-the-cool mom that anyone would ever want, but to me, the last thing I wanted to hear from other people was how cool my mother was. Now that I'm older, I do think I have the coolest mom. I call her often and we talk for a minimum of an hour. And we talk about everything: politics, children, adopting dogs, travel, self-care, and of course, music. We just run the gamut of talking about everything, and she's awesome. And I can say that now that raising boys and girls are really different things. It's easier to embrace ‘cool mom’ if you're a boy, but if you have a cool mom and you're a girl, there's that thing where you've got to reject the same-sex parent to find yourself. Like with Rory, there are times that she really rejects her mother’s advice, because she's got to find herself.”

Goffin recalls that when she first expressed a desire to become a musician and songwriter, King actually warned her against it — motherly advice that, just like the fictional Rory, Goffin readily ignored. “When my mother had that conversation with me, it was a year after Tapestry, so she was about as big as you could be,” Goffin says. “And the conversation really was, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? It's going to be really hard.’ And what I didn't get from the conversation is she was saying, ‘It's going to be hard because you're my daughter.’ I was just hearing, ‘It's going to be hard because it's just hard,’ period.”

But, as Goffin notes, “It was just in my DNA to do it.” Her first public concert, at age 17, was opening for Jackson Browne at Hollywood’s world-famous Troubadour; she released her debut album, Kid Blue, at 19; and the cover art for her most recent solo album, this year’s Two Different Movies, is a sketch that her Laurel Canyon neighbor and family friend, Joni Mitchell, spontaneously doodled for her when Goffin was a little girl. “I wasn't going to change who I was. I already was that person,” Goffin says of her early, seemingly preordained career path. “I was never off that path. It wasn't like I was somebody who had this normal childhood and was waiting till I was 15, 16, 17 to go, ‘Hmm, what do I want to be when I grow up?’ I was already writing songs, already going into the studio. So my mom saying that just had zero impact.”

So Goffin continued, despite the unavoidable comparisons. “As the daughter of a famous parent, I made a decision unconsciously at some point to just be in denial my whole career. I mean, I knew the expectation. The part that I didn't deny was my expectation of myself, of the level of excellence I expected for myself. That was the only thing that really burdened me personally about my parents' success, was that they're really good, so I have to work my ass off to be good. But I never carried the cross of feeling that I had to prove it to other people, like, ‘Oh, what a burden this is, that my parents are so famous!’ I just did not care. People were going to say what they were going to say.”

Goffin has never distanced herself from her family background — she’s currently the creative director of the Goffin & King Foundation, which preserves her parents’ history by providing educational opportunities for rising songwriters and performers, and in 2011 she produced King’s Grammy-nominated seasonal album A Holiday Carole. But Goffin admits that, with only an 18-year age difference between herself and her mother, some friction was unavoidable. “I think our playgrounds would overlap too often, both being musicians,” she says. “It would just be like, ‘Wait a minute, where's my space? Where's my world?’” Therefore, getting to re-record “Where You Lead” with her “cool mom” was definitely an emotional, full-circle moment for Goffin.

Goffin has since embraced the Gilmore legacy. For instance, she made a memorable cameo in the 2016 miniseries reboot Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, as town troubadour Grant Lee Phillips’s rival busker. (“I loved it so much. I loved the way they dressed me up; I wanted to take home all the clothes. … It was like being in a dream!”) That same year, she dueted on the revised "Where You Lead" with King at London’s Hyde Park, an event that marked the first time that King had performed all of Tapestry’s tracks during a single concert. But it was when Goffin sang “Where You Lead” at a Gilmore Girls festival in 2017 that she truly realized how much the new version had established a fan connection all its own.

Louise Goffin in 2016's 'Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. (Photo: Netflix)
Louise Goffin in 2016's 'Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. (Photo: Netflix)

“It was in October, the leaves were about to change, and it all things Gilmore Girls. I performed and people loved it so much,” Goffin marvels. ‘I don't know, it used to be a thing to me, like, if you didn't write the song [you shouldn’t perform it]. But now I feel differently about songs. I realize what people love about songs is what it means to them. They're not at a concert to see Carole King; they're there to see the King of their youth that reminds them of who they used to be. And when you play a song, that means something to people like that. You're giving them that gift. And so, I have enjoyed performing and playing that song for people from that point of view: of how much joy that it brings to them.

“When you write songs, once they leave you, they belong to the world. So, my mom wrote that song a long time ago, but it got changed and used in a different setting, and now it means this whole other thing to people.”

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Portions of the above interview are taken from Louise Goffin’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Full audio of that conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.