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PopEntertainment.com > Feature Interviews - Music > Features Interviews F to J > Lesley Gore

 

In memory of Lesley Gore - May 2, 1946-February 16, 2015

 

Lesley Gore

Out There on Her Own

By Ronald Sklar

Lesley Gore was scoring monster hits long before the age of Britney, Lindsay and Jessica. Her signature song, "It's My Party (And I'll Cry If I Want To)" is one for the ages, enduring  longer – and remaining more recognizable and beloved – than any of today's power-popettes' charted tunes, and that includes Hannah Montana (can you name five songs among any of these current chicks?). 

To early sixties' America, Gore was just another typical teenager, a suburban New Jersey native with a big hairdo and a chiffon dress and – well, okay, a string of catchy but unusual-sounding, million-selling records. 

"I had boyfriends, I was scheduled to get married," she recalls today, from her home on New York's Upper East Side. "All of that was part of the agenda at the time. It was natural." 

These days, our pop stars don't follow as vanilla an agenda. Now, every teen queen's dirty panties are flapping on the clothesline for the world to tsk-tsk over. 

In Gore's era, which was essentially 1963-1967, pop stars' behavior very well may have been just as bad – or even worse – but the naοve American public was shielded from any celeb's secret details, from President Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe on down. 

Today, not so much. 

"It sort of distracts from whatever the heck it is they're trying to do," Gore says of the current trend to know our pop stars a little too intimately. "Frankly, if you have problems in your life, and we all do periodically, it's a whole lot easier to take care of it in private than to take care of it in public. My heart goes out to these gals. They are totally exposed and it's really hard to be in that light so long and grow up like a human being." 

Gore should know. She, in fact, had a little intimate detail of her own, one that in its time would have blown away the pale comparison of Lohan in rehab or Brittany's meltdown – Gore was gay. 

This was in a time when nobody but nobody was gay – not even gay people. 

She says, "Part of the problem that I had – as you can probably well imagine – was being out in the public. It was hard to even explore it. I wasn't even left that opportunity. When I talk to some of my gay women friends now who might just be a little bit older than me, they would come in from [Long] Island or New Jersey and they would put on their black Levis and black jackets and run to the bars. I wasn't quite able to do that." 

She was too busy posing for magazine pictures, squeakily, cleanly happy: sipping ice-cream sodas and doing the twist. And headlining on The Ed Sullivan Show. And even playing one of Catwoman's assistants, Pink Pussycat (insert your own joke here) on Batman

"To boot," she adds, "someone at some point sent my parents a typewritten letter telling them I was seen going into a gay bar. I can't tell you for sure who sent the letter. Of course, my parents were very upset and they sat me down and they asked, 'do you think you're gay?' and I said, 'yes, I do.'" 

To be fair, this incident and realization did not occur to her until well after her incredible string of hits had left its imprint on rock and roll history. And the imprint was the size of a big old butch boot. 

Curiously, "It's My Party" was produced by the jazz legend Quincy Jones, who would also eventually produce Michael Jackson's Thriller

"This is a man who had exhaustive talents in the jazz world," she says of Jones. "He had already arranged for Dinah Washington and Count Basie. He was going to steer me down a road that was a little bit more of what he enjoyed as well. We found a roadway that brought Quincy's unique talents to the simplification of a pop song. However he got a performance out of me, he did. Three takes later, we were finished." 

Yet, she had only just begun. She succeeded big-time with "You Don't Own Me," (now adopted as both a gay and feminist anthem and successfully remade by Joan Jett in 1981 It was also covered by The Blow Monkeys on the Dirty Dancing soundtrack in 1987.) As well, "Judy's Turn to Cry" was a rare thing on Billboard charts – a smash sequel to "It's My Party," this time with a happy ending. Other innocent but swinging classics include "Sunshine, Lollipops," "That's the Way Boys Are," "Maybe I Know," and "Off and Running." 

Gore was off and running all right. Sure, there were girl groups competing alongside of her, and even the insane genius of Phil Spector producing some of them, but Gore's selections were more unique; they were just a little bit better than other pop offerings of the time: brassier, smarter, cleaner and clearer. 

She also blazed a quiet trail of strong individuality when she gave it all up – for college. She attended Sarah Lawrence in Bronxville, New York (full-time, at the height of her musical career). 

"It was sort of a given in my house that I would go to college," she said. "Shortly after being introduced to the record business, I wasn't the brightest bulb on the block, but I wasn't stupid either. I could see it was a very fickle business." 

She got that right. Once the fragrant smoke of flower-power and psychedelia billowed its way into the pop charts by the end of that decade, Gore was gone. 

"Had I been a man and the hits stopped coming," she says, "they would have given me an office and a producership. They would have made me a vice-president of the company. That's the truth. In 1967 or 1968, they bid me adieu at the door." 

The door, however, didn't exactly close. Within a few years, heads were turning back to this beloved music of an earlier time, and Gore found herself permanently on tour. 

"The best part of what I do now is getting up in front of an audience and doing my show," she says. "The getting there is what is a horror: the travel to the airport, getting to the gig, the prep time. After 44 years, it doesn't hold too much glamour for me. But the moment that the emcee says, 'the one and only Lesley Gore,' I am so in that moment. It's like an athlete – you've got to be feeling good, and you get around from place to place. It's the ultimate reality.

"Music was meant to be shared. It's great to go into a studio and work with great musicians, and I have that when I bring my band to a theater or a performing arts center somewhere, but it's never complete without the third element, and that's an audience. That element is never a known element. It's always going to be different. The chemistry between me and the band, even though there will be a certain constant, everything else is pretty much up for grabs. It's what happens with the audience that makes it all possible. When I get to these songs, even though I've sung them a million times, I'm enjoying singing them and the audience is enjoying hearing them." 

Ultimately, it's her party, and the party theme is "come as you are."  She remained in the moment as time marched on. In 1980, she co-wrote the Top 20 Irene Cara hit "Out Here on My Own," which was featured in the classic movie Fame and earned an Academy Award nomination. Her brother Michael scored the music for that film. 

She also co-wrote a song for the 1996 film Grace of My Heart, in which Bridget Fonda played a closeted pop star in the early sixties. Hmmm. 

On the challenges of being a songwriter, she says, "Every time you sit down at the piano, you're starting with a blank page, and there is something hopeful about that. It all starts anew. I kind of like that about songs." 

In 2005, her comeback album, Ever Since, was acclaimed by The New York Times, Rolling Stone and Billboard, and its songs were featured in episodes of CSI: Miami and The L Word

Most recently, she hosted episodes of the PBS series, The Life, which focuses on the world of gays and lesbians. 

Of that experience, she says, "I did officially come out, and that would be on The Life. I only hosted a few of them, but I told them that I would be proud to come out, because the show is such a huge help to so many people in the interior of this country. It felt pretty natural by that time. And I also thought, if somebody has a problem with it, well, too bad. 

"I work with kids – I call them kids, but they're in their thirties. They are very cool about gay people. Most of them are heterosexual. Nobody gets stomped on the way they used to. We've seen so little change in other areas, but we've done a fairly good job. We could rest now and say that it's going in the right direction." 

These days, Gore is working on her memoirs and contemplating a live album. She also likes the likes of Jill Sobule and the Juno soundtrack. 

"The [current recording] industry has fallen apart, but the artists never quite do," she says. "Artists will always figure out a way to get their stuff out there. My money is always on the artists."

In memory of Lesley Gore - May 2, 1946-February 16, 2015

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Photo Credits:
#1 Courtesy of Lesley Gore.  
#2 Courtesy of Lesley Gore.  
#3 Courtesy of Lesley Gore.  
#4 Courtesy of Lesley Gore.  

Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 31, 2008.

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Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: January 31, 2008.