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January 31, 2008.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
was in a time when nobody but nobody was gay not even gay people.
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."
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.
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.'"
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."
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."
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.
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).
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."
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
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
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.
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
"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.
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.
the challenges of being a songwriter, she says, "Every time you sit down
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."
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.
recently, she hosted episodes of the PBS series, The Life, which
focuses on the world of gays and lesbians.
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.
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.
[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."
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