Sunday, February 1, 2009
“Lesley Gore - Out Here On Her Own”: Audrey Bilger
(As announced yesterday, today’s guest blogger is Audrey Bilger, who conducted the following interview with pop star Lesley Gore. The interview’s great, & be sure to check out the video of Gore performing “You Don’t Own Me.” Thanks so much Audrey—& without further ado: Audrey Bilger & Lesley Gore):
This is an interview I conducted in the summer of 2005, right after the release of Lesley Gore’s most recent album Ever Since. It was originally supposed to appear in Rockrgrl magazine, a venue dedicated to celebrating women in music, but when that amazing publication folded, I put the interview aside. I feel privileged to have been able to talk with Ms. Gore. She was frank and funny, and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to share it here.
In the 1960s, Lesley Gore rose to fame as the good girl’s bad girl with a string of hits, including “It’s My Party,“ “Judy’s Turn To Cry,” and “You Don’t Own Me.” Whether standing up for her right to throw a full-on tantrum or even more defiantly proclaiming her independence, Gore’s songs became anthems for women of all ages. The 1996 film First Wive’s Club paid tribute to the durability of Gore’s brand of girl power when stars Bette Midler, Diane Keaton, and Goldie Hawn sing “You Don’t Own Me” in the final scene.
Gore has spent the last decades touring, writing songs, and as she modestly puts it, “practicing.” Her new album Ever Since is the first she’s recorded since 1976, and it’s unlike anything she’s done before. Released on indie label Engine Company Records, Ever Since contrasts starkly with her slick, Quincy Jones produced chart hits. The mood is intimate, wise, and frequently dark. She recasts “You Don’t Own Me” as a slow torch ballad and renders her own, ripened version of the Academy Award-nominated song “Out Here On My Own,” co-written by Gore and brother Michael and first performed by Irene Cara in the 1980 film Fame.
Unlike many former teen idols, Gore happily performs her early songs on tour and doesn’t seem to resent having to do so. Ever Since will introduce fans to Gore’s serious side. The mood on this record is much less sing-along-with and more been-there-done-that. Either way Gore plays it, we can all relate.
What was it like to have a hit single when you were 16 years old?
It was fascinating, it was exciting, it was adventurous, it was scary, it was a little nerve-wracking. It was all those things, simultaneously usually. A lot of work, a lot of good times, a lot of really wonderful, special memories, and there were a lot of things that also went wrong. Whenever anything happens to you, there are usually good results and not such good results, and I find that’s true of pretty much everything, even a really good relationship. It’s got its ups, its downs, its ins, its outs. It was difficult at 16 becoming so famous and having to learn how to deal with it.
You had a series of hits in pretty quick succession. Were you constantly touring then?
Actually, I was really fortunate because my parents and I both believed in an education, and I didn’t spend a lot of time on the road. I really stayed in school for the most part and only traveled during the holidays like Christmas or summer, and very often I could take off a day or two for a television show like Ed Sullivan or Hullabaloo, but at the time, those shows were being recorded in New York, so I didn’t have to take off too much time. Every now and again I’d come out to L. A. and do a Shindig or one of the local shows there, but there was plenty of exposure then, and I pretty much stayed in school.
When did you start touring heavily?
After I finished college.
When did you start writing songs?
Come the ‘70s by the time I got out of college, I really had no recording career left. I kind of had to start from the beginning again. Mercury had let me go. The English sound was pervasive on American radio. I had to find a way to wake up in the morning and be a musician, so I started writing songs so I could at least be involved in the music industry.
How do you think you’ve evolved as a songwriter?
I think my songwriting has gotten better. I think I’ve only just begun. I think there are a lot of songs in me yet. This album is the first album in a long time I’ve gotten an opportunity to show some of those skills. And I’ve already begun, because it’s been such a good experience, writing some new stuff for the next album.
The songs you wrote on Ever Since are wonderful. I like the humor and wisdom of “Not The First.” How did you come to write it?
It’s meant to be a little sardonic. It’s an older woman telling a younger woman what it’s really like, it’s about relationships, it’s about life.
Two of the other songs you co-wrote on the record, “Words We Don’t Say” and “We Went So High,” seem very poignant, even melancholy.
“So High” came out of a very specific relationship, and I always think of one human being when I sing that. “Words We Don’t Say” was more of a group effort as you can see. Two of the musicians on the album wrote the song, as well as two of my background singers, so it was less personal, although it was something personal I wanted to say. It’s not as heart-rending as “We Went So High.”
Engine Company Records seems very committed to that kind of collaboration. Do you enjoy that?
Well, they certainly are. They are the model of indie. It was basically them coming to me suggesting that we do an album this way that got me interested in recording this album. I’ve found an incredible collaborator in Blake [Morgan—founder of Engine Company Records]. It’s been an incredible experience, very creative, very inspiring, very invigorating.
You spent most of your early career working with major labels. How does this experience compare to that?
It’s very much more hands-on, very much more collaborative, and it’s very grass roots. It’s exactly the antithesis of everything I’m used to. But it’s kind of wonderful, it’s fun, you see everything as it’s going down, and it’s very exciting to watch it happen.
Did you set out to make a record that would have such a jazz- influenced sound?
We set out to make as honest a record as we could and be as honest to my voice as humanly possible. I think because of so many of the singers I was raised on as a young person, that some of those jazz influences are there, whether I’m conscious of them or not. It comes from a music I loved so much and from so many wonderful female artists that I followed, like Dinah Washington, and Anita O’Day, Julie Christie and Sarah Vaughan. It was Blake who brought those to the forefront.
Did Blake write the songs “Better Angels” and “It’s Gone” for you?
He didn’t write them for me. He presented them to me, and I fell in love with them.
The new version of “You Don’t Own Me” is amazing. You’ve said elsewhere that you treasure this song the most of all your hits.
I do. You know, “It’s My Party” is a wonderful song. It was a really great record, but looking back at it some years later, it’s easy to see how that song is somewhat dated. We talk about “going steady,” which I don’t think kids even know about today. “You Don’t Own Me,” on the other hand is a song that kind of grows every time you sing it. So I feel as though I was really fortunate to have that song in my repertoire because “It’s My Party” is not that serious a song, and “You Don’t Own Me” is a serious song.
It’s a song that’s been taken up by many women as a kind of anthem.
There’s no question that women have taken that song and made it theirs. Of course, the last scene of First Wives Club also said the same thing. Here were these women, who, after you’ve seen this whole movie, what do they do? They belt out “You Don’t Own Me.” It doesn’t necessarily have to be women. It can be men, too. But I think a lot of women have taken it as theirs, which is fine. I’m very proud of that.
Do you feel in other ways that you’ve been a role model for women and particularly for young women?
I hope so. I didn’t consider myself one, but as some of the responses come in and so many people have an opportunity to write you because email is so easy to get today, a lot of young people are telling me that they picked up a bass because they saw me singing on Bandstand, and it’s very nice to hear. I’m very glad if I’ve influenced even one little human.
Do you have any advice for women who are trying to make it as musicians?
I just think that everyone should just continue rocking, especially the girls. We need more rock women. We need more rock women in the record industry. We need more executive women. That’s what I’d like to see. It seems to be happening in the film world, but it’s taking its time in the record industry.
So you haven’t seen much improvement over time for women in the record industry?
I’ve seen virtually no improvement, very little improvement in the record industry, and I find it still the most homophobic of all the industries, as well. It’s unbelievable. It’s 2005, and we’re still fighting some of the same fights I was trying to fight forty years ago.
It’s a tough business.
It is, especially for women. I’m sorry to say that, but we’ve got to make that better.