Lesley Gore is in town this weekend, singing at Brava Theater Center. I recently had the chance to call the ‘60s teen queen who is forever linked to classic pop hits such as “It’s My Party” and the proto-feminist “You Don’t Own Me.” Today, the richness of Gore’s voice is a bit duskier, as evidenced by the new CD Ever Since. Whether reminiscing about a certain mega-producer or discussing fictional movie imitations of herself, this lesbian icon – a heroine to queer zine-maker and artist G.B. Jones, amongst others – is refreshingly honest.
Bay Guardian: Can you tell me a bit about meeting and working with Quincy Jones?
Lesley Gore: It’s extraordinary that a man of his distinction – even at that point in his career he was well accomplished – could put himself in the shoes of a 16-year-old kid. That is his art in a way, knowing how to make people comfortable and get the best from them. There may have been a 14-year difference between us, but he never talked down to me.
Quincy not only thought it was important to do well in the studio, he thought it was important to perform well onstage. He’d often call me on a Friday and say, “Lil’ Bits, meet me at Basin Street [in New York] at 8.” We’d go see Peggy or Ella or Dinah Washington. He’d say, “Listen to this opening number – this is what an opening number should do.” He took mentoring seriously. He wanted me to understand.
The bar was set high for me. I worked with some great producers, such as Quincy and Bob Crewe [the astrology-obsessed mastermind behind the Four Seasons, Music to Watch Girls By, Disco Tex and His Sex-o-Lettes, and Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade”].
BG: One little-known Quincy production that I love is The Amazing Timi Yuro.
LG: Timi Yuro was on the very first tour I did in England — Timi and Trini Lopez and Brooke Benton and Dion [DiMucci] without the Belmonts. I fell madly in love with “What’s a Matter Baby.”
BG: Joan Jett and others have covered “You Don’t Own Me.” Are there any particular versions you enjoy?
LG: I rather liked Joan’s interpretation. Dusty [Springfield] covered that record almost minutes after it came out.
We could put a song in the key of G and it would be comfortable, but if Quincy didn’t see the veins popping in my neck he wouldn’t be happy. He’d raise it to the key of A so I’d sound younger. That’s why my [early] recordings are so poppy and bop-y.
This [new] album [Ever Since] is letting my voice do what it does without forcing into a range where I have to bleat all the time. That’s how the combination of old and new can make wonderful sense.
BG: Did you feel a kinship with or especially admire any other singers from the era of your biggest hits? I’m a Dusty Springfield fan.
LG: Who wouldn’t be? I did actually come to know Dusty when I was living in LA during the ‘70s. She did a song of mine called “Love Me By Name.” But she didn’t just do a song – she annihilated it. She invited me to the [recording] session; Joe Sample was the piano player.
They are doing a musical [Dusty] of Dusty’s life. Vicki Wickham, who was Dusty’s manager, is a dear friend of mine, and they consulted her.
BG: A favorite song of mine by you from that era that hints at what you do now is “What Am I Gonna Do With You.” Would you agree with that?
LG: Isn’t that a great song? That was co-written by Russ Titelman, who worked with [Eric] Clapton. When I get to expand my show, songs like that, and “All of My Life,” and “The Old Crowd” – which was written for me by Carole King and Gerry Goffin – are the songs that I’m looking at including within it.
We’ve stripped the songs in the show down to rhythm section and voice, and it’s clear what holds up and what doesn’t. It’s fascinating. “Judy’s Turn to Cry” has completely erupted for me as a new song after taking out those strings and horns and bop-y things. Without horns, “Maybe I Know” has a groove. It’s like re-singing them [the older songs] all over again.
BG: How did the writing of “Out Here on My Own” [sung by Irene Cara on the Fame soundtrack] come about?
LG: When my brother [Michael] started working on Fame he asked me for lyric writers. Much to my shame right now, I didn’t consider myself one. I was friendly with Peter Allen, and through that, Dean Pitchford and Michael got together. My brother was living in Manhattan and one afternoon I was up at his apartment and he played me the melody to “Out Here” and described the scene. When he first played it for me I knew what the title was. I was at my friends Carole Hall’s and Leonard Majzlin’s flat — I stayed indoors for 48 hours and knocked out the lyrics and became part of the Fame family. It was a very liberating step. It means a lot to me in that sense.
BG: What did you think of the movie Grace of My Heart, and of the character played by Bridget Fonda [a Gore facsimile]? Did they wholly miss the mark? Did they have the right spirit?
LG: Actually, nothing rang absolutely true in that movie. I think they were trying to exploit my character. The actual history is that I didn’t know I was gay until after college. So whatever they put in the movie was more of a projected scenario than a reality. Certainly, the [Fonda character’s] affair with the PR person is their own storyline.
They asked me to write a song [for the movie], and it wasn’t a completely pleasant experience, to be totally honest. I realized they asked me to do it so they could exploit my name. They sent me a track that had pretty much already been written. I felt the need to doctor it, and the changes made it better. Then they had the lack of decency to pretty much not invite to the [movie’s] opening.
I love musical movies and I’d like to see more of them made. But it took a lot of people’s lives and distorted them. They glued together scenarios — I think the lead [male] character is supposed to be Brian Wilson? Still, I’d rather have a bad version of a movie musical than no movie musical. And I think the idea of pairing different people [in the story] could have been a good one.
BG: Any hints about what you have in store for San Francisco?
LG: I’ll hit the stage with the band that helped me create the new album. You’re gonna get a show we’ve been doing steadily for 4 or 5 months – it’s grown in dimension, and everyone is going to have a great time. I expect they’ll go from laughter to tears as well. People may have to turn their hearing aids up — but that’s what friends are for.
BG: As someone once wrote –
LG: [Laughs] Exactly.