Singing her own tune

Lesley Gore is on her second run of celebrity—from the “It’s My Party” songbird of the ’60s to the out singer-songwriter of 2005’s quietly haunting indie CD Ever Since

BY Michael Giltz

December 19 2005 1:00 AM ET

Apparently, it
was worth the wait. Lesley Gore was a teen sensation,
hitting number 1 with her very first single (the thunderous
“It’s My Party”) and scoring with
other hits like the protofeminist anthem “You
Don’t Own Me.” She’s also been
nominated for an Oscar after cowriting (with her
brother Michael) the classic standard “Out Here on My
Own” for 1980’s Fame.  

But Gore
hadn’t recorded a new album for 30 years. Now she is
out with Ever Since (available exclusively at
her Web site), and the reviews have been ecstatic. The
New York Times calls this collection of intimate
acoustic pop “mature and wistful,” The
Washington Post
says it is “welcome and
enjoyable,” and AllMusic.com deems her CD
“subtle and brilliant.”

Gore’s gay
fans are just as thrilled to see that her being
out—something obvious to those who saw Gore
ably serve as a guest host on the TV series In the
Life
—is now acknowledged by the mainstream media.

One of her
mentors—Bella Abzug—encouraged her to be more
public, and Gore took it to heart, saying yes when the
PBS show approached her. (Another clue? The times she
would open her act in San Francisco by making a play
on an Elton John hit by saying “Don’t let your
son go down on me.”) “When I do
get to parts of the Midwest, people did come up to me and
say, ‘Thanks for doing that
[show],’ ” says the 59-year-old
singer-songwriter. “They just want to be
validated and know that they’re human beings. So
it’s been a nice thing and I’m happy I did
it.” 

Still, while
she’s OK with being public, Gore isn’t ready
to be personal—don’t expect
coming­-out stories or even how she met her
partner, a jewelry designer. Gore is more comfortable
talking about “Better Angels”—a
track from Ever Since—being featured
prominently in the season premiere of CSI:
Miami
. “It was utilized
beautifully,” she beams. But she’s pleased to
acknowledge what she’s been open about with
family and friends since the ’70s.

“We’re talking about this, but I’ve
been with the same partner for 24 years,” says
Gore. “This is just an opportunity for me to kind of
catch up with myself. I’m not campaigning.
I’m a musical person, and that’s what I
want my life to be about.”

When her stardom
was at its highest, even Gore’s Jewishness was
off-limits. She didn’t realize she was gay until she
was ensconced at Sarah Lawrence College, where it was
“easier to be Joan Baez than Lesley
Gore.”

As time passed,
Gore came to believe no label would spend hundreds of
thousands of dollars to get her back into the studio. But
the digital revolution meant that when artist and
Engine Company Records founder Blake Morgan approached
Gore, she knew they could record an album and even
make a few bucks. Of course, it helped that she’d
known Morgan (who produced, arranged, and wrote or
cowrote several of the songs) since he was 9 years
old.

“I
remember when Blake sat at the piano and couldn’t
reach the pedals, which is the problem I still
have,” the petite Gore says with a laugh.

The result is
easily the best album of her career, with new tunes like
the witty “Not the First”
(“You’re not the first to think you’ll
be the last”) sitting comfortably alongside
more mellow tracks and reimaginings of “You
Don’t Own Me” and “Out Here on My
Own.”

Gore could have
been out more prominently in the mid ’90s in
connection with the movie Grace of My Heart,
which included a subplot about a Gore-like teen idol
(played by Bridget Fonda) who was gay. Gore worked on
the character’s song—“My Secret
Love”—until she was comfortable having
her name on it as a cowriter. But she felt wary that
she’d been brought in too late for a real
collaboration, and when she wasn’t even invited to
the premiere, Gore was convinced the filmmakers had used her
primarily for publicity. “It turned into the
opposite of what I would have wanted,” she
says.

So they
don’t own her either. Now Gore is looking forward to
perhaps a live album next year and another album of
originals after that. (She says she’s already
in the midst, or finished, with seven or eight songs.) A
one-woman show à la Elaine Stritch is a long-held
dream, and there might even be a book down the road.
But every day—just as it’s been for most of
her life—the one constant is music.

“When I
wake up in the morning and I go to the piano and
there’s a blank sheet of paper in front of me,
by the end of the day that could be a gold
mine,” says Gore. “You really do need to wake
up and expect that the world is your oyster, because
it very well may be.”

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