Interview with Lesley Gore


AE: I wanted to ask you about Grace of My Heart. I’ve read that Bridget Fonda’s closeted lesbian teen character Kelly Porter was based at least partially on you.

LG: Well, I think that’s what they were trying to intimate. Was it true? I don’t know, everyone seemed to be based on somebody and yet the stories weren’t absolutely carved in stone. There was sort of a Carole King character, sort of a Brian Wilson character. So I think that was their intent.

AE: Did you have any input when they were developing that character?

LG: You know, I really didn’t. They called me up to write one of the songs and I felt good that they called me, and then the next thing I knew, I received a song in the mail written by two guys, whose names I can’t even remember, and I was so disappointed that I wasn’t brought in on the ground level.

And basically when I heard the song, I thought it was kind of terrible, so what I wound up doing is what I call doctoring, which is making some changes to make it a little more palatable. There were things that were totally unmelodic, and there were some lyrics that were just horrible, and I wound up making it, to my mind, a little bit better, and then I got a third writer’s credit. And then they had the nerve never even to invite me to the opening when it premiered in New York. So I say fuck them. [Laughs]

So if it was meant to be me, they didn’t handle it very well. There may have been some exploitative motive there &#8212 I won’t second guess it &#8212 but that’s what I suspect.

AE: When you say some of the lyrics were less than palatable in the original song, did they seem homophobic?

LG: Oh, no. They just seemed bad. [Laughs] They weren’t homophobic at all, just bad rhymes and incorrect grammar &#8212 just real pet peeves of mine.

AE: Nothing that you wanted your name associated with?

LG: Not really. Until I put in a few lyrics that meant something to me, then I felt, well, at least I can put my name on it.

AE: I read, I think in Vanity Fair, that the parts you did contribute to that came from genuine anger that you felt at the time. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that.

LG: I don’t actually remember saying that, but I do remember feeling somewhat used by them and somewhat hurt by the whole situation. But I’ve outgrown it. [Laughs]

AE: Oh, I actually thought that wasn’t about the experience of working with them but about what you were feeling in the sixties.

LG: Ah, well, that did come out periodically. You know, “You Don’t Own Me” is a very powerful song: Don’t abuse me, don’t misuse me. It comes from the same place. It’s the “don’t” folder. The interesting thing about “You Don’t Own Me” is that it was written by two men, John Madera and Dave White, and they played me this song on guitar live at a hotel up in the Catskills in 1964 on a Saturday afternoon. And I had these guys come back to New York on Monday and meet with Quincy and me and play him the song and he fell in love with it. So you never know where these things are going to come from, but when I heard that song I knew I had to sing it.

AE: I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about when you were first discovered, because I’ve read probably four different versions of it.

LG: Right. The short story and the truth is that I was taking vocal lessons here in New York with a wonderful vocal coach.

And one day, instead of my lesson, the piano player and I went into a studio right in the building and we put down some demos, just piano/voice. Those demos got to Quincy Jones through an agent by the name of Joe Glaser who was very friendly with Irving Green, who was president of Mercury, and Quincy was working at Mercury and Irving put my demos on his desk. He listened to them, he called me, and we started to record.

AE: When you did the demos were you about 16 years old?

LG: Yeah, I had just turned 16, and I was still 16 when we cut “It’s My Party.” In May of that year I turned 17. 

AE: And what was that like growing up and maturing both musically and personally in the spotlight?

LG: It was very difficult, to be honest with you. You have to take into account that this was a long time ago, and we didn’t have things like answering machines, OK? So when the disc jockey on WINS or WNCA, which was a big station here in New York, would say, “That was Lesley Gore, the sweetie pie from Tenafly,” well, people just came to Tenafly. You know, I’d wake up and there were people camped out on the grass.

Or they’d show up in town and someone would say “Where does Lesley live?” and they’d go, “Oh, up the hill, then you make a left over there and it’s the third house on the right.” And it was the same thing with the telephone. People got on the phone and said, “Give me Gore in Tenafly.”

So we were getting phone calls that we didn’t even understand half the time. So I was really thrown into it, and those things are, how shall I say, double-edged swords. There’s a lot of positive but there’s a lot of negative and you need to find a way to balance it out.

AE: It sounds like you really did not have much privacy.

LG: Well, no, we hardly expected it, to be honest with you. We recorded the record on a Saturday afternoon March 30th and I heard the record for the first time on April 6th. I was driving to school, literally seven days later. You know, that doesn’t happen anymore, so when it started getting played, we weren’t prepared for it. We didn’t even know it had been released.

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