Chances are good that, if you have a mental picture of Lesley Gore, it looks like one of these readily accessible YouTube files. First there's the frugging Tenafly, N.J., teen smiling for the cameras despite news that Judy and Johnny have hooked up at her birthday party. (And she'll cry if she wants to.) Then there's happy-go-lucky Lesley singing "Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows" to a busload of snowbound, fresh-faced teens in the 1965 American International Picture Ski Party (the one with a young James Brown in it).
And then there's one of her most-viewed YouTube clips, a riveting black-and-white image of Gore performing her pioneering feminist anthem "You Don't Own Me" live, the file gray and flickering as if it were uploaded to the Internet directly from the ghostly abyss of the 1960s. You can watch Gore alternate between bratty dismissal during the song's verses and total exhilaration on its choruses, thrilled at being young, free and able to navigate a torturous key change while telling off her possessive boyfriend in the process.
And that's the Lesley Gore who's on the phone, talking about her critically acclaimed 2005 album, Ever Since, and her resurgent career as a singer-songwriter and regular live performer. She's no-nonsense, with no illusions about the industry she grew up in, and out of, with plenty of spark for the Internet age.
"I chose to go with an independent label," she says about releasing Ever Since, "because no one was really interested in a 60-year-old pop singer. There really are no record companies anymore, not that they ever did what they were supposed to do, anyway."
"You Don't Own Me" resurfaces on the album in an ethereal, acoustic jazz setting, with Gore sounding almost like a down-tempo Rosemary Clooney interpreting Cat Power. But there are also new originals that you might have heard recently on television.
"It's sort of the only way to get material out there, getting it licensed for a TV show," she says. "We've been fortunate in that respect. 'Better Angels' (the 2005 album's single) was on CSI: Miami, and 'Words We Don't Say' was on The L Word. A lot of people heard it that way, and purchased it online. Today, you have to be an Internet person and find new ways to market your things. It's the antithesis of the industry in the 1960s."
Lesley Gore, Internet person?
But she has a point. "Back in the 1960s, everything was pretty much single-driven. So, I guess we're looking at singles again. At 99 cents a pop, no one has to buy an album anymore." She also recognizes the convenience of downloadable music. "It's all right. A lot of people can make a lot of money selling music this way, so that's good for artists. But I'm still in love with that big album cover. When I had a new record album in my hand, I felt like a million bucks. And I pored over the liner notes as much as the records."
Gore's current show is a happy medium of reinvented greatest hits and even the occasional oddball cover it's rumored she does a mean version of AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap." And she's happy to be writing, recording, performing and promoting herself the way she is, rather than having to glom onto an oldies revue at some local summer festival.
"I've been busier in the last year and a half than the last 10 years," she says. "I had a number of agents before who pretty much concentrated on the nostalgia market. But what's happened over the last decade is that there've been so many oldies shows that have been kind of slapped together with spit and a promise, and people have gotten tired of that format. So I went with an agent that's more of a singer-songwriter representative, and suddenly I have a whole new audience among the performing art centers."
And that audience is ready for Ever Since, her hits and pretty much anything else Lesley Gore wants to do for the 75- to 90-minute show. It's been 42 years since her first smash singles, and quite a bit has changed. But they know one thing that's still true: Nobody owns Lesley Gore.
Sunday, March 18, at the Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor; 734-761-1451.
Serene Dominic is a freelance writer. Send comments to email@example.com