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I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org).  As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia!  Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton.  I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times.  I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me?  My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored.  Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

CLOSING ARGUMENTS: Lesley Gore

Singer Lesley Gore passed away one year ago today.  This is what I wrote at the time.



In 1963, Lesley Gore seemed an unlikely prospect to become a feminist icon.  After all, the 16-year-old singer was very much of her time, performing a string of irresistible pop hits showing how a lovesick girl's world revolved around the sometimes-capricious whims of a boy:  crying her eyes out when her boyfriend spurns her in "It's My Party," and eagerly welcoming the same faithless lover back into her arms in "Judy's Turn To Cry." This was the height of the girl-group era, and you can't blame something for not being ahead of its time.

Nonetheless, that perception changed in 1964, when Lesley Gore released "You Don't Own Me," pop music's first true feminist anthem.  As a pop song, "You Don't Own Me" is a brilliant, slow-burning ember, and it was surely never intended to be anything more than that.  But it is more than that:  "You Don't Own Me" is a simple, matter-of-fact manifesto, a declaration of independence that was unprecedented in pop music.  There had been breakup songs before, sure, but this wasn't a breakup song; here, for probably the first time in a pop hit, the girl is telling the boy how it's gonna be.  "You want me?  Fine.  I might be interested.  But you don't own me, and I'm not just one of your pretty toys.  These are my terms; take 'em or leave 'em."

It's not like "You Don't Own Me" ushered in a new era of female empowerment, even for the singer herself.  Thematic concerns in some of Gore's subsequent hits included a stoic acceptance of her boy flirting with other girls in "That's The Way Boys Are," and even his serial infidelities in the great "Maybe I Know."  But feminism is best defined as the radical notion that a female is a person, an individual.  Most of us--boy or girl, gay or straight--have experienced love's turbulence at some point, and we've made our choices based on whatever mix of head and heart we think works best.  That's why we dig love songs to begin with.  "You Don't Own Me" stands as a self-assured reminder that we can be more than what others expect us to be; the rest of Lesley Gore's wonderful body of work likewise chronicles the universal ups and downs of romantic endeavor, from the hurt of "You Didn't Look Around," to the longing of "She's A Fool," the jealousy of "Run Bobby Run," the kiss-off of "Off And Running," the new beginning of "Consolation Prize," and the sublime, perfect love of "California Nights."  When I was a kid, Lesley Gore was my favorite singer; I received a copy of her California Nights LP as a birthday gift when I turned seven.  Her reign was brief--I was a fickle little kid--but I never stopped loving her.  Even as she's passed, I'll never stop loving her.  

And Lesley Gore is not in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Lesley Gore has never even been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Cretins.