Shannon Shaw on Lesley Gore: Her Songs Were “Declarations of Independence”

Ed. note: Lesley Gore, one of the first female teen pop stars of the '60s, died Monday of cancer in her native New York. She was 68. The singer was many things to many people — Gore's coming out in her later years led to her championing of LGBT issues; a comeback album, Ever Since, was critically acclaimed in 2005.

Still, perusing the tributes to her online yesterday, a Facebook status from Shannon Shaw, of Shannon and the Clams — one of the Bay Area's best-loved singers, whose retro style owes plenty to the queens of the '60s — jumped out most of all. We asked Shannon to elaborate, and here's what she wrote back.

[jump] I can still see that hideous, spoiled brat from the 1990 film Problem Child, flopping around pathetically in a sunflower costume as Junior (dressed as Satan himself) throws her bounty of massive, perfectly wrapped pastel birthday presents into her swimming pool — all while Lesley Gore's “It's My Party” is playing over the montage. 
A fair and memorable parallel. That insanely sticky, sweet, self-indulgent song has wormed its way into all of our brains whether you heard it in the film, on your own oldies station, or actually grew up with it. The song runs the gamut of intense emotions and although it's overall playful, many of us have had some version of one of those kind of birthdays.

For me, this song and her other hits that frequented KFRC (“Judy's Turn to Cry” and “You Don't Own Me”) were my own anthems. There's more to them than a pretty young girl singing a catchy tune: These songs are tales of boastful revenge, menacing warnings, and bold declarations of independence. Although I grew up in the '80s and '90s, my preference in music has been that of my parents' teen era. Many '50s and '60s pop songs that made into into my world were painful, heart-wrenching tales of heartbreak, but Lesley Gore's voice gave her songs such memorable life, angst, torment, agony, and satisfaction. That voice was rough and smooth, high and low, goosebump-inducing, soft, dreamy, silky, and — best of all — earnest, doggone it!
It's only now that Gore's gone that I realize how big an influence she had on me. I can think back and see myself tiny child self practicing what I thought it was to be an adult by dramatically telling off my teddy bears, wagging my finger in the face of my innocent dogs, making Barbie toss her massive pile of hair over her shoulder, and tip-toe with gusto on long rubber legs away from Ken, all to “You Don't Own Me.” 

And whether you like it or not, I can see you, all of you in your rooms, bopping lazily on the edge of tears, or furiously doing the monkey, or simply swaying back and forth to Lesley Gore — past, present, and future.

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