It's your party

baloonsLesley Gore, a 16-year-old high school wonder who lit up the charts in 1963 with “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” passed away this week.

Gore was a more independent force than was widely appreciated at the time, even with the success of her proto-feminist anthem, “You Don’t Own Me." (The NY Times obit called her a teen voice of “defiance.”) Lately I've been struck by the fact that many white-bread singers of that era had more going for them between the ears than I had realized—which became obvious as they got older and bolder.

As an example, I’ve written previously about the cherubic-sounding Singing Nun—Jeanine Deckers—who, while living in a Dominican convent in Belgium, had an international hit, “Dominique,” at the same time that Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” was climbing the US charts. The diminutive sister later became a political activist, feminist, and church critic before committing suicide with her gay lover! Gore, while never as outspoken as Deckers turned out to be, also became a gay feminist.

I don’t want to trot out all the I-Did-It-My-Way clichés, but there is something we can learn from hitsters (hit sisters?) like Gore—and Deckers—who ignored what others expected of them. Even with several hits under her belt—and the great Quincy Jones producing her records—Leslie Gore still called her own shots.

For one thing, she resisted the pressure to play music full-time. After graduating from the Dwight School for Girls in Englewood, NJ (imagine having a Grammy-award-winning #1 hit while attending high school!), she became a full-time college student at Sarah Lawrence at the peak of her career. During that time she limited her gigs to weekends and holidays! (Can you picture Katy Perry only performing Saturdays and Sundays while attending Ole Miss or Miley Cyrus doing the same while attending, say, Oral Roberts?) Despite that, Lesley Gore went on to have a successful career in TV acting, recording, and songwriting, as reported in Rolling Stone.

The lesson here is that business—and the world at large—always needs more leaders, practitioners, technicians, writers, designers, craftsmen, etc. who can think for themselves. We still have too many copycat businesses knocking out copycat products and services. Whether we’re talking insurance or healthcare, construction or retail, entertainment or art, we're still playing it safe and predictable. And we're still deferring to authority or orthodoxy to tell us what to do.

One of the musical exceptions to this that I love to cite is the band, Walk Off The Earth, known for its quirky DIY videos and indie spirit. As WOTE's Sarah Blackwood once told me, “There are very few people telling us we can't make things happen, and the ones who do, we tell them to go f*ck themselves—and then we make it happen…Our independence is what made us, so we will never let that go.”

That independence is what Lesley Gore stood for, with a simple message for everyone: "Hey, it's your party."

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  1. Hey John!!

    Nice piece on Lesly Gore (RIP). She saw into the future and wanted to be prepared to be able to survive after music!! I didn't know that Sister Jeanine committed suicide, how sad.

    Have a great day!!

      1. That's very generous of you, and very misguided. They hit a dead-end and gave up. Those 'terms' are nothing to celebrate, and also seems like a rather bad business strategy.

        1. Glad someone picked up on this, Ed! I think going out with a bang can be a smart business strategy.

          Some background, which I alluded in my early post on the Singing Nun... Jeanine Deckers was harassed for years for unpaid taxes on her album and hit single by the Belgian authorities, to the tune of $63,000—which wasn’t chump change in the 1970s. Yet it was the Dominican Order that received 100% of the recording income (hundreds of thousands of dollars at least) while Deckers kept her vow of poverty. But the convent absolved themselves of responsibility for it so the government (which probably didn’t want to deal with the PR fall-out from harassing a religious order) continued to put the squeeze on Deckers, long after she’d left the convent. Tormented by financial hardship year after year and by mounting criticism for her uppity behavior as an outspoken feminist and ex-nun, Deckers finally said enough was enough. The final straw may have been the forced closing of the school for autistic children that Anne Pecher and Deckers ran. In their suicide note, they wrote: “We have reached the end, spiritually and financially, and now we go to God.” The Singing Nun felt she never left the Church but the Church left her. Lots of ways to look at this, but I see it as the forces of patriarchy and autocracy slapping down a woman who challenged their authority.

          Now I wouldn’t counsel individuals to take their own lives (at least the vast majority of times) but I wouldn’t necessarily condemn them for it either. You have to walk in their shoes to know the weight of the "cross" they’re bearing.

          But I would counsel a BUSINESS to pull the plug once it’s outlived its usefulness. Organizations exist to make a difference, by serving their customers, not to survive. And when their time is up, if they choose to go out in a blaze of glory, all the better. (Exhibit A: the Beatles.) I’ve always preferred “built to rock” (to paraphrase Mr. Tom Peters) over “built to last”—as I mention here. Too many fossilized firms are just hanging on. Yes, closing down a company puts people out of work, but they can be reemployed at successful companies with fresh ideas. Creative destruction.

          Back to the Singing Nun… To me she fought a losing battle in a larger fight, for a cause that is ongoing. Her death publicized how shabbily an independent-minded woman can be treated by the Powers That Be. We need more Sisters who are willing to sing out.

  2. more leaders, practitioners, technicians, writers, designers, craftsmen, etc. who can think for themselves

    Ah, if only I'd learned that lesson 40 years earlier. I didn't learn until I was already old that you can think for yourself and still get along with others. Spent most of my life being obsequiously compliant — and bottling so much rage that I rarely got along with anyone very long.

    1. Purely hypothetical, of course. I was picturing Miley performing Wrecking Ball at one of their Saturday night mixers.

  3. It didn't hurt that she was aided by top specialists (subject matter experts) — world-class songwriters, arrangers, producers. One business lesson here: hire top talent. As an HR rep, that's my job.

    1. Good one.

      But in case anyone gets the wrong idea, it's usually the artists who have something going for them TO BEGIN WITH that draw that top talent. In other words, Gore wasn't a manufactured talent. She could sing. And, I'm willing to bet, people saw that she had that 'TUDE (not the in-your-face Madonna-style attitude but perhaps a more quiet self-determined confidence) necessary for business success, especially music business success.

      I should have mentioned in the post that the successful women of rock/pop HAD to possess that "it's-MY-party" quality because otherwise they couldn't have dealt with the BS that women in show business have always had to deal with. (Actually, we can delete the word "show" in that sentence.)

  4. Didn't realize until now that I misspelled Gore's name!

    I was just watching the famous 1964 T.A.M.I. concert in which Gore starred (along with the Stones, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Berry, etc.). At 18 years old she was a total pro with great pipes.

    "It's My Party" hit the charts when she was just shy of 17 years old. Imagine being in high school math, for instance, sitting next to a gal who had a #1 hit on the US charts. Surreal.

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