What to Read: “You Don’t Own Me: The Life and Times of Lesley Gore” by Trevor Tolliver

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Your closet is packed with mistakes.

Odd-colored shirts, patchwork jeans, alligators, prairie-wear, weird ties, you wore it all once. But will those things ever be in style again, even if you wait long enough?

No, Nehru jackets, leisure suits, and knitted knickers are best left in the rag bag. As you’ll see in the new book “You Don’t Own Me: The Life and Times of Lesley Gore” by Trevor Tolliver, some things may never return.

Born into an era of lush crooners and Big Bands, Lesley Sue Goldstein (later, Gore) was, according to her parents, a musical prodigy almost from birth. At six months, they claimed, she could “duplicate the melody of a song;” as a toddler, she loved to perform for her parents’ friends.

After joining a “girl group” in middle-school – one that “fizzled” rather quickly – Gore entered an all-girl school and sang in a chorus. There, she realized that if she was going to sing professionally, she needed a vocal coach.

The one her mother found eventually led Gore to a “tiny recording studio” where she recorded a few discs for the benefit of family. A cousin passed a disc to a bandleader, who invited Gore to perform at a gig where the president of Mercury Records was in attendance. In early 1963, he gave Gore’s demo to music producer Quincy Jones and, some two months later, at age sixteen, Lesley Gore was a pop-music star.

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But as quickly as her star rose, it began to fall, perhaps because of the Beatles and the British Invasion. Gore’s music continued to hit the charts but, in the end, the new sound and the not-so-innocent times wore away at her popularity. By 1969, “Her career, for all outward appearances, was over.”

And yet, says author Trevor Tolliver, Gore continued to have some professional success until her death over a year ago, with a few minor hits but mostly as a songwriter and in Golden Oldies circles. As for her personal life, she enjoyed a decades-long relationship with another woman, which was something her sixteen-year-old, 1963-self hadn’t dared to do…

When a book starts out with a foreword entitled “A Gushing Fanboy,” take note. That’s exactly the tone you’re going to get in the whole book, which is likewise true for “You Don’t Own Me.”

And while that may seem chummy, I couldn’t stop thinking of a supermarket tabloid or an old confessions-type magazine mixed with discography. The bottom line is that this is a difficult book to like because it’s overly-breathy and swooning, music-industry-driven, or it consists of reconstructed conversations. I would’ve loved reading more about Gore’s personal life – Tolliver hints at some tumult with the woman she loved – but, instead, we’re plunged back into more about her flagging career. Even that could have been more interesting, were it given a less-chatty spin.

Overall, I think there’s an audience for “You Don’t Own Me,” probably with “ardent fans” or music industry folks only. For the rest of us, well, you won’t want to own this book, either.


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