Like so many kids who were raised on oldies radio, I couldn’t tell you how long I’ve known the music of Lesley Gore. To say “all my life”, while it’s almost certainly an exaggeration, is about as accurate as I can be. My earliest memory of Lesley Gore does not even involve the lady herself, but a performance of “It’s My Party” on this episode of the sadly neglected monument of 1980s children’s television, Kids Incorporated. But even that memory would never have registered had the song not already been a part of my life. I have no recollection of the first time I heard “It’s My Party”, though I can say with as much certainty as one can with early childhood pop culture memories that I knew every word of that song before I could even identify any music actually written during my lifetime. For me, Lesley Gore was never some obscure chronological colloquialism of my parents’ generation. She was a fact—a universal constant—like the speed of light or The Beatles.
No doubt you know her work. A dynamic performer with songwriting chops of her own, her biggest hits have been a part of the musical vernacular for half a century. In the coming days, much will be said about Lesley Gore, her influence over the world of music, and in the world at large. Many will rhapsodize about her proto-feminist anthem “You Don’t Own Me”. Some will lament the label-induced pigeon-holing of Lesley Gore (a lifelong lesbian) as a lovesick, boy crazy teeny bopper. And justifiably so.
But I am not here to justify Lesley Gore. As a straight male born more than two decades after her first hit, Lesley Gore never did anything for me socially. Yes, I do get goosebumps when I listen to “You Don’t Own Me”, not for any altruistic reason, but because it is a brilliant performance of a great song. Growing up in a pre-internet world where everyone I knew was obsessed with Hanson and Smashing Pumpkins, a familiarity with pop star two generations out of fashion (and a girl singer at that!) resulted in a social life that was anything but sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. At that age, there is no justification for timelessness. These days, there is no need for one.
A few years ago, I sat in an all night diner with Chicago math metal power trio The Cell Phones after a show in Columbus. As it was October, the conversation inevitably turned to their plans for a Halloween gig: a Lesley Gore cover set they had titled Gore. Of course she occupies a great deal of shelf space in my record collection, but I have never known anyone else for whom that was true. So I asked. “We’re huge fans” they said.
Lesley Gore died of lung cancer on Monday, February 16, 2015. She was 68.
Another Halloween and my pitch-perfect J Alfred Prufrock costume still hangs in the closet gathering dust. One of these days, I swear, someone will finally invite me to that esoteric modernist literature-themed costume party that simply must exist somewhere in the folds of civilized society—but, as it stands, this year is looking like another night indiscriminately hurling candy at strange children and ensuring full holiday bookings for all local practitioners of dentistry.
But, to get things started, how about a little Halloween double-feature, beginning with the latest video from Birdeatsbaby. We brought you the first single from the new album back in August and now they’re back with the second (the title track) “Feast of Hammers”. Of course, if you’re already familiar with these Birdies, you know they’re music is always streaked with a dash of the macabre. But with the video for ‘Feast of Hammers’, they’ve really outdone themselves—so much so, in fact, that they’ve produced a censored version of the video. And, out of respect for those readers who may be somewhat prone to squeamishness, I’ll only include the PG-13 version in this post. You can watch the explicit version here. All I can say is, Lars Von Trier would be proud.
Then there’s our old friends from Chicago, The Cell Phones who’ve always had a flare for the darker side of life. They’ve got their own Occultish Halloween epic making the rounds. The only thing missing here is an altar of naked virgins. And, if that’s not enough, they’ve also done a 27-minute haunted house soundtrack (which you can find here) and a brand new EP (Hospital Spaceship) which includes the gruesome, Phil-Spector-does-in-the-Ronettes closer, ‘Husband’.
Still not enough for you? Well, out today, just in time for Halloween, is a free bit of dingy foreboding from Norwich breakcore artist Sukoshi. From exciting new Norwich label Gravy Records, ‘Claw Hammer’ is but a taster of things to come from Sukoshi’s imminent debut on the same label, due in February. In fact, there’s plenty of exciting stuff to look forward to from Gravy HQ, but that’s another story for another day. With his spoken-word samples and dark and dirty, sinister embellishments, it’s easy to imagine Sukoshi as the evil twin of Mr. PSB himself, J. Willgoose Esq. It’s no wonder, then, that Rob Da Bank is such a fan.
I rarely venture out in public on Valentine’s day. This past February, however, I did manage to get myself to the Beat Kitchen in Chicago to see a band that never showed up. (For the record, they had a very reasonable excuse.) But any potential for disappointment was quickly quelled as The Cell Phones took the stage.
Only a three-piece (drums, bass, and vocals), what The Cell Phones lack in numbers, they make up for in technique and sheer power. Ryan Szeszycki’s bass playing is so intricate that it has the sonic impact of at least three musicians. And, when it’s paired with Justin Purcell’s drums, who needs a guitarist? Then there is vocalist Lindsey Charles, whose onstage persona belies any small club, vaulting any performance well beyond epic to nearly legendary status. Despite the understandably anemic Valentine’s night crowd, the Cell Phones’ performance would have been perfectly suited for any arena show.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Cell Phones won a city-wide battle of the bands in 2009 (hosted by Down Beat Studios and The Elbo Room). The Cell Phones are a band set to take off. At this point, it’s only a question of time and opportunity. And, should they ever achieve their goal of playing on the moon—well—let’s just say, I’d make the trip.