Stardom's Not Only In Her Dreams

August 23, 1987|DENNIS HUNT

Singer Debbie Gibson, who's going on 17, was pontificating about boys and stardom the other day in a quiet Chinese restaurant.

Gibson is one of the most prominent of the budding stars in the music business. Her frothy, danceable "Only in My Dreams"--her first single--just cracked the Billboard magazine pop Top 10. Her first album, "Out of the Blue" (on Atlantic Records), has just been released.

Does being a budding star make her more desirable to guys?

"I get letters from guys who want to go out," said Gibson, who seemed a little embarrassed by the subject. "But I can't do that. I can't go out with boys I don't know. I'm not loose or anything like that.

"Do more guys want me? I don't know. I can't say. Maybe they do. I don't know. If more guys wanted me, it wouldn't matter anyway. I'd be too busy working. Work is more important than boys."

Is this a teen-ager talking--an American female teen-ager--saying boys are low priority?

"Why does that sound so weird?" she asked. "All girls aren't totally boy-crazy and wrapped up in petty stuff. There are some grown-up teen-agers. Some of us aren't what you expect."

She certainly isn't. You'd expect a young singer from the New York City area with a frivolous, dance-oriented hit single to be either a spike-haired hipster or a cool sophisticate. But Gibson is a gangly, gracious, girl-next-door type. This assessment, however, is based on looks and demeanor. Otherwise, this is no typical teen.

How many 16-year-olds do you know who've written 200 songs, recorded, arranged and co-produced an album, sung in the Metropolitan Opera's children's chorus and been featured in national TV commercials? What we have here is Superteen.

It all started, she recalled, at the tender age of 2 in her hometown of Merrick, Long Island. "That's when my interest in music began," she said, rattling off the details of her short life like a seasoned pro. "I wanted a guitar but I was too little, so my mom got me a ukulele. I started playing piano by ear when I was 4. Then I got into classical piano. I wrote my first song when I was 5. It was about going into kindergarten."

But at 12 she got into music with a passion: "I got a keyboard as a gift. I hadn't written much since I was 5. I was busy with other things. But something really made we want to write. It just came natural to me.

"I studied classical music but that was for background. I never wanted to do it seriously. Singing in the children's chorus at the Met was fun but nothing I'd want to do forever."

Gibson, who was picking up pointers about writing, arranging and producing wherever she could, was in the market for a record deal five years ago but didn't get one until Atlantic Records signed her last year. They told her to make a single and see what happened with it. So she dredged up a song, "Only in My Dreams," she had written when she was almost 14. Early in the year it was a dance-club favorite, but a few months later it exploded into a national pop hit.

When Atlantic wanted Gibson to record an album right away, it was easy for her: All she had to do was choose a few from that whopping arsenal of 200 songs. One reason she has written so many is because she writes at super speed.

"I can write a song in 10 to 20 minutes," she boasted. "It appears in my head, and then I write it down and get it out. I do some editing, but not much. I wrote 'Only in My Dreams' in 15 minutes. Can you believe that? It doesn't sound like it was written in 15 minutes, does it?"

Though she was born in 1970, Gibson is a fanatic about the '50s. Her dream isn't to own a Porsche or a Mercedes. She's dying to have a 1957 pink Cadillac. This passion for the '50s also shows up in her music.

Her "Out of the Blue" album sounds like it's out of the '50s. The songs are mostly bubbly confections, much like the ones Connie Francis used to sing in those days.

While not a budding Streisand, Gibson isn't a bad singer. Her voice has a perky, endearing, little-girl quality, but may yet ripen into one that's full-bodied. But for now it's full of teen-age yearning.

Her songs, of course, are written from a teen point of view. You don't expect mature, insightful lyrics from a 16-year-old composer.

"I haven't had enough experience to write deep, meaningful lyrics," Gibson admitted. "I do the best I can with my limited experience. I haven't been through tons of hot romances. If I date a guy for a month, that's a long time. My record for staying with a guy is three months--and that was back in ninth grade.

"I haven't been through tragedies and heartbreaks. You can't write great songs about that stuff until you've had some experience with it and felt what it's like. I'll go through that stuff one day, just like everybody else. When I do, you'll see it in my writing. Then I'll be writing like an old lady."

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