Is That All There Is? : The Strange Life of Peggy Lee
Overview - From the author of the "definitive" ( Vanity Fair ) biography of Lena Horne, Stormy Weather , comes a brilliantly written portrait of recording artist and musical legend Peggy Lee. "She made you think that she knew who you were, that she was singing only to you..." Miss Peggy Lee cast a spell when she sang. Read more...
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More About Is That All There Is? by James Gavin
From the author of the "definitive" (Vanity Fair
) biography of Lena Horne, Stormy Weather
, comes a brilliantly written portrait of recording artist and musical legend Peggy Lee. "She made you think that she knew who you were, that she was singing only to you..."
Miss Peggy Lee cast a spell when she sang. She purred so intimately in nightclubs that couples clasped hands and huddled closer. She hypnotized, even on television. Lee epitomized cool, but her trademark song, "Fever"--covered by Beyonce and Madonna--is the essence of sizzling sexual heat. Her jazz sense dazzled Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. She was the voice of swing, the voice of blues, and she provided four of the voices for Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp
, whose score she co-wrote. But who was the woman behind the Mona Lisa smile?
With elegant writing and impeccable research, including interviews with hundreds who knew Lee, acclaimed music journalist James Gavin offers the most revealing look yet at an artist of infinite contradictions and layers. Lee was a North Dakota prairie girl who became a temptress of enduring mystique. She was a singer-songwriter before the term existed. Lee "had incredible confidence onstage," observed the Godfather of Punk, Iggy Pop; yet inner turmoil wracked her. She spun a romantic nirvana in her songs, but couldn't sustain one in reality. As she passed middle age, Lee dwelled increasingly in a bizarre dreamland. She died in 2002 at the age of eighty-one, but Lee's fascination has only grown since.
This masterful account of Peggy Lee's strange and enchanting life is a long overdue portrait of an artist who redefined popular singing.
Publishers Weekly Reviews
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There is plenty—melodrama, eccentricity, meticulous music-making—in this stimulating biography of the late jazz chanteuse. Music journalist Gavin (Stormy Weather) revels in Lee's contradictions: a Swedish-American lass from prim North Dakota who became an exemplar of black-inflected swing, jazz and blues singing; a stage persona that, in her signature song "Fever" and many others, combined cool reserve and subtlety with smoldering sensuality; a psyche that veered between little-girl-lost fragility fed by a delusional complex about her harsh step-mother to a tyrannical diva-hood that exploited and exhausted her staff, collaborators, family and friends. Gavin's raucously entertaining portrait of Lee shows a luridly out-of-control personality, besotted by romantic fantasies yet always on the prowl for men, embarrassingly drunk and zonked on pills (even at a White House command performance), and desperately in need of companionship to fill the void in her soul. But in his detailed, incisive examinations of her technique, rehearsal methods and recording sessions, he gives us a musician in consummate control of her gifts, a painstaking artist who took risks and worked extraordinarily hard to realize her creative vision. Full of evocative scenes, wry humor and exasperated sympathy, Gavin's is an engrossing account of a singular talent. Color Photos. (Nov.)