Cover image for Is that all there is? : the strange life of Peggy Lee
Title:
Is that all there is? : the strange life of Peggy Lee
Author:
Gavin, James, 1964- , author.
Edition:
First Atria Books hardcover edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atria Books, 2014.
Physical Description:
601 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Summary:
"Including interviews with hundreds who knew Lee, ...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"--Amazon.com.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9781451641684
Format :
Book

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ML420.L294 G38 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
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ML420.L294 G38 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary

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 Beyonc#65533; 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.


Author Notes

James Gavin is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, among other publications. He lives in New York City. His latest book is a biography entitled, Stormy Weather: Lena Horne. The book is entitled, Stormy Waether: The Life of Lena Horne.

(Publisher Fact Sheets)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Peggy Lee developed her soft and sultry sound from the influences of black singers and her early days of singing in dinner clubs, where she deliberately softened her voice to force the audience to listen. When she purred, audiences would lean in. That softness and an equally hard-edged sexiness set her apart from others, from her beginning as a singer in the swing era to her voice-over work with Disney to her inspiring of the Muppet character, Miss Piggy. Lee, born Norma Deloris Egstrom, had a hardscrabble childhood in desolate North Dakota but an outsize talent and personality that eventually drove her to a career in Hollywood. Gavin (Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne, 2009) offers a penetrating portrait of a woman embittered by childhood memories and failed marriages, struggling with alcohol and drugs, yet determined to have a career worthy of her voice. Best known for her songs Fever and Is That All There Is?, Lee sang with legendary musicians Benny Goodman, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. Old and new fans will appreciate this revealing portrait of troubled and talented woman.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2014 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal Review

In his latest jazz-pop biography, Gavin (Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne; Deep in a Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker) chronicles the life and lengthy career of Norma Egstrom, publicly known as the platinum-haired chanteuse Peggy Lee (1920-2002). Hardly the natural superstar, Lee worked her way from a daytime gig at a North Dakota radio station to a top position in the American recording industry, often to the detriment of her physical and mental health. Gavin's is a more unyielding and complex account than Peter Richmond's 2007 Fever: The Life and Music of Miss Peggy Lee; more than 100 interviews paint Lee as a relentless worker driven by anger and bitterness, and Gavin spends nearly half the book on the performer's tortured, litigious later years, when she sued Disney, Hilton Hotels, and, most maliciously, her own former secretary. Readers with only a passing familiarity with Lee's work would likely benefit from comparably detailed context for her artistic choices, such as the now-cringe-worthy racial caricatures of her early hit "Mañana." However, Gavin's lurid insights into Lee's personal life cast the artist's carefully cultivated onstage persona in a new light. Verdict This diligent account of a hustling showbiz lifer will satisfy Lee superfans and record industry historians but is too exhaustive for general readership.-Abigail Garnett, Brooklyn P.L. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Is That All There Is? "When she wanted me to play bluesy she'd say, 'Trains,' " recalled one of Lee's musicians. The Midland Continental depot at Jamestown, North Dakota, c. 1910. Excerpted from Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee by James Gavin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.