Is That All There Is? The Strange Life of Peggy Lee

James Gavin. Atria, $32 (608p) ISBN 978-1-4516-4168-4
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.)
Reviewed on: 11/10/2014
Release date: 11/11/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 512 pages - 978-1-4516-4180-6
Paperback - 624 pages - 978-1-4516-4179-0
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