Saturday, May 26, 2012

Birthday Girl: Miss Peggy Lee (and Friend)

North Dakota's finest export, Miss Norma Egstrom, might have been 92 today.  Peggy Lee didn't live quite that long, but while she was around, she ruled.  We see her here in 1969, delivering a definitive take of her most curious hit, "Is That All There Is?"  A charting number in a year in which the competition was deathless numbers of the ilk of  Lulu's "Boom Bang a Lang" or, at the other extreme, David Bowie exploring the universe in "Space Oddity," the song - unsettling, unsparing, brittle - would seem to be a long shot in the popularity stakes.

But it works, in spades.  Lee, at this point in her long career, is a daunting presence, totally in control even as she she seems on the edge of shattering.  It was a quality she retained to the end, when she was little more than a ruin tricked out in wig and caftan, carried on stage and deposited into the spotlight in ever smaller and more unforgiving rooms.  I last saw her a year or two before her curtain finally fell, but she still drove home every stage of this song's journey - fire, circus, love, the story of a life, really - and still made you want to break out the booze and have that ball...

I like that she shares her day with a survivor of a very different kind, an even more imposing self-creation: the Queen-Empress, dowager extraordinaire, superb creature who started out as a sort of semi-royal poor relation of Queen Victoria, but who ended up as the grandmother of the current occupant of Victoria's throne - Queen Mary.  I have long had a soft spot for that unapproachable grande dame, and I like to think that, while she  might not have approved quite entirely of "Fever" or "Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me)" (the latter of which, by the bye, Peg not only sang, but wrote - she was a good songwriter on top of everything else), she might have felt a pang of recognition, had she had the chance to hear "Is That All There Is?"  She had, heaven knows, seen her share of fires and circuses.


  1. I never made it to the Peggy Lee party.

    But I love Mary, The Formidable One. We often refer to her as The Rack. She was a STAUNCH woman.

  2. I like to think of Mary in pearls and That Tiara, perched on a piano, surrounded by an audience of footmen and chambermaids, announcing "For my next number, I'd like to do a little tune written by my old chum Peggy Lee called 'Fever.' Hit it, boys."

  3. "The Rack" is priceless, and a great description. She wore for an average dinner more jewelry than the entire family musters at one time for state events these days (unless Princess Michael's around; then all bets are off).

    And they were, both of them in their ways, STAUNCH. Even if Peg was at times a little closer to the Little Edie than the May Teck end of the spectrum, reality-testing-wise...

  4. You KNOW how much I love Miss Peggy Lee!!!