Home > Verse > Poets & Troubadours: Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”

Poets & Troubadours: Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”


“Is That All There Is?” wasn’t written by Peggy Lee (it was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) nor was it written for her. But it should have been. The song was a perfect fit for Peggy’s cool, understated style. No other performer has been able to match her detached, unemotional melancholy. A lesser artist would have delivered “Is That All There Is?” as a frantic, overwrought plea.

Randy Newman, no stranger himself to wry, understated melancholy, composed the orchestral arrangement and conducted the orchestra.

The lyrics are based on Thomas Mann’s short story, Disillusionment. A character in the story asks, “Do you know what disillusionment is? Not a miscarriage in small important matters, but the great and general disappointment which everything, all of life, has in store?”

Peggy was an intellectual and reader. She loved the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. She was also a perfectionist and a strategist. Early in her career, tired of trying to sing over the cacophony of jazz club audiences, she captured their attention by lowering her voice. The softer she sang, the quieter the crowd. Thus, she developed her seductive and cooing yet powerful style. She used an appearance on Joey Bishop’s late-night talk show to force a reluctant Capitol Records to release a song they thought was too depressing.

                                                             Is That All There is

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire.
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement.
I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames.
And when it was all over I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a fire?”

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to the circus, the greatest show on earth.
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.
And as I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over,
I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a circus?”

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

Then I fell in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world.
We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes.
We were so very much in love.
Then one day, he went away. And I thought I’d die — but I didn’t.
And when I didn’t I said to myself, “Is that all there is to love?”

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing

I know what you must be saying to yourselves.
If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
Oh, no. Not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment.
For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you,
when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my lst breath, I’ll be saying to myself,

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

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