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lyric changes

Posted by rgoettsch 
lyric changes
May 30, 2017 10:29AM
In listening to the CD of the London concert originally released as an lp record, I couldn’t help but note that Peggy Lee ended her performance of “Fever” with a cartoon like voice on “What a lovely way to burn.” Miss Lee did not do this on the previously unreleased concert performance. I was reminded that singers often “take liberties” with songs that they have performed over the years to keep the songs fresh or keep their interest in the performance. For example, for many years, Miss Lee cut her self-penned “Romeo and Juliet” verse from performances of “Fever.” Also, over the years, she changed the line in the third verse of “Is That All There Is” from “or just sit for hours gazing in to each other’s eyes” to “or just sit for hours gazing.” I always thought that she did that for simplicity sake. This leads me to my question of whether she ever changed another lyric in “Is That All There Is” in performance or whether the reported change is apocryphal. I have heard or read that at some point she changed part of the second verse, or circus verse, from:

I had the feeling that something was missing. I don’t know what, but when it was all over... I said to myself, “Is that all there is to the circus?”

To:

I had the feeling that something was missing. I don’t know what, but when it was all over... I said to myself, “Where’s my popcorn?”

I saw Miss Lee perform “Is That All There Is” several times and never saw her make this change. Yet, I wonder if anyone ever saw a performance by Miss Lee when she made this lyric change. The only indication that I have seen that suggests that she might have made this change at some point is her performance of “Is That All There Is” in the concert on the DVD “The Quintessential Miss Peggy Lee.” At the point of the reported change, Miss Lee broke character and smiled and almost laughed. This could suggest that she was thinking of the changed lyric, but of course would not actually perform the change in a concert being filmed for posterity.
Re: lyric changes
May 30, 2017 01:16PM
I heard a tape once from a live concert where she started "Is That All There Is?" by singing: "When I was a little girl our house caught on fire... I didn't do it". She probably sang this one so many times that she fooled around a bit and with her great sense of humor this came out. I remember that I laughed my brains out when hearing this for the first time. So funny!

Also "where's my popcorn" is hysterically funny. I can imagine her singing that line. She was a funny lady.

Richard
Iv
Re: lyric changes
June 05, 2017 09:07PM
Oh yes. The popcorn line is only one of several that she used in the 1970s. Most of them did not survive beyond that period.

In the beginning, Peggy ended just about each verse with a different humorous or sarcastic line. The most daring of those lines was the one that followed the verse "and then one day I fell in love with the most wonderful one in the world." Her addition:

And then he died on me.

That is a very loaded addition, of course -- and one that carries an autobiographical undertone, too. But it was all in the delivery: she usually uttered it in such a tongue-in-cheek manner that concert audiences would burst into laughter. Ditto for her other additions to the song. Such humorous performances of the number invariably ended with loud, excited applause, and plenty of laughter.

However, that reaction was not unanimous. Certain isolated members in the audience were not happy with the injection of humor: they had come to hear the more serious, dramatic interpretation of the recording, and they would express her disappointment to her when they visited backstage. That was probably one of the main reasons why she refrained from continuing this fully humorous approach as the years went by. (She still tried it from time to time, but in a more limited capacity. The line "he died on me" fully disappeared. The popcorn line was the one kept the longest, being the lightest one, and the one that was connected to the least tragic of the verses.)

As for the line "we would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other's eyes," it is my belief that a personal sense of logic let her to drop the words "into each other's eyes." Mind you, there is no problem with these words if you take them figuratively. But, if you take the words literally, the notion that any two people would spend hours gazing into each other's eyes might strike you as risible or, worse, ridiculous.

As you said, some worthwhile, long-established singers feel a need to freshen up numbers that they keep on performing over the decades. In this particular case, there was also Peggy's repeated claim that she couldn't really sing something that she didn't feel, or which she didn't relate to. (Obviously, she could have, at least in theory. But her heart would have not been in it; that's what I think she meant.) I imagine that there were times when she "wasn't feeling" the heaviness of "Is That All There Is," and thus wanted to go for a lighter approach. Especially in the years right after the number became a hit. The song was always a challenge for her, because numerous listeners thought of it as a nihilistic number, while she strove to put a relatively positive spin on it.

During a 1970s press interview, Peggy declared that, as long as audiences kept asking for them, she was happy to continue to sing her hits. That's one of various comments of hers which suggest that her singing of old, past hits was done as a concession to audiences -- i.e., out of love for them, rather than due to any strictly personal interest, or desire to rest in her laurels. This artist's excitement was reserved instead for numbers that were new or fresh to her.

"Fever" also underwent humorous treatment over the years. The cartoonish voice on "what a lovely way to burn" is just the tip of the iceberg. If you listen to her rehearsal of the song on the DVD Fever: The Music of Peggy Lee, you will hear the chicken line, which she seems to have also used in actual concert. Then there was her "magic act," which seems to have been added in her later years.

I believe that humor, as already intimated by Richard, was an integral part of Peggy's life. (The recent biography's virtual erasure of this dimension of her personality is, for me, one of its several major shortcomings. It serves as an indicator of how unbalanced a portrait it is.)

Ivan
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