by George Christy
Peggy Lee has recorded 631 songs and dozens upon dozens of albums, with many of her hits spawning gold records. Wherever she performs, legions of loyal admirers appear, fans of all ages, as they did recently at the Westwood Playhouse in Los Angeles, where her nightly concerts drew sellout crowds applauding her by-now-classic interpretations of “Fever,” “Alright, Okay, You Win,” “Big Spender,” “Mañana,” “I’m a Woman” and “Is That All There Is?” She credits the collaborative writing of many of her classics with composing giants such as Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Johnny Mercer, Cy Coleman, Michel Legrand and Francis Lai. “I love good music,” she says, “but I must believe a song to sing it, and have always been that way, even during the days when I was eating a lot of peanut butter (but a little at a time). That was when I was starting out in North Dakota, before I got a steady job with Benny Goodman’s band in Chicago.” Since those days, she has performed around the world – her liquid phrasing and subtle resonances giving a meaning to lyrics that is inimitably, luminously and lovingly Peggy’s. One California critic noted, after he Westwood Playhouse performance, that “seeing her in person makes it difficult to appreciate most other popular singers; compared to her, there’s no comparison.”
Last autumn, when she opened her Broadway musical Peg, in which she starred, she leased an East Side apartment in Midtown that she returns to after her engagements on the road, although her base is a French Regency-style residence in Bel Air. There, she meditates and pursues the creative spirit – “in whatever direction it moves me: writing, painting, decorating, thinking.” Over a luncheon of tuna fish salad (“my sister Marianne makes a good one”) and fresh raspberries, her signature white blonde hair in a chignon and wearing chili-pepper-red pajamas, with a modern-designed collier, Peggy reflected about the good old days – “When you compare what was then with what is now, believe me, these are the good old days. We can still sing the wonderful standards with great pleasure and acceptance and add the new spices.” Success, she claims, is “a reward for loving your work.” When asked about politics, she muses, “My favorite color is plaid,” and when queried about marriage, she winks, “I don’t discuss politics.” Although she’s “all for Women’s Lib, I wish they’d chosen another name for the movement – it sounds so unfeminine.” She adds that “appreciation” is the best vitamin she’s taken, and, as for men – “I love men, but that’s always been a private issue with me. On a grand scale.”
George Christy: After I saw you at the Westwood Playhouse, you introduced me to Mario Buatta. Mario said that he had been in Los Angeles for a week and had seen your show every night, as well as every matinee. He only met you two months ago and has fallen hopelessly in love.
Peggy Lee: Yes, and he gave me little comments about what he saw, along with the audience’s reactions. It was interesting for me because I could see if I could improve something, leave something in or take something out of the show. They weren’t criticisms, just observations.
GC: Wasn’t the engagement overwhelmingly successful?
PL: It really was, and I don’t quite understand why, but I’m very happy. This all started in England, just before I booked into the Westwood Playhouse. In fact, it’s the reason I played there. I was in England and Wales and, somehow, something in me just opened up to the audience and I found myself doing a light patter – I don’t know if it’s comedy or not – but the English and Welsh were amused, and I thought, “I wonder if that humor will still be there when I get back to the United States?
GC: You mean the humor that you interject between the songs?
PL: Yes. And it was. And what it did was give me a greater communication with the audience. I’ve always has a good communication, but this gets to be so close, we’re all like old friends.
GC: You sang the great songs that you’ve written as well as your classic hits – songs by Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, with a sprinkling of your delicious patter in between – brief but very amusing. It hit the heart of every fan.
PL: Very little of it is ever the same, that’s the curious part. It’s such a spontaneous thing that each time I go to a theater I hope it’s still there.
GC: You starred in Peg in New York in the fall of 1983.
PL: Yes, but that was quite different.
GC: That was, of course, more autobiographical. When I saw it, the fans were giving you many ovations at the end of the evening. That was phenomenal.
PL: Wasn’t it? Maybe it all started there, because I felt very close to the audience. They gave me 18 standing ovations. Eighteen performances, 18 standing ovations – more than one on some nights. But the last performance was something I will never forget. I have it on tape. There was a 45-minute standing ovation at the end, and people were in tears, calling out “Don’t close this play.” It would have been nice if the producers had been there to witness that.
GC: Peg was much more personal in the sense that you revealed a great deal about your growing up…
GC: You did bring humor into a lot of the sad situations.
PL: Oh, yes. In the case of my stepmother, for instance, I had long ago forgiven her. When I began writing Peg, I felt compassion for her because, if hers had been my lot in life, to feel that way and to inflict physical and mental violence on someone, I wouldn’t want to be alive. I feel sorry for her, really sorry. There are two ways of looking at an abusive situation. One way is that we cause it all ourselves, which we possibly do, in effect. I also thank her for giving me stronger motivation to work. I suppose I started out thinking, “Well, I’ll show her what my real mother was like.” My mother died when I was four, and she was a lovely, refined, petite lady, but this woman was the total opposite. Perhaps her sorrows, her own strange personal thoughts, had to do with her inflicting punishment on me, because I was the last child left at home.
GC: As I remember from what you said in Peg, there was one beating a day.
PL: Maybe more.
GC: But you made “One Beating a Day” into a very funny song. What kind of rhythm was that?
PL: A combination of calypso and reggae.
GC: And wasn’t it appreciated by everybody?
PL: Yes. It got great laughs.
GC: Peggy, you can take a terrible thing like a child being beaten –
PL: I certainly didn’t want to inflict the ugly truth on the audience. I didn’t think that was exactly entertainment, but my attempt was to have people be able to get that by laughing. That means it’s over and it’s all right.
GC: Interesting how far you’ve come to terms with it. That was in Fargo, North Dakota?
PL: Various towns in North Dakota. Fargo, and I also lived in Jamestown, which was a town of 8,000 people when I was born there. Then I moved to little towns of maybe 200 folks.
GC: Your father traveled around?
PL: He was a station agent for a railroad which no longer exists. When I went back to receive a doctorate from the university there, there were signs saying “Peggy Lee sang here,” which I found amusing and sweet. The landmarks were gone – the real landmarks. The Gladstone Hotel had burned down. That was the biggest building in town. There were a lot of nice touches about it – big broad staircase, things like that. The railroad not only doesn’t run anymore, but they took up the tracks. I don’t know what they did with the various depots, and that made me a little sad because I couldn’t find where I was. I’m in a little bit of that same kind of limbo today.
GC: In what sense?
PL: Well, I live in this lovely home and I also live in New York. At the moment I don’t know whether to go back to New York or stay here. Most of the time I’m on an airplane. I’d like to get out and play with the roses in my garden, but I can’t do that because I have to keep these fingernails perfect for the New York side of my life.
GC: Also for your performances. There’s nobody who does the kind of hand ballet that you do with each song.
PL: What a compliment.
GC: Didn’t you start out singing at a radio station in Fargo?
PL: That wasn’t the beginning, but I did sing at the radio station.
GC: The beginning was where?
PL: Singing in glee clubs and church and any place where anyone would listen. Then I was working in Jamestown at the Gladstone Hotel – the one that burned down – in the coffee shop there. I did that so I could sing on the radio.
GC: You waited tables?
PL: Yes, and I was a very funny waitress. I think I’m a better cook than a waitress. So a baseball team came in and ordered coffee, and they loved teasing this little blonde waitress, having me turn all different shades of red, but there was one player who came to the counter and said, “Would it be alright if I wrote to you?” I really didn’t know how to answer that. I agreed that it would be alright because he was so nice. What he did in time was act like a big brother to me. He wrote advice to me: books to read, and he told me to be careful about going out with young men. Just a wonderful kind of guide. I later learned that he was a teacher in Cleveland. I spoke to him not too long ago. I managed to track him down. His name is Bill Sawyer.
GC: He was a part of a ball team, and a teacher too?
PL: Yes, he played with the Cleveland Indians, and they had farmed him out to the Fargo Morehead Twins for the season. It was he who called Ken Kennedy at WDAY in Fargo and arranged for an audition for me. I was so shy, I didn’t know whether I should go.
GC: Had he heard you sing at all?
PL: Yes, he had. A local minister’s daughter was my accompanist… She played pretty good blues. Bill literally had to push me in the door. I was terrified, very shy. But as soon as I could open my mouth and sing, I was okay. Still, the thought of getting in front of a microphone terrified me. Ken hired me immediately. My name was still Norma Egstrom and right away he insisted, “That has to go.” He was the one who named me Peggy Lee.
GC: Where did his inspiration come from?
PL: He sat and looked at me for a minute and said, “You look like a Peggy.” Do I look like a Peggy? I must. He thought for a little longer and said a couple of names as his choices for my last name, and then he said “Lee, that’s it – Peggy Lee.” It’s been that way ever since. I finally legalized it at one point, ten years ago or so.
GC: Do you remember what you sang for your audition?
PL: Isn’t that strange, I don’t. I probably sang something like “Thanks for the Memories.” It was one of my favorite songs before it was Bob Hope’s theme song. Or maybe “Deep Purple.” I sang all kinds of things that I still sing – Rodgers and Hart, Oscar Hammerstein, Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach, Cole Porter of course, Gershwin – all of their songs. My taste was the same then as it is now in music. I’ve developed more of a liking for classical music over the years, but just for listening. As for singing, I’d say that I like to listen to new things, but the more standard quality of music is usually the one that I would choose.
GC: From WDAY, you went on to Benny Goodman?
PL: Not immediately. I left Fargo, and Ken Kennedy again gave me advice. This man was so wonderful to me. He died a couple of years ago, and I miss him – what a friend. I was very fortunate in that coming out of this really sad childhood, my feelings about people remained especially good. It took very little for me to be thrilled. In my eyes everybody was an angel. Bill Sawyer was like that, with absolutely no ulterior motive. He wasn’t romantically interested in me at all. He was just a man who saw potential in someone and went out of his way to –
GC: Open the door.
PL: Yes. And I would say the same thing for Ken Kennedy and, later on, Morty Palitz at Columbia Records. He gave me good advice when I went with Benny Goodman. He said, “Don’t stay at the Forest Hotel.” That was a musician’s hotel, and he thought I should be very careful as a teenager where I was lodged. He also said, “Don’t go to 52nd Street unless you are properly escorted.” 52nd Street was alive with jazz then. And he said, “Don’t talk about your boss’ business.” Wasn’t that good advice? All along the road there have been special people… Ernest Holmes also was a great influence on my life, perhaps the biggest influence. Ernest Holmes is the founder of the Church of Religious Science. It’s Science of Mind, not to be confused with Scientology. It’s a non-sectarian, philosophical approach which has given me many answers and much inner strength, saved my life a couple of times. I am grateful to those people who, along the way, gave me such good help.
GC: From WDAY, how did you get to Benny Goodman?
PL: Ken Kennedy got me a job with his cousin, who had an orchestra in Minneapolis at the Radisson Hotel. His name was Sev Olson. The orchestra was composed of college students from the University of Minnesota, and they hired me as their little blues singer. I sang with another orchestra back in Wimbledon. I sang in Valley City with Doc Haines and his group, which was another college band. A territorial band, they called it. I thought I was so sophisticated. I was only 14 and traveled with them for awhile, and I remember once I made more than the leader did. That’s not uncommon, even nowadays, but I think I got 50 cents and he didn’t get anything.
GC: After those bands did Benny Goodman hear you or did you get an introduction to Benny?
PL: I came out here once in 1937. I was very young for a girl to be traveling all alone. There were lots of things that happened out here. I sang at a place called The Jade on Hollywood Boulevard. All of this sounds like a fairy tale, and it reads like one, too. I had to have a throat operation after I became ill one evening. I had been treated by a local doctor. I don’t want to get into all of this…
GC: We don’t have to… just Benny Goodman.
PL: I was singing in Chicago and Alice Goodman, who was then Lady Duckworth, came in and heard me. They were trying to find someone to replace Helen Forrest because Helen had left to go with Harry James. She was very popular, and sang beautifully. I was trying to sing in her key, but I had a psychosomatic cold from being terrified to be with Benny Goodman. It amuses me to think about it now. My roommate was Jane Larrabee, who is now Mrs. Leonard Feather, the wife of the jazz critic, and she told me that Benny had called her and asked if I would like to join the band.
GC: He had heard you?
PL: Yes. I assumed he didn’t like me because he had a preoccupied look on his face, but I would come to know that that was a thoughtful expression when he was listening deeply. I didn’t call him for about two days. I said, “I know he didn’t like me. He was glaring at me.” I think Benny’s ray… You’ve heard of the “ray?”
GC: The ray?
PL: They speak of Benny Goodman having a ray that would melt someone. I guess some of that was preoccupation in listening to someone play. Not always, but I saw the ray. He didn’t give it to me, but if a musician wasn’t doing something he thought he should, he would give him the ray.
GC: So you joined Benny and your first big hit was “Why Don’t You Do Right?”
PL: I had one before that that was pretty big. It was “Somebody Else Is Taking My Place.” But it was nowhere near the magnitude of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” I can’t believe – yes I can, I will gladly believe – that people still request and what to hear “Why Don’t You Do Right?” I always try to give the proper credit, because some people think I wrote that. I didn’t. I was and am a fan of Lil Green, a great old blues singer, and I believe that Lil wrote and recorded it. I used to play that record over and over in my dressing room, which was next door to Benny’s. Finally he said, “You obviously like that song.” I said, “Oh, I love it.” He said, “Would you like me to have an arrangement made of it?” I said, “I’d love that,” and he did. It didn’t get too much reaction when I would sing it. A lot of people say I was influenced by Billie Holiday. I was a fan of hers, and maybe there is a certain voice quality and phrasing that is similar, but it’s only a coincidence. Like people have compared Jeri Southern any myself, and that’s not fair to Jeri. We have the same voice quality and the same jazz-oriented phrasing, but Jeri didn’t copy me. She’s always been an original. I used to go and listen to a singer named Laura Rucker on State Street in Chicago when I was at the Ambassador. I loved sitting there listening to her sing while Baby Dodds played the drums. These are names that are really great jazz names from the past. I also had a lot of influence from musicians. Count Basie, for example, whom I listened to when they still had the five-dialer radios. I remember the first radio we had – in fact, it was the first electricity we had. I would tune in Kansas City and get Bill Basie and His Kansas City Coon Shouters. Can you imagine such a decadent name? I was a fan of Basie’s before John Hammond brought him out into the world.
GC: When did you start writing songs?
PL: Actually, I was writing when I was in high school, just for my own amusement. But Benny got me into songwriting as a kind of contest. I remember writing a “brilliant” song called “Little Fool,” and it was published in a newspaper. It was a big publicity thing. It didn’t get very far at all. Then I left Benny and married David Barbour. David was a guitarist and composer, and we became a team, composing and writing. We had great success. There had to be an outlet for the creative energy, so when I was doing my housework I was writing songs. Didn’t I mention that at the Westwood Playhouse?
GC: You said that David would come home and expect dinner and you’d serve him a song.
PL: Dinner wasn’t ready but the song was.
GC: What was the first hit that you and David had?
PL: We had very good luck before “Mañana” – that was our biggest seller, I think. But we had a song called “What More Can a Woman Do?” which Sarah Vaughan still sings occasionally, as does Carmen McRae. That’s such a big compliment from those ladies. There was a little thing called “You Was Right, Baby” which was our first record. That was a big hit. I once heard a crash and then heard someone say, “They hit your car,” and a man looked out and said, “You was right, baby. Baby, you was so right.” That became a lyric. Then we went on to wrote “It’s a Good Day” and –
GC: I don’t know enough about you.
PL: Yes. Johnny Mercer – God love him – was really my mentor for writing. On “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” for example, he told me to go back and rewrite and give it a little more attention. I always think of Johnny when I write, even now. Would Johnny like this? Would Johnny approve?
GC: Then there were hits like “Golden Earrings.” I wanted to ask you about “Fever,” which was one of your monster hits. Did you write that with David or did you write that alone?
PL: As a matter of fact, I didn’t write it – Little Willie John did. I wrote some special lyrics that have now become incorporated in the sheet music. I never got any credit for it. All the stuff about Romeo and Juliet…
GC: Captain Smith and Pocahontas?
PL: That was all mine. That’s a very little known fact.
GC: What is that lyric?
PL: “Captain Smith and Pocahontas had a very mad affair. When her daddy tried to kill him, she said ‘Daddy-O, don’t you dare. He gives me fever with his kisses, fever when he holds me tight. Fever! I’m his missus; Daddy won’t you treat him right.’”
GC: And Romeo and Juliet?
PL: “Romeo loved Juliet; Juliet felt the same. When he put his arms around her, he said, ‘Julie, baby, you’re my flame. You give me fever.’”
GC: Those are your lyrics?
PL: Yes. And “Everybody’s got the fever, that is something you all know…” and “Now you’ve listened to my story…”
GC: All yours? “Chicks were born to give you fever, be it Fahrenheit or centigrade…” is that your lyric, too?
PL: Yes. I liked to change the way songs were usually sung. With “Lover,” I had the idea to do it with the Latin and American beat. That introduced that sound, which is now considered an innovative thing. The arrangers were very happy about combining Latin rhythms with American songs. “Mañana” was Latin, too, but a little different. “Lover” was an American song, written by Richard Rodgers, and when he first heard my version he said, “Oh, my little waltz!” But later he became very much in favor of it. In fact, he told me he used it as the subject of lectures on songwriting and how different versions could give the song more life or longer life, and he gave me permission, carte blanche, to do anything with his music that I wanted to. That was such a compliment from a man of his genius.
GC: You then wrote songs with David and soon started to go out on your own, singing as a performer in nightclubs. Did you do concerts as well then?
PL: Yes, and I used to do a lot of theater. They used to have what you might call vaudeville. They would show a movie and there would be performers. That was very popular during the ‘40s. I was only with Benny Goodman for two years before I went on my own and that was that. Others have sung with bands too – Frank Sinatra and Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, Dick Haymes and so on. But for some reason, the term “band singer” stuck to me for a long time. It might have been because I was always talking about Benny.
GC: You became identified with him.
PL: But I’m not a band singer, and I wasn’t when I was with Benny. I loved jazz musicians, especially some of them like Grady Tate and Mike Renzi and Jay Leonhart. Those are people I worked with recently and there are so many I could mention, but those are my special favorites.
GC: Grady left teaching at college to come with you, didn’t he?
PL: He didn’t leave it to come with me, he left to play drums. I was just lucky because that was at a time when I needed a drummer – and he is so accomplished. He was a high school teacher of English literature in Washington, DC – he has a master’s degree in drama – and he dropped all of that to become a drummer. He could have done anything in the arts, I think, as far as performing goes. And Michael Renzi – I adore him. He plays classical music and jazz equally well. He does a lot of concerts. He is a pianist. They – Michael and Grady – are co-conductors.
GC: We were talking some weeks ago about Hollywood and how people get strange impressions of a person in the limelight that aren’t necessarily true. You were saying that your new manager was telling you some of these surprising things about yourself.
PL: Yes, that I’m extremely difficult to get along with, that I’m a drug addict and alcoholic. It’s rather shocking to hear that. I believe that I’m fairly easy to get along with. Sometimes you have to be firm, especially if you want the right chords or something played the way you want to interpret it. I can’t even begin to think where those things start, but they’re simply not true.
GC: When people are in the public eye, they may make up stories out of a tiny little incident.
PL: Or no incident at all.
GC: Perhaps you once said, “That’s not the right chord,” and somebody else might have said, “I played it right. She’s so difficult.” And from there it went to five people and soon reached the moon.
PL: That’s what does happen. A whole rejuvenation process is taking place in my life. My health is good. I’ve conquered the results of an accident which were quite serious and prevented me from working very much. My whole outlook on life is exciting. I’ve always been a very positive thinker, but it’s sort of gone beyond that now. It’s more than thinking, it’s knowing. That goes beyond thinking, doesn’t it? It’s time for me to do a lot of things I wanted to do. Something happened in England and Wales, when I began to relate to the audience in such a one-to-one way. These were audiences of 2,500 or 3,000 people, yet it seemed like we were in a living room together like this. There was no feeling that we were in great, big halls. Suddenly they became very intimate venues and it made me have a wonderful time. I really enjoyed getting to know those people. We had a two-hour reception line after each performance, and they would file by and talk for a second; it was marvelous. That’s what made me call California and say I wanted to play someplace here because I was coming to do Onstage America, and I thought it would be a shame to fly in and just go right back to New York – why don’t I stay a little while and play somewhere? So I came here to my home, and the Westwood Playhouse just happened to be available. We went in with practically no promotion and, as you know, we sold out overnight. I wanted to see if it would happen with American audiences, and it did. You were there.
GC: Absolutely, one on one. You felt that, didn’t you?
PL: Oh, I did feel it. They would come back – as many as could get back in that small place backstage – and talk after the performance. It was very nice. I enjoy meeting the audience.
GC: Energizing, I would think.
PL: Yes, it’s an exchange of energy with people.
GC: We were talking about your new manager, Michael Rosenberg, and what managers are like. Many of them can misinterpret the artist, don’t you think?
PL: I believe so. They’re usually thinking in terms of business, naturally, and maybe don’t have time to really talk to the artist and find out what they’re about, what they’re trying to express. For certain artists, that’s alright. I’m not criticizing managers, but some artists need more vision on the part of the manager. As for me, I’ve just met Michael, and I like him very much. He is especially bright, seems to have impeccable taste and is a gentleman. I don’t know his age, but he’s on the young side and his ideas are exciting. There has been a flood of requests since the tour, a lot of talk about film and TV. We’re doing selected dates. Also, a theater project is being discussed for New York.
GC: A play?
PL: No, I think it would be something like what we did at the Westwood Playhouse. It’s a concert and, then again, it isn’t quite a concert. There are little talk spots in there.
GC: Peggy, when it comes to taste, do you think people are born with it?
PL: I rather think so. Maybe it can be acquired to a degree.
GC: Or purchased. Can’t you get advisors who can help you into a realm of safe taste?
PL: You’re absolutely right. That’s a very good way of putting it. I find a lot of joy in the creative process. Within that, of course, is incorporated that ingredient of taste. It’s fun even when you put some flowers together and suddenly they have that special quality that makes something inside of you hum just a little.
GC: Hasn’t a rose been created and named for you, the Peggy Lee Rose?
PL: I’m proud of that. I know that’s something that’s going to go on and on and on. I’ve had some of these roses here that were seven-and-a-half to eight inches in diameter.
GC: We were talking about taste and, suddenly, I began to think about music today. What are your reactions to what has happened musically in, say, the last 20 years with pop music?
PL: It’s been said, of course, that music reflects the spirit of the time, and it does. Think about the ‘20s music and how America was heading for the crash. Rock music fit in with the wild, frenetic ‘60s, and it’s still going on to a degree. In London I met Boy George. We passed in a hall and he said, “You look outrageous. In fact, you get the biscuit of the day.” That really cracked me up. I sent my secretary to get his autograph for my granddaughter and he said, “If I had known you were here I’d have done myself up.” And he was done up, I must say. Under all of that makeup was a charming, very bright person. A lot of bright people are under that rock makeup, and there are some who are a little confused about living the truth, but sometimes, in the case of Boy George, wouldn’t you say he’s being a little like a clown and putting the whole world on? Like a clown who assumes a different identity for one reason or another; they don’t like living as it is with their own personal identity. I gave a clown party on my birthday once when I didn’t want anyone else to give me a party. I got everyone so dazzled by this circus that I presented in my home. I had the garden covered with tents and peanut vendors, and everyone came dressed as clowns. They had such a marvelous time because their inhibitions were gone. They didn’t have to say, “I’m Fred so-and-so and I’m in such-and-such a business.” They just automatically started talking to each other and laughing at each other’s costumes and then they got into talking about serious things – religion, politics. Then, it was really funny to stand on the side and look at these people dressed as clowns talking about serious issues. You know, there’s a certain authority in a clown.
GC: About the music scene today, have any songs or musicians or singers especially appealed to you?
PL: Yes, but I’m still crazy about Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra and Mel Tormé and Joe Williams. They are the Tiffany of singers. Naturally, people like Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae are great. You could almost guess who I would like.
GC: I just wondered if there were any people in this new musical milieu in whom you sensed a kind of quality.
PL: I like Peter Allen a lot. I like his writing and I like his singing. He has a quality in his singing that, although he’s not crying at all, I hear a sadness, a little sorrow inside his voice. I feel that somehow he’s been hurt. I don’t know that, and I hope it’s not true, but I hear that.
GC: Have you ever sung any of his songs?
PL: Oh yes, “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” “Rio.”
GC: You were telling me a while ago that you’ve never taken a vacation.
PL: No, I’m not sure if I know how to do that. I’ve taken a working vacation, but that’s not really a vacation. One time David Barbour and I went to Ensenada when he was seriously ill and I was taking care of him. Yet that’s when “Mañana” was born.
GC: Out of his illness?
PL: Because it was so relaxed in Mexico, and it was a wonderful attitude – do it mañana. So that’s how the lyric came about. There was a time when the song was not understood – just a first. I don’t know if I even should mention this, but it was never meant to be in any way degrading to the Mexican people at all.
GC: Mañana prolongs people’s lives, and can be an inspiration for us.
PL: That was precisely what I was thinking, especially with David’s illness going on. Remember the lyrics: “The window, she is broken and the rain is coming in. If someone doesn’t fix it, I’ll be soaking to my skin. But if we wait a day or two the rain may go away, and we don’t need a window on such a sunny day. Mañana. Mañana. Mañana is good enough for me.”
GC: Do you have ways of relaxing?
PL: By changing whatever project I’m working on, I find fresh energy.
GC: Going from, say, your concert to working on a song?
PL: Yes. And I also do a lot of decorating. This house right now is decorated for leasing. I’ve stored some of my good things, but it isn’t bad for leasing, is it?
GC: Do you ever take a long drive, or do anything athletic to relax?
PL: No. Reading relaxes me tremendously. I had these books about 20 years ago and started to read them, and then lost track of them somewhere. On this trip back I found them in my library – The Lives and Teachings of the Masters of the Far East. Four volumes all of them fascinating. I understand there are five volumes and I’m going to have to find that last one.
GC: And they’re spiritual in terms of content?
GC: What are some of your favorite books?
PL: They all seem to be concerned with… My favorite book is called Letters of the Scattered Brotherhood, and it’s one of those things that I read over and over again and get a different facet of meaning each time.
GC: Who wrote that?
PL: It’s edited by Mary Strong, but the writings are anonymous. It’s a curious book. There are short pieces in there, some from contemporary times and some from way back.
GC: Are they inspirational?
PL: Very… I find the ocean revitalizing. I had a friend, Sonny Burke, whom I called Ocean Eyes because his eyes looked as if he had just come from boating. Ocean Eyes – isn’t that a nice name?
GC: Your last acting role in Pete Kelly’s Blues got you an Academy Award nomination.
PL: Yes, it did, and it won the Film Critics Award and the Audience Award. I really would like to do another role but I’ve never been offered one since. Maybe my new manager will find me one.