Is That All There Is?
|"Is That All There Is?"|
|Single by Peggy Lee|
"Is That All There Is?" is a song written by American songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller during the 1960s. It became a hit for American singer Peggy Lee and an award winner from her album in November 1969. The song was originally performed by Georgia Brown in May 1967, then recorded by Dan Daniels in March 1968, then by Leslie Uggams in August 1968, and Peggy Lee in August 1969, followed by Guy Lombardo in 1969, and Tony Bennett on 22 December 1969.
Peggy Lee's version reached number 11 on the U.S. pop singles chart - becoming her first Top 40 pop hit since "Fever," 11 years earlier - and doing even better on the adult contemporary scene, topping that Billboard chart. It won Lee the Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and then later was named to the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The lyrics of this song are written from the point of view of a person who is disillusioned with events in life that are supposedly unique experiences. The singer tells of witnessing her family's house on fire when she was a little girl, seeing the circus, and falling in love for the first time. After each recital she expresses her disappointment in the experience. She suggests that we "break out the booze and have a ball — if that's all there is", instead of worrying about life. She explains that she'll never kill herself either because she knows that death will be a disappointment as well. The verses of the song are spoken, rather than sung. Only the refrain of the song is sung.
The song was inspired by the 1896 story Disillusionment (Enttäuschung) by Thomas Mann. Jerry Leiber's wife Gaby Rodgers (née Gabrielle Rosenberg) was born in Germany, lived in the Netherlands. She escaped ahead of the Nazis, and settled in Hollywood where she had a brief film career in films noir. Gaby introduced Leiber to the works of Thomas Mann, and helped her husband with the lyrics. The narrator in Mann's story tells the same stories of when he was a child. A dramatic adaptation of Mann's story was recorded by Erik Bauserfeld and Bernard Mayes; it was broadcast on San Francisco radio station KPFA in 1964.
One difference between the story and the song is that the narrator in Mann's story finally feels free when he sees the sea for the first time and laments for a sea without a horizon. Most of the words used in the song's chorus are taken verbatim from the narrator's words in Mann's story.
This song has been covered by Chaka Khan, Giant Sand, Sandra Bernhard, P.J. Harvey, Alan Price, The Bobs, Firewater, and Amanda Lear. In 1972 Hildegard Knef released a German version called "Wenn das alles ist".
An altered version by No Wave singer Cristina was available briefly in 1980. However, it offended songwriters Leiber and Stoller, who sued and were able to get it suppressed for some time. Produced by August Darnell, a.k.a. Kid Creole, this version was eventually re-issued in 2004 as a bonus track on a Cristina compilation.
In 1996 a cover by P.J. Harvey appeared on the Basquiat soundtrack. In 2008 the song was covered by the duo of jazz singer Kate and composer Mike Westbrook; it was featured on their CD, The Westbrook Songbook. Bette Midler covered the song for her Peggy Lee tribute album Bette Midler Sings the Peggy Lee Songbook. The New Standards covered the song on their 2008 release Rock and Roll. The song is performed in the 2007 movie The Nines by Hope Davis, and on the Jasmine Records release Rain Rain Go Away by Dorothy Squires.
Joan Morris released an album containing this song, accompanied by William Bolcom on the piano. This song was performed by Nathan Lane and Dianne Reeves in season 5, episode 74 (2002) of the American television series Sex and the City.
Uses in media
The Peggy Lee version appears in Martin Scorsese's film After Hours. When Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) returns to Club Berlin, he uses his last remaining quarter to play the song and asks Verna (Verna Bloom) to dance. It was used as the closing theme of the WJW-TV show Big Chuck and Lil' John during the 1980s.