Norma Egstrom’s mother died when Norma was only four years old, and most of the rest of her childhood was spent with an alcoholic father and a cruel step-mother. Norma sought refuge in music, working hard at developing her considerable talent. As a teenager she changed her name to Peggy Lee and began performing professionally for local radio stations in and around her hometown of Jamestown, North Dakota. When she was 17 she moved to Los Angeles, and at the age of 21 she was discovered by Benny Goodman. She began singing for his band and recorded her first number one hit at the age of 22. She had many more hits in her career, along with success as a songwriter, composer, and actress. Her last vocal hit was the unusual song Is That All There Is? in 1969. The verses are spoken, and the entire sad song expresses disappointment with life. Only the refrain is sung, and that says simply, “If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing; let’s break out the booze and have a ball.” This popular song contains not one word of hope. The last verse even raises the thought of suicide, but then dismisses it, being in “no hurry for that final disappointment.”
IS THAT ALL THERE IS?
by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, performed by Peggy Lee (1969):
“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?'”
Refrain: 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?'” Refrain
“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?'” Refrain
“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 last breath,
I’ll be saying to myself…” Refrain
Peggy Lee (1920-2002)
Delta Dawn is another sad song, but unlike Peggy Lee’s 1969 hit, Helen Reddy’s 1973 hit contains a hint of hope– a brief word of hope using an image from the Bible.
written by Alex Harvey, 1972, #1 hit by Helen Reddy in 1973
Delta Dawn what’s that flower you have on?
Could it be a faded rose from days gone by?
And did I hear you say he was a meeting you here today
To take you to his mansion in the sky
She’s forty-one and her daddy still calls her “baby”
All the folks around Brownsville say she’s crazy
‘Cause she walks around town with a suitcase in her hand
Looking for a mysterious dark-haired man
In her younger days they called her Delta Dawn
Prettiest woman you ever laid eyes on
Then a man of low degree stood by her side
And promised her he’d take her for his bride
Delta Dawn, what’s that flower you have on
Could it be a faded rose from days gone by
And did I hear you say he was a-meeting you here today
To take you to his mansion in the sky
In her younger days, she was a beauty, “the prettiest lady you ever laid eyes on.” Then she was abandoned, stood up by a “mysterious dark haired man” who had “promised her he’d take her for his bride.” Now, “folks around Brownsville say she’s crazy,” because she is still walking around town with her suitcase in her hand, waiting for this mysterious dark haired man. So far, this is just the story of a broken and disturbed woman, and she seems to be without hope.
But something else is going on here. Delta Dawn is now waiting for someone to take her where?– “to his mansion in the sky.” Who talked about taking people to a ‘mansion’ in the sky? Jesus, of course, in John 14. Delta Dawn has been hurt in this life, and she’s a wounded soul. She has gone from being the prettiest girl in town, to a crazy lady. She’s “a faded rose from days gone by.” But she still has a hope. Someone else is coming to get her, someone who will not disappoint her, but who will indeed take her to his mansion in the sky. Did Alex Harvey have all that in mind? I don’t know, but that is the image he used.
So to answer the despairing question of Peggy Lee “Is that all there is?,” Delta Dawn says “No, there is more– there is a mansion in the sky.” “Believe in me,” said Jesus in the same passage as he talked about that mansion– “Believe in me and I will take you there.” Delta Dawn is a believer and she is ready, suitcase in hand.
Alex Harvey wrote this song about his mother. Here is the story:
Helen Reddy in a 2011 interview talking about her quiet life now:
Ecclesiastes 2:17 — So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.
Luke 12:19-20 — (The rich fool in Jesus’ parable said to himself), “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”
John 14:1-3 (King James Version) — (Jesus said), “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”
Grant, O Lord, that what has been said with our lips we may believe in our hearts,
and that what we believe in our hearts we may practice in your lives,
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. –John Hunter, Scotland, 18th century