Posts Tagged ‘German’

Pirate Jenny

Sunday, November 22nd, ©2009 Marcus Brooks

I forget what all happened in my dreams last night, but I noticed that the soundtrack featured Kurt Weill’s tune “Pirate Jenny” from The Threepenny Opera. It’s a compellingly dark little ditty with equally dark lyrics in German by Bertolt Brecht.

I gather Marc Blitzstein wrote the popular English version. That’s how I heard it first when I was a kid, listening to a Judy Collins LP that my older sister left by Dad’s turntable. The song had a strong appeal to me as a kid, it echoed my childish desire to “get back at” adults or other kids who I thought had thwarted or hurt me in some way. For my adult self, the song recalls the fantasies of childhood, in which I found simple, impossible solutions for the wrongs that were dealt me. Because those solutions could never be tested, I am left with the lingering suspicion that they might have worked.

Much later, when I heard the song sung in German by Lotte Lenya, I was impressed to hear it uttered in all seriousness by an adult. I don’t know if Brecht meant Lenya to be seen as a childish adult, or as an adulterated child, but her cold rage belied the sense of childlike fantasy that I read into Collins’s performance.

I also was struck by the difference in language. On the one hand, a “schiff, mit acht Segeln” (with eight sails) doesn’t sound as ominous as a “ship, a black freighter.” On the other hand, there’s considerable force in “mit fünfzig Kanonen” (with fifty cannons). Overall, I think the words of Blitzstein’s English version tell a more active and compelling story than the literal German translation. I wish I knew German well enough to read it myself; that version certainly sounds compelling.

By the way, I just listened to a Nina Simone performance while I was Googling around; she’s great at what she does, but I didn’t like it for this song.

This all leaves me with one question: why did I dream “Pirate Jenny”? I imagine it arose from a movie I saw last night, My Life in Ruins, a light entertainment in which someone sings a song in Greek from another movie, Never on Sunday. While it is sung, someone else quietly “translates” the song for listeners. The funny thing is, the words of “translation” that I caught don’t resemble the Greek song as subtitled in Never on Sunday. Nor do any English versions I’ve heard. The Greek lyrics might serve as a Chamber of Commerce brochure for the Greek city of Piraeus. Somehow it seems every verse even ends with “Piraeus,” or a word like it.

What does that have to do with “Pirate Jenny”? I can’t really be sure, but I know my mind quite incorrectly associates “Piraeus” with the word “pirate.” So even though I was whistling “Never on Sunday” all last evening, at night it seems my mind dredged up “Pirate Jenny.”

Another association with My Life in Ruins?: I just noticed the Judy Collins LP I listened to was named My Life. I couldn’t remember the album title  consciously when I tried. Maybe that’s what my unconscious remembered last night. Maybe Piraeus wasn’t involved at all and this whole blog entry is pointless.

As Jenny said, “That’ll learn you!”