Mack the KnifeWords & Music by Kurt Weill
From "The Three Penny Opera"
Recorded by Bobby Darin, 1959
D D6 Cdim A7 Well, the shark has pretty teeth dear, A7+5 A7 A7sus4 A7 D6 And he keeps them pearl - y white Bm Em Just a jackknife has old MacHeath dear, G/B A7sus4 A7 D Cdim A7 And he keeps it out of sight. When the shark bites with his teeth dear, Scarlet billows start to spread Fancy gloves though wears old MacHeath dear, So there's never a trace of red Sunday morning on the sidewalk, Lies a body oozing life And some one's creeping around the corner, Could that some one be Mack the knife? From a tug boat on the river A cement bag's dropping down The cement's just for the weight dear, Five'll get you ten ol' Macky's back in town Louis Miller disappeared dear, After drawing all his cash And old MacHeath spends like a sailor -- Did our boy do someting rash? Suky Tawdry, Jenny Diver, Look out, Miss Lotte Lenya and old Lucy Brown Well, the line forms on the right girls, Now that Macky's back in town!
Your trivia for the day: the Lotte Lenya whose name appears late in the song is, in fact, a real person -- she was an Austrian-born singer and actress with a lucrative career in the years between the world wars, and on Broadway following WWII. Fans of Broadway productions probably already knew her quite well; but even if you're not a theater-goer, you've probably seen her, without know it -- she played bad-gal Rosa Kleb in the James Bond movie "From Russia With Love" who tries to kill 007 by kicking him with her shoe/knife. (She also played a masseuse in Burt Reynolds' film "Semi Tough.) I first heard it from Suzanne Wilemon, Director of Jazz Programming at KTCU in Texas, that Lenya had another sideline I'd never known about: she was also Mrs. Kurt Weill. In information gained since this "revelation" I have learned that she was widely-recognized as an interpreter of Weil's songs, and as late as 1975 was planning a premiere of Weil's previously-unperformed works; her ill-health prevented that performance. (And I'll bet you thought Lotte Lenya was just a name.)
Recent visitor Tom P. was able to explain the Lotte Lenya reference even more clearly:
"Lotte Lenya was appearing in the Blitzstein version of "Threepenny Opera" in New York in the 1950s when Louis Armstrong recorded "Mack the Knife". This was well before Bobby Darin's version and was also a hit, although not as big as Darin's Sinatra-style version. Lotte Lenya was in the studio for the Armstrong session and Satchmo gave her a shout out as he sang the song, "Look out for Miss Lotte Lenya". When Darin recorded the song, he kept the line in.
"All the other women's names, Suky Tawdry, Jenny Diver, Lucy Brown, etc., appear in the original German version. Since the 'Threepenny Opera' is set in London (based on the original British "Beggar's Opera" by John Gay), the names are all English."
My own limited research suggests he is correct on the English names. I'm told that "Suky Tawdry" is a generic name for a lady of the evening, and I've also heard that Jenny Diver is a term used for a washerwoman. Of more possible interest is the name Lucy Brown -- who, according to one source, was the only woman in the British Empire ever hanged for murder. Interesting, if true...but further input from other visitors, and research they pointed me to, indicates that it isn't. (Sigh.)
Another recent visitor, Marvin Miller, has a particular claim to the source of the bit of trivia he sent to me:
"I read the story on your site regarding the song Mack the Knife and some of the history. I wanted to provide you a little more to add to the story. My father, Louis, worked as a radio announcer at WLW radio in Cincinnati in the late 30's. He was also a pick up musician for many of the popular bands of the time when they were in the Cincinnati area. The Louis Miller in the song is my father. He knew Kurt Weill as part of his travels during that era. My father passed away in 1964, so some of the details are sketchy, but this is from what my mother remembers." (So, evidently he didn't "disappear after drawing out all his hard-earned cash!")
And, courtesy of visitor Phil LaRonge, here's even more about this song:
"The lyrics are, I believe, Marc Blitzstein's. They are a translation of the original lyrics by the great German dramatist Bertolt Brecht and are from Brecht and Weill's socially-significant theatre piece, "Die Dreigroschenoper," or "The Three-Penny Opera," as we know it. The play, which was basically a German adaptation of John Gay's "The Begger's Opera," was one of the factors that got the two collaborators run out of Berlin on the proverbial rail. Hitler was not pleased--so Brecht and Weill both fled the country and ended up in America, Weill in New York and Brecht in California (where he wrote a few unsuccessful screenplays.) Weill stayed in the U.S. and had a number of Broadway hits, most notably "Knickerbocker Holiday" (which includes the beautiful "September Song"). He died in NY sometime during the '60s, I think. (Note: Weill died suddenly in New York City in April 1950, having suffered a massive coronary; he died in Lenya's arms.) In 1951, Brecht, who was a Communist of sorts, ran afoul of the infamous House Un-American activities Committee. After a rather rough and rude questioning, he saw the handwriting on the wall and moved back to Germany, settling in East Berlin, where the great master of "epic theatre" died in 1956.
"The original song's lyric, translated literally from the German source, are even more dark and brooding than the version cited above:
Oh, how red the shark's fins are Whenever he sheds blood;
Mackie Messer wears a glove, So nobody will detect any misdeed.
Into the Thames' green waters People suddenly begin to fall;
It is neither the plague or cholera; But it's said Macheath is around. . . ."