It’s been a dark week. Today I realized I’d been hearing this song in my head for hours.
I started listening to my mother’s collection of musicals, mostly from her brief frightening time in 1950s NYC, when I was about twelve or thirteen. I liked the dark ones best, a taste that would only intensify over the next few years. I especially remember being deeply in love with Lotte Lenya in the 1950s NYC production of The Threepenny Opera, and her “Pirate Jenny.”
I identified with this song to a degree that gives me a different set of chills, listening to it now. But I know I was far from the only adolescent girl to be enraptured by that fantasy of total revenge. Things had been going very badly for me for a few years, and people were always telling me to smile, because I was so pretty when I smiled…and damn the rest of me.
I don’t recall that anyone commented on my attraction to stories of horror and destruction.
I knew life would be better when I grew up, and I was right. But the attraction is still there. And now I have an adolescent girl who loves them too.
There’s a few videos of this song online, not to mention all the covers. Back in the 80s I was in love with the English language recording, made when Lenya was over 50, with an expressive acting style, and a lower vocal register. Here’s one TV performance.
But looking it up, I ran across this German version from the 1931 film and was even more struck by it. Her piercing girl’s voice, her frozen face and posture. Mac the Knife sliding in to watch.