I was born in September, 1967, right after the Summer of Love. When I was a kid, I figured that made me an actual child of the 60s.
My parents were not hippies, but they met in the midst of the Minneapolis folk blues scene, and they certainly had a lot of interesting friends.
In 1967, they were living in Ankara. They only got new records when friends and co-workers brought them back from the USA and UK. Whenever those records arrived, they had a party.
When Sgt. Pepper arrived, the party went over 24 hours. They just kept turning it over. Mom was past 8 months pregnant with me, and along with everyone else she danced all night to that one record. She got broken glass in her foot and didn’t notice. She had a good time.
After I was born, she says when I got fussy, if she put that record on I would quiet down and listen. If I was tired, it would put me to sleep–I would go out with that final chord.
I still have no objectivity about this record, or not much. I go years without listening to it, but it’s part of my brain, I still have it memorized in detail, in depth.
She always said that her original copy, printed in the UK, had the sound of a cocktail party on whatever you call the final groove that winds toward the center label, and is usually blank. Some later party guest walked off with that copy, and her replacement didn’t feature that extra. After she died, I found a copy that does. It’s not a cocktail party. But it makes all the sense in the world that she remembered it that way.
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.