B is for Bertolt Brecht


I know, I could have chosen an easy one like Dave Barry or L. Frank Baum.  Instead, I’m going with Brecht, for one reason only: “Mack the Knife.”

Just about everyone has heard the legendary Bobby Darin:

Maybe you’ve sung along.  I think I’ve performed a few karaoke versions of it myself.  So how does Bobby Darin singing “Mack the Knife” relate to Bertolt Brecht, a German playwright who died in 1956?  Brecht wrote the song lyrics to what translates as “The Murder Ballad of Mackie Messer” for a German musical drama called Die Dreigroschenoper, or The Threepenny Opera.   In it, the character is a horrible person, committing murder, arson, rape, and robbery.  Listening to Bobby Darin sing, you’re more caught up in his stage presence, and perhaps you don’t hear the lyrics.  The shark has white teeth.  When he bites, scarlet billows (of blood) spread.  But he always wears gloves, so no tracing back to old Mack.  By the way, Mack, or Macheath, goes way, way back to another opera, The Beggar’s Opera, written in the early 1700s.

Meanwhile, Mack the Knife has struck again, because on a lovely Sunday morning, a body lies on the sidewalk, just oozing life.  Louie Miller withdrew cash and then suddenly disappeared.  Now, Mack is spending money like there’s no tomorrow.  Hmmm.

So Miss Jenny Diver, Miss Sukey Tawdry (what a great name), Miss Lotte Lenye, and Miss Lucy Brown – you all better watch out.  Mack’s back in town.

There’s another verse, written by Brecht when The Threepenny Opera was made into a movie in 1930 (this is the translation):

There are some who are in the darkness, and the others are in the light.  And you see the ones in brightness, those in darkness drop from sight.