Brecht’s Working Class Revenge Fantasy

Lotte Lenya as Pirate Jenny

Lotte Lenya as Pirate Jenny

Friday

If working class Americans are turning to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, it may in large part be because their incomes are stagnating while the rich are getting richer. If so, then they have have a spokesperson in Bertolt Brecht. In “Pirate Jenny” from Three Penny Opera –memorably performed by Lotte Lenya in the original–he gives us a revenge fantasy of the powerless.

Should we kill the Republican and Democratic establishments now or later? Right now!

“Pirate Jenny”

By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by Marc Blitzstein

1
You people can watch while I’m scrubbing these floors
And I’m scrubbin’ the floors while you’re gawking
Maybe once ya tip me and it makes ya feel swell
In this crummy Southern town, in this crummy old hotel
But you’ll never guess to who you’re talkin’.
No. You couldn’t ever guess to who you’re talkin’.
Then one night there’s a scream in the night
And you’ll wonder who could that have been
And you see me kinda grinnin’ while I’m scrubbin’
And you say, “What’s she got to grin?”
I’ll tell you.

There’s a ship, the black freighter
with a skull on its masthead
will be coming in.

2
You gentlemen can say, “Hey gal, finish them floors!
Get upstairs! What’s wrong with you! Earn your keep here!
You toss me your tips
and look out to the ships
But I’m counting your heads
as I’m making the beds
Cuz there’s nobody gonna sleep here, honey
Nobody! Nobody!
Then one night there’s a scream in the night
And you say, “Who’s that kicking up a row?”
And ya see me kinda starin’ out the winda
And you say, “What’s she got to stare at now?”
I’ll tell ya.

There’s a ship, the black freighter
turns around in the harbor
shootin’ guns from her bow

3
Now you gentlemen can wipe that smile off your face
‘Cause every building in town is a flat one
This whole frickin’ place will be down to the ground
Only this cheap hotel standing up safe and sound
And you yell, “Why do they spare that one?”
Yes, that’s what you say.
“Why do they spare that one?”
All the night through, through the noise and to-do
You wonder who is that person that lives up there?
And you see me stepping out in the morning
Looking nice with a ribbon in my hair.

And the ship, the black freighter
runs a flag up its masthead
and a cheer rings the air

4
By noontime the dock is a-swarmin’ with men
comin’ out from the ghostly freighter
They move in the shadows where no one can see
And they’re chainin’ up people and they’re bringin’ em to me
askin’ me, “Kill them NOW, or LATER?”
Askin’ ME! “Kill them now, or later?”
Noon by the clock
and so still by the dock
You can hear a foghorn miles away
And in that quiet of death
I’ll say, “Right now.
Right now!”
Then they’ll pile up the bodies
And I’ll say,
“That’ll learn ya!”

And the ship, the black freighter
disappears out to sea
And on it is me.

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