Nevah, Nevah a Trace of Red

We’re watching “Beyond the Blue”–the musicalized version of Bobby Darin’s (Walden Robert Cassotto’s) life story. Kevin Spacey does a darn good job of singing–not lip-syncing–Darin’s best known (and some lesser known) tunes.

Not surprisingly, the movie opens with the syncopated opening bars of what most people these days would immediately recognize as “Mack the Knife.”

And yet, as I listened, it came to me that I remembered this same melody, slowed by half and played in a melancholy stranger-in-the-rain sort of way. I had known this tune very early, before age six maybe, and only now had those remnant memories resonated with Darin’s 1959 rendition. I was 11.

The song was written for the Three Penny Opera (1928) with lyrics by Bertold Brecht–though not exactly today’s lyrics, and no doubt, at least in the German to English translation, it never would have made it to the top of the charts.

Turns out, it reached the American public first by way of Louis Armstrong in 1954. That must be the version I’m remembering from farther back.

Here are a couple of stanzas from the original. Hardly makes you want to snap your fingers, eh?

Jenny Towler was found
With a knife in her chest
And on the wharf walks Mack the Knife,
Who knows nothing about all this.

And the minor-aged widow,
Whose name everyone knows,
Woke up and was violated
Mack, what was your price?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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