I’ve been bothered by this for many years but I never think to make a public nuisance about it except when I hear it; I have always hated the song Mack The Knife, specifically the Bobby Darin interpretation of the original German song Die Moritat von Mackie Messer from the Threepenny Opera. What a dumb piece of shit song I always thought, mostly because it always seemed to have a bunch of disjointed, random words thrown together amidst that loungy “hey-a, yowza, Old Lucy Browwwwn” singing style. “Sukey Tawdry” — who the fuck is Sukey Tawdry? What kind of a name is Sukey? Or Tawdry? Suki sounds Asian, but what kind of name is Tawdry? It sounds dirty. Was she a prostitute? “Sukey Tawdry” and “Old Lucy Brown” was just a bunch of gibberish to me for most of my life. When I’d heard it recently I inadvertently subjected my lady friend to a unilateral critical rant about the song. I felt badly about that, so I though I should man up and and perform due diligence on this track by attempting to dissect the song academically, in case I am wrong.
In the first quatrain of the Bobby Darin lyrics we’re told that there’s a shark and it has some amazing teeth. The shark shows his teeth, then inexplicably Darin starts talking about a jackknife that MacHeath has. Here is where I figure that the shark is a metaphor for the jackknife, or of MacHeath himself with the jackknife, and I surmise that MacHeath is a not-so-savory kinda guy. There is an element of secrecy introduced as MacHeath keeps the knife hidden.
As we listen to chapter two, we learn that MacHeath doesn’t get blood on his hands when he cuts people with his knife because he wears fancy gloves. (And Bruno Magli shoes? Aw, I’m just kiddin’.)
Quatrain three, it’s Sunday morning, someone’s bleeding on the sidewalk and maybe MacHeath is lurking close by.
In part four, there is a tugboat that has been prepared with a bag of cement. The cement will be used to weigh something down, like a body. “Five’ll get you ten” is a folksy way of saying “wanna bet” that Mack is in town?
Louie Miller, the singer tells us in the fifth block of the song, recently took his money out of the bank before going missing. Did Mack do it? He’s been spending a lot of money ’round the town. One might only presume…
A few others, it is suggested, have either gone dead, or are in the queue. Jenny Diver, Sukey Tawdry (did I mention how much I fucking hate that name?), Lotte Lenya and Old Lucy Brown are a few people named, but there are likely to be more to come when Mack is in town. This verse is repeated, I’m guessing either for emphasis or to fill a few beats.
“Look out, old Macky is back!” That’s probably good advice because this dude is a flamboyant, don’t-give-a-shit serial killer and your little tuchis is bound to get caught up in the mix.
The song winds up being a lot cooler than I thought it would be, but I’m sure it’ll still bug the fuck out of me when I hear it. “Whoooa Sukey Tawdryyyyyyy…” Anyway, I concede to you, Mack The Knife, while I still might not want to listen to Bobby Darin sing this, because I really think he accidentally fucks up the meaning of the song. Or Bobby Darin might have wanted a deliberate irony by performing this all sing-songy contrasted against the dark tone of the song. Whatevs, I am yielding on my original, uneducated assumption that it was bullshit writing. It is GOOD writing, in fact, Bertolt Brecht, and I hereby apologize for the unkind words I’ve said over the years.
Now I just need to know why McDonald’s used a song about a serial killer to sell hamburgers… And why it’s being sung by a moon-man. “Come on make it Mac Tonight!” [trumpet sting]
[c] 2009 Russ of America
(Lyrical interpretation and quotations protected by common Fair Use guidelines.)