David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 180: Bobby Darin (Mack The Knife)

September 6, 2022

In April 1979, the Morgantown High School German Club put on a variety show.  As you can see from the program, it was a top quality affair across the board.

I was the M.C. while the circle of my closest high school friends, all in the German Club, provided much of the "talent" for the show.

A highlight (depending how you want to use that term) was our rendition of "Die Morität von Mackie Messer," the original version of "Mack The Knife."  While one of our female members sang the song, one of my best friends stalked her on stage in long trenchcoat, looking quite menacing with his fake knife (tin-foil covered; in retrospect, I was the chair of the Costumes and Props committee, of which he was also on, so we really can only blame ourselves). I generally remember the "skit" going over well, audience tittering to the lanky dangerous type skulking around the stage.

But, really, 43 years later, I have to ask, "what the hell were we all thinking?"

First off, I am sure Frau provided in-depth background to The Threepenny Opera and Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht for all of us. As someone so fascinated by pop music, I must have been stuck thinking of Bobby Darin's snappy 1959 single, fully unrepresented in the record collections of most 17- and 18-year olds on that Westover Methodist Church stage in April 1979. (If we thought about it too long, we might have wondered if older siblings had been conceived during the "Ho Ho" yelled by Darin two minutes into his hit?) Besides, who knows how often the younger us had come home to see this rather unhip Darin singing "Mack The Knife" on those fine afternoon talk shows: The Andy Williams Show, The Merv Griffin Show, or The Mike Douglas Show? As catchy as Darin's version is, it couldn't help still being soooooo old.

I am pretty sure that opening line, "oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth dear/and he shows them pearly white," made the teenagers that April want to have our singer stalked by the SNL landshark, which would have brought it closer to our cultural sense, or at least have been a tad less distasteful.

But, no, true to the cultural programming that also included "Edelweiss," "Das Puppenspiel vom Dr. Faust," and "Wanderers Nachtlied," we were performing "Die Morität von Mackie Messer," and my tall, lanky, best friend brandished a knife at a classmate while she sang (in German) of "a body oozing life" and "cement bags just a dropping on down."  Ah, the stuff you could get away with it in 1979.

With just a piano as musical accompaniment, perhaps the German lines weren't quite as dramatic to the audience. Certainly Darin's version of the song ratcheted up the drama with key changes that I'm guessing the MHS German Club weren't ready to challenge.

In the end, I am sure "Die Morität von Mackie Messer," was a big sensation with our parents and friends in the audience. No one filed a complaint, just as no one had filed a complaint when the German Club the previous fall had entered a giant home-made beer stein as our entry for the Homecoming Parade, 8 or so of us on the back of a pick-up truck singing Bier Macht Spass. As I noted on Day 121 (Steve Miller Band), Frau was pretty cool and we seemed to get away with a lot. However, I still worry why she went away not long after we graduated.

I hope some born-before-their time history revisionists didn't lodge a complaint about Mackie Messer. There were much bigger messes to complain about, like the inky ones on my arms after every English class. There's where the real threat to our classmates resided.

Darin, Bobby. "Mack The Knife." That's All. Atco, 1959. Link here.

Day 179: The Jayhawks "Gonna Be A Darkness"

Day 181: Erin McKeown "You Were Right About Everything"

See complete list here.