"Pirate Jenny" (German: "Seeräuber-Jenny") is a well-known song from The Threepenny Opera by Kurt Weill, with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht. The English lyrics are by Marc Blitzstein. It is probably the second most famous song in the opera, after "Mack the Knife".
Content and context
The song depicts Low-Dive Jenny (German: Spelunken-Jenny), a character based on Jenny Diver (1700–1741). Low-Dive Jenny is a lowly maid at a "crummy old hotel", imagining avenging herself for the contempt she endures from the townspeople. A pirate ship – with eight sails, and with 50 cannons – enters the harbor, fires on the city and flattens every building except the hotel. The pirates come ashore, chain up all the townspeople, and present them to Jenny, who orders the pirates to kill them all. She then sails away with the pirates.
The song was originally placed in the first act and sung by Mackie's bride, Polly Peachum, who resents her parents' opposition to her trying her luck with Mackie and is fantasizing about avenging herself on the constraints of her family. However, the song is frequently moved to the second act and given to the prostitute Jenny. Jenny has given Mackie, her former lover, shelter from the police but is jealous of his wife, Polly. Eventually, she tips off the police, who catch Mackie and take him to his hanging. Her song suggests that she likes the idea of having Mackie's fate in her hands.
Many notable artists have covered this song independent of the stage show: Lotte Lenya (who originated the role of Jenny), Sasha Velour, Steeleye Span, Ute Lemper, Hildegard Knef, Charlotte Rae, Nina Simone, The Dresden Dolls, Judy Collins, Marianne Faithfull, Marc Almond and Bea Arthur. The Young Gods covered the song in their tribute album The Young Gods Play Kurt Weill. Xiu Xiu covered the song in their Nina Simone tribute album Nina. Shilpa Ray covered the song with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis on Son of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys (2013).
In popular culture
- Clifford Harper drew a graphic adaptation of the song, entitled "The Black Freighter" in the magazine Anarchy No. 2.
- Comic-book writer Alan Moore cited this song as one of the inspirations for the Black Freighter pirate material in Watchmen. The Nina Simone version also appears on the soundtrack for the motion picture.
- In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, also written by Alan Moore, Jenny's revenge fantasy is taken as a literal event in which "Janni", who is Captain Nemo's daughter, is gang raped and summons the crew of the Nautilus to slaughter her rapists and the indifferent spectators alike.
- The song was inspiration for Lars von Trier's Dogville (2003), a film about a mistreated woman who seeks revenge on her neighbors.
- The song is mentioned in Bob Dylan's 2004 memoir Chronicles: Volume One as a turning point in his early songwriting development.
- The song is paraphrased on Chico Buarque's "Geni e o Zepelim". This song is a number from his musical play Ópera do Malandro, which is based on Brecht's The Threepenny Opera.
- Du Noyer, Paul (2010). In the City: A Celebration of London Music. Virgin Books. p. 19. ISBN 978-0753515747.
- "Polly II – Plan for a Revolution in Docklands – Reader", Anja Kirschner (2006)
- "Die Seeräuber-Jenny", Brecht's text (in German)
"Seeräuberjenny" ("Pirate Jenny"), German and English text
- Legget, Steve. Son of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chantey at AllMusic
- In The New Comics Anthology, Bob Callahan, ed., Collier Books, 1991, pp. 170–173.
- "The Alan Moore Interview" at blather.net
- In Lars von Trier: Interviews, Jan Lumholdt, ed., University Press of Mississippi, 2003, p. 206.