A blog

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

My favourite three songs might be coloured by my current obsession with "Pirate Jenny," the Threepenny Opera song written by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht and most notably sung by Lotte Lenya, but also done in a rocking, martial version by German actress-singer Hildegard Knef and most recently last year by American cabaret and stage singer Anne Kerry Ford. In the song, the chamber-maid protagonist seeks revenge -- her menial labour as a housekeeper is a meager living and the men at the hotel where she works humiliate her, making her plight inhumane and unjust. She describes that when a eight-sail, 40-cannon pirate ship docks in the town harbor, the townspeople she serves are sent to be massacred at her command and the the entire village is flattened. "That'll learn ya," she says.

Promises of "That'll learn ya!" haven't fallen out of fashion in popular music. Today, almost a century later, a plan for vengeance still can make a great pop song. Why not? It's partially what pop music is good for. So while many a Pirate Jenny has taken a chance to vent and plot over the years, in 2007 I am struck by three songs in which worlds -- so evocative, unique and hearteningly rendered -- are are illuminated by their injustices.

Before seeking out revenge, the victim suffers an injustice that maps out alienation or estrangement, subjugation, and then finally desperation. These events allow the victim to be clearly presented and even conscious of being the "other" (the other class, in Pirate Jenny's case, but also the other sex, the other sexual orientation, the other nation, and the other ethnic background in the tracks shown below), and that acknowledges the tradition in Brecht's original depictions of the Marxist struggle in civilization.

3. Paper Planes by M.I.A.
(from the album Kala, fourth single)

2. Going to a Town by Rufus Wainwright
(from the album Release the Stars, first single)

1. Na Na Na by The Knife
(from the album Silent Shout, fifth single)


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