Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Nine Times

Ringing in the new year with Pirate Jenny.

For the past several months this sentence kept coming back to me: “Und dann werden Sie mich sagen hören, ‘Alle!'” (“and then you’ll hear me say, ‘all of them!'”) — the brutal denouement of Brecht and Weil’s Seeräuber Jenny. It’s a revenge song we leave without knowing what the vengeance is in response to, but we know it instinctively to be something unspeakable and horrid, a thick accumulation of transgressions both big and small and altogether unforgivable. They — whoever “they” might be — had it coming.

I can’t imagine 2018 being the year in which all wrongs are righted, all crimes punished, all wounds healed. But I’ll settle for some payback — which is just another form of justice, and not necessarily the least satisfying.

Here are nine Pirate Jennys. You’re welcome.


I wondered which version to start with, but ultimately this was an easy call. Nina Simone owns this.


My first CD of Dreigroschenoper has Milva singing Jenny, and she’s perfect there in German (alongside René Kollo, Ute Lemper, and the rest), but I love her singing it in Italian even more. It’s cool, smoky, and just right.


Amanda Palmer’s rendition is polarizing; I’m on the pole that thinks it’s brilliant, slight American accent and all.


Hanna Maron has a very small singing voice, but she sure knows how to use it — she’s only one of the greatest stage actors ever to work in Hebrew? As a sidenote, I can’t help admiring the fact that 1) as a child, she was part of the cast of Fritz Lang’s M, giving her a direct link to Brecht’s Berlin, and 2) she’s singing this in 1973, three years after losing a leg in a terrorist attack in Munich — a loss that never stopped her from performing, and from remaining a fierce supporter of Palestinian human rights.


French versions of Brecht are often a bit too… French? But when it works, it works, and with Juliette Gréco, it works.


Bea Arthur. QED.


This one is the very first French rendition (I think?), by Lys Gauty, and it might be a bit too lighthearted, but it’s also a good reminder that exacting justice on your abusers doesn’t need to be a sad, sombre event. Jouissance FTW.


Miri Aloni first recorded this song — in this translation, which is different, and less literal, than the Maron version above — in 1973. But this is easily the better performance: this Jenny (and this Miri Aloni) has zero fucks to give, and also no real redemption to look forward to. It’s better than unhinged; it’s pure, unmitigated freedom.


Lotte Lenya. 1931. She has various later, less reedy recordings of this song, including in English, but… this is where the aura’s at.


Oh, and happy new year.

Author: Ben Huberman

Ben leads the Editorial team at WordPress.com / Automattic, and contributes to Longreads, Discover, and The Daily Post.

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