How To Survive

I saw “The Threepenny Opera” a few weeks ago, and despite all the flaws in the production (the NY press tore it to shreds) I was deeply moved by the text. I had my friend Jason burn me the CD from the famous off-Broadway production with Lotte Lenya (Kurt Weill’s widow), Bea Arthur and Charlotte Rae. (Yes, that’s Dorothy from The Golden Girls and Mrs. Garrett from Facts of Life!) Of all the songs–which are very dark but all piercingly brilliant–this one, “How To Survive” has tortured my conscience the most. The lyrics are pretty self-explanatory but with the music it packs an even greater emotional wallop. I don’t want to risk getting sued by uploading the mp3, so I’ll pretend I didn’t though you may find it in the text above. Hope you find it as powerful as I do. [And that is, indeed, Mrs. Garrett singing at the end. Her voice is a bit shrill but as the saying goes: you take the good, you take the bad.]

“How To Survive”

lyrics by Bertolt Brecht

music by Kurt Weill

from “The Threepenny Opera”

Now those among you full of pious teaching

Who teach us to renounce the major sins

should know before you do your heavy preaching

our middle’s empty

there it all begins

Your vices and our virtues are so dear to you

So learn the simple truth from this our song

wherever you aspire

whatever you may do

first feed the face

and then talk right and wrong

For even honest folk

May act like sinners

unless they’ve had their customary dinners.

What keeps a man alive?

What keeps a man alive

He lives on others

He likes to taste them first then eat them whole if he can

Forgets that they’re supposed to be his brothers

That he himself

Was ever called a man

Remember if you wish to stay alive

For once do something bad and you’ll survive

You warn us with appropriate caresses

That virtue humble virtue always wins

Now please before your moral verve oppresses

Our middle’s empty there it all begins

Oh you who don’t in our despair and your desire

may learn the simple truth from this our song

whatever you may do whatever you aspire

first feed the face and then talk right and wrong

for even saintly folk may act like sinners

unless they’ve had their customary dinners

WHat keeps a man alive?

What keeps a man alive

He lives on others

He likes to taste them first then eat them whole if he can

Forgets that they’re supposed to be his brothers

That he himself was ever called a man

Remember if you wish to stay alive

For once do something bad and you’ll survive.

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