Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Saturday, March 2, 2019

Mayn kales apetit (My fiancee's appetite) - Bill of Fare - Yiddish vaudeville song about gluttony at Coney Island

UPDATE: Reposting because I found this song in Lider magazin number 21, on page 10. And my guess (see below) was confirmed: though Sani Shapiro printed it as Mayn kales apetit WITHOUT an attribution of author, in the Lider magazin Louis Gilrod is named and the title is actually "Bill of Fare." Feeling pretty pleased to have my guess confirmed. Click on the images below for a larger view.
Here's the songsheet in the Hebrew Union College box:



And here's the same song from the Lider magazin:




Coney Island attracts Jewish immigrantsConey Island's excesses are the subject of this song, particularly the way cheerful Americans with a few pennies in their pockets could buy a staggering variety of foods. I think the lyricist was blown away by the public gorging, much as you would be today if you visited the North Carolina State Fair!

Mark Slobin had a copy of this broadside and wrote about it on page 105 of his Tenement Songs:
Of particular textual interest in this song of a lunch gone mad is the slow build-up of fantastic elements, which eventually acquire a surreal character: "roasted rain with cooked snow"; "bitter honey with sweet horseradish." ... What we are dealing with is a comment on the hurly-burly, hodge-podge nature of American life, where strange foods are bolted down indiscriminately."
I didn't think I'd be able to find the tune for this song. At the end of the introductory verse, though, appear the English words "Bill of Fare," and since when Yiddish lyricists wrote parodies of English language songs they often referenced the original song in some way...

...  I searched this title at the Library of Congress site and found two songs called "Bill of Fare." The song lyrics in the American Yiddish Penny Songs collection fit the 1885 song by Karl Merz which you can look at here. Here are his lyrics:

Lobster sauce and chicken fried, turtle soup and turkey boiled,
Roasted goose or mutton steaks, oysters stewed or flannel cakes
Chicken salad leg of lamb, fried potatoes and roasted ham.
Oysters pickled cabbage boiled, apple dumplings pigeons broiled
Beefsteak, salmon, onion sauce, roast beef, pork and codfish balls
Spinach lettuce radies, omelet, tongue and sausages!
Apple pie or butter cakes, custard cold or scrambled eggs
Salmon rolled or oysters fried, watermelon, cherries dried,
Orange cream or marmalade, gingerbread this morning made,
Coffee, tea, or lady cake, Ladies, Gents, what will ye take?

Since Bill of Fare is very similar to (though not as surreal as) Mayn vaybs apetit I decided to set the Yiddish words to this tune.

The arrangement available at the Library of Congress is for four equal voices. I rearranged it for three voices and sang them all myself. It would have been much better to have actual real people sing with me, but I don't know anybody I could ask to do it! It also would have been better if I'd done it at a studio where you can use automatic pitch correction! But it's what it is, another living room recording, the best I could do.



I imagine what an immigrant Jew of humble origins would think of the Merz Bill of Fare, and of the outrageous varieties of foods available on the streets and in the restaurants of Coney Island! America, you land of plenty!

Before Nathan's hot dogs became the iconic Coney Island pit stop, there was Feltman's. Maybe Feltman's is the restaurant to which this hapless young man took his voracious sweetheart. And did you know Charles Feltman is considered the father of the hotdog!
In an effort to improve his Brooklyn business, Feltman came up with a better idea: sandwich a frankfurter in a specially-made elongated roll which could conveniently be held and eaten on the street or at the beach. Feltman called his 1869 creation the Coney Island red hot, and it was soon the eating rage.

But it was popular uncertainty about exactly what kind of meat was in these casings that ultimately determined that it would be called "hot dog".

I noticed that the English word "potatoes" was spelled two different ways in this one song. Note also that "union bread" appears in the song: Morris Rund, author of many of the lyrics in the collection, was a baker and a fervent union man.

In Warheit, June 24, 1913, there was a Gimpel Beinish der Shadchen (Gimpl Beynish the matchmaker) comic strip on this subject (click for a larger, clear view). Read from right to left:

June 24, 1913
A maiden mustn't demonstrate too big an appetite, because it's simply bad for business.
1) GB: He invites her to dinner at a restaurant. It's going well. I may yet end up with a couple pennies today.
2) Jake: Order something, miss. This is a fine restaurant; I eat a regular dinner here every day. Waiter, take the order.
3) The Miss: I don't have much appetite today, but - I know - give me a bit of chopped liver, a piece of spring chicken and a plate of soup ---
4) The Miss: And a steak with french fried potatoes, a half dozen oysters, with a glass of Pilzner beer, a little ice cream and a piece of blueberry pie and ---
5) GB: Say, where are you running off to? It's not enough that I make no matchmaker's fee, but you leave me in a restaurant with a woman I don't know?

I've put 252 of the Gimpl Beynish cartoons into a book and translated all the captions. For more info: Gimpel Beynish the Matchmaker: Samuel Zagat's Yiddish Comic Strips 1912-1914

Here's the transliteration and the English translation of Mayn kales apetit. Write me if you want to try this song - it would work for a Jewish chorus!

Hert nor mentshn oys mayn plog, ikh nem mayn kale in eyn tog
'Pleasure' gebn vil ikh ir, in Coney Island nem ikh zi mit mir
Un dortn zog ikh tsu ir gants fayn, in 'restaurant' kum mit mir arayn
Gevorn iz mir biter un shver ven zi hot ge-ordert fun 'Bill of Fare."

Gehakte leber sardin 'delis,' katshkene eyer mit gendzene fis
Gefrayte fish mit gezaltsenem 'cake,' gefilte katshke mit shvartsn 'steak'
Fertsn vurshtlekh mit grin salat, zoyere 'pickles' mit tshokolad
Zibetsn 'sponge cakes' hot zi farlangt! Un der 'veyter' hot ir bald derlangt:

Gefrayte 'peanuts' mit shveytser kez, gezeyfte latkes mit farshtopte nez
Gebigelte 'oysters' mit 'epel pie,' gezaltsene 'pudding' gefilt mit blay
Flomen tsimes mit 'corned beef' a glezl bronfn seis fus tif
Lederne blintses mit paprikash, un dan hot der 'veyter' derlangt mit kurazh:

Hak fleysh brak fleys 'fricasee', a halbn oks mit kelblekh tsvey
'Strawberry shortcake' mit hering gefikst, 'mostard' mit honig mit pikels gemikst
A gulash a la Houston Strit, a mamelige mit fefer un 'meat'
Pateytes mit 'pitches' gekokht a pracht, zi hot geshlungen un der 'veyter' hot gebrakht

Oksene eyer mit herbsn zup, a gefrayte katshke mitn ponim arop
'Chinese' beblekh gefrayt mit vint, spanishe potaytos gekokht mit ting
Italyanishe 'macaroni' mit 'Castor Oil,' Terkishe kave mit retshen mel
Yunge 'tootpicks' mit a gloz kishmish, un dan hot der veyter derlangt tsum tish:

A shisl borsht mit a pesl shtof, a tsuber hashe mit a 'plate' pilaf
A 'box' mit knishes mit a emer kroyt, a gefrayte tageblat mit a 'Union' broyt
A shisl 'Ayz krim' mit kreplekh heys, der ayzkrim hot gekilt fun di kreplekh dem shveys
Dem rusishn keyzer tsehakt in dray, un der veyter hot bald derlangt derbay:

A gefrayte oks mit a lange tsung, gekokhte 'magnesie' mit gedempte lung
Getrikente arbes mit nase tey, gebrotenem regn mit gekokhte shney
Bitern honig mit zisn khreyn, geputste shikh mit a marekh beyn
Dernokh hot zi farbisn mit a gefrayte kots
Biz got hot mir geholfn, zi hot gekrogn di plots!

Just listen people, to what plagues me: I take my fiancee out one day
I want to give her pleasure, I take her with me to Coney Island.
And there I tell her so finely, "Come with me into the restaurant!"
Things became bitter and hard for me... when she ordered from the bill of fare

Chopped liver, sardine 'delish', ducks' eggs with goose feet,
Fried fish with salted cake, stuffed duck with black steak,
Fourteen sausages with green salad, sour pickles with chocolate,
She ordered seventeen spongecakes and the waiter soon brought her:

Fried peanuts with Swiss cheese, soapy latkes with a stuffy nose,
Ironed oysters with apple pie, salty pudding filled with lead,
Plum pudding with corned beef, a glass of brandy six feet deep,
Leather blintses with paprika, and then the waiter waiter courageously brought:

Chopped meat, mince meat, fricasee, half an ox with two calves,
Strawberry shortcake prepared with herring, mustard and honey mixed with pickles,
A goulash a la Houston Street, a corn pudding with pepper and meat,
Potatoes with peaches cooked up splendidly, she swallowed, and the waiter brought:

Ox eggs with herb soup, a fried duck face down,
Chinese beans fried with wind, Spanish potatoes cooked with ink,
Italian macaroni with castor oil, Turkish coffee with buckwheat flour,
Young toothpicks with a glass of raisins, and then the waiter brought to the table:

A bowl of borsht with a barrel of fabric, a tub of kasha with a plate of pilaf,
A box of knishes with a pail of sauerkraut, a fried newspaper with a Union-baked bread,
A bowl of ice cream with hot dumplings, the ice cream cooled the sweat from the dumplings
The Russian czar hacked in three pieces, and the waiter soon also brought:

A fried ox with a long tongue, cooked magnesium with stewed lung,
Dried peas with wet tea, roasted rains with cooked snow,
Bitter honey with sweet horseradish, shined-up shoes with a marrow bone,
In addition she snacked on a fried cat
Until God came to my aid - and she burst.



For sheet music and/or performances contact me: jane@mappamundi.com

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