Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Monday, October 24, 2016

Kol zman men lebt zol zayn gelebt (The Yiddish YOLO anthem): As long as you're alive, live already!

At the FSU site you can find this "You Only Live Once" anthem, spelled as Kol Zman Me Leibt Sol Sein Geleibt and translated as "Make Your Life Worthwhile." I don't agree with that translation, obviously...

I think this song, from 1921, is on the cusp between my two blogs. It's a little too light hearted and non-judgmental to be a penny song... It's from the show "Sheyne Berta" (or, as it says on one of the sheet music versions I have, Fan Di Sheine Berta). This musical was from just a year after Aaron Lebedeff (right) arrived in America (direct from China and Japan) and became an instant sensation.

Other spellings of the title include Kol zman men lebt zol zain gelebt and Kol sman men leibt. Lebedeff sang the first and third verses (with his usual improvisations) and four choruses at the end!


Text and translation after the jump.

Der mentsh kol zman er lebt loyft er nor un shtrebt
Er zukht nor eyns tsu vern raykh
Er plogt zikh zeyer shtark di velt iz far im karg
Er vil gefinen alts a naye zakh.
Khotsh er veys aleyn gants gut az getseylt iz zayn minut
Dokh zukht er nokh gefinen a glik
Un az es kumt di sho, lozt men ales iber do,
Un men muz nebekh geyn tsurik
Derfar hob ikh a plan vos beser ken nit zayn

Kol zman men lebt zol zayn gelebt
Vayl eybik lebt dokh keyner nit
Iz vos zol ikh mir zorgn vos es vent zayn morgn!
Kol zman men lebt zol zayn gelebt!

2
Ikh lakh fun ale di vos veysn fun keyn mi
Un genisn gor nit fun der velt
Zey freyen zikh mit dem, men boyt zikh oys a heym
Un hitn op dos bisele gelt
Un ikh kuk mir tsu un lakh fun yeder zakh
Ver nor aza narishkeyt tut
Vayl yeder darf farshteyn az zayn zun vet untergeyn
Un mit zikh nemt men gornit mit
Derfar hob ikh a plan vos beser ken nit zayn

3
Mayn fraynd freg ikh amol: du host dokh shoyn kinderlekh a tuts
Un dayn vaybl dakht zikh mir iz di zekste shoyn bay dir:
Un du zukhst nokh a zibetn akhuts?
Gey zogt er: du nor hob gornisht keyn tsar
Ikh tu es nor tsum tsayt fartraybt
Mayne sonim vintsh ikh nor: optsulibn zeyere yor
Un hobn eyn hemd un eyn vayb:
Derfar hob ikh a plan vos beser ken nit zayn

4
Mayn zeyde iz shoyn alt, tsubrokhn, mid un kalt,
Er ken dokh af di fis koym geyn.
Dokh brent af im di hoyt ven er derzet a moyd,
Fartsitert blaybt der zeydenyu shteyn.
Men zogt es iz keyn plan far aza min altn man
Nokhtsuloyfn yeder sheyner moyd
Gey, zogt er, du yold, entfert er mir bald:
Es vilt zikh nokh a lebt ton farn toyt
Derfar hob ikh a plan vos beser ken nit zayn:

While you're alive, live already!

A man, while he lives just runs and strives, he just tries to get rich
He plagues himself, the world isn't enough for him,
He's always looking for something new.
Although he himself knows perfectly well his minutes are numbered,
he's always looking for another joy.
And when his hour comes, he leaves everything here,
And poor thing, he has to go back [to the other world]
So I have a plan that can't be bettered:

While you're alive, live already!
Because nobody lives forever.
So why should I worry what will happen tomorrow?
While you're alive, live already!

I laugh at they who know nothing of toil
And enjoy nothing of this world
They rejoice when a home is built and they guard their bit of money
And I watch and laugh at everything and people who are this foolish
Because we all should understand: our sun will set
And we can't take anything with us
So I have a plan that can't be bettered:

I once asked my friend:
you already have a lot of kids and your wife,
it seems to me, is your sixth.
And you're looking for a seventh?
So he says: don't worry at all, I'm just doing it to pass the time
I wish for my enemies they should live out their lives
with just one shirt and one wife
So I have a plan that can't be bettered:

My grandfather is old already, broken, tired and cold,
He can hardly walk on his feet.
But of course his skin burns when he sees a girl,
He stands there trembling.
People say this is no great plan for an old guy like him
To run after every pretty girl
He says, go ahead you doofus,
I just want to live a little before I die.
So I have a plan that can't be bettered:


a few keywords

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

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