Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Yakres (The High Cost of Living) - Gus Goldstein's plaint of 1917

First I'd like to apologize for having to fake it in a couple places in the lyrics. I don't have a song sheet for this one and Sheva Zucker and I gave up on a few spots after listening many times. If you have corrections please let me know and I'll fix the video.

I love songs that reflect history, and this one reminds us of the New York City food riots of 1917. Speculators were selling American foodstuffs to Europe at a high price and that drove the prices up in the US too. Read about the food riot here.

I looked for this song online and couldn't find it. Then I searched Harvard's Hollis catalog and saw they had the song, so when I was in Boston I went through the whole tiresome process of begging access to the library and they nicely dragged a cassette back from their suburban storage vaults. It arrived in the reading room with a note: "The cassette recorder is in the CAGE." So the young library attendant went searching in the back and came to me holding a cassette player in her hands with a dubious look on her face and asked me, do you know how to operate this thing? Uh, yeah. So I was able to listen but they don't let you make any sort of copy so I was frustrated. When I came home I just looked online for all songs by Gus Goldstein and found it hiding in plain site on several sites but under this spelling: YAKRYS. Had not thought of that one.
price hike, high cost of living; dearth, scarcity

The political cartoons I put in the video are all from Di Warheit newspaper, and were drawn by Sam Zagat, the father of Gimpel Beynish the matchmaker

Here's the video:

Words (as well as Sheva Zucker and I could figure them out) and translation after the jump.


I think I'll sing tomates, tsibeles un potates
Yakres tayer, yes I'm gonna sing
Hert nor yidishe kinder, der pawnshop git atsinder
Af tsibeles [Italian?]
Far eyn potate a tsen dolar bil,
Far a tsibele koyft ir an automobil

Oy oy gevald a yakres oy oy oy gevald a yakres
Oy ale zakhn shtaygn nor me tsolt zey glaykh
Di beyze ken nit lekn, tsu keyn zakh vet itst nit shmekn
Oy der yakres iz di ergste zakh

Oyb a khusn zukht a mayle vi tsu gefeln a kale
A tsibele iz frier fun alesding
Az zi zol hobn a simen az ir hot a sakh mezumen
Git er ir a tsibele onshtot a diamond ring
Er fres zikh on mit tsibeles a sakh
Di kale zol ******** in prakht

I think I'll sing tomatoes, onions and potatoes
I'm going to sing of the expensive high cost of living
Listen, Jewish children, take onions to the pawn shop [?]
For one potato, a ten dollar bill
For an onion you could buy a car

Gevald, the shortages! Everything goes up in price but we still buy.
The angry woman can't eat, nothing has any taste.
Oy, the scarcity, it's the worst thing.

If a bridegroom seeks some advantage so he can please a bride
An onion comes above all other things
So she can have a sign that he has a lot of money
He gives her an onion instead of a diamond ring.
He stuffs himself with a lot of onions --
He'll provide ? for the bride.

For sheet music and/or performances contact me:

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