Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Monday, April 16, 2018

Ven ikh zol vider kenen zayn a kind (If I could be a child again) sung by Nellie Casman in 1918

This is my favorite picture of Nellie Casman, born in 1896 in Russia. Her family soon moved to America and she was raised in Philadelphia.

Her Yiddish was not native and she got scolded for it, but when she went to Europe the audiences were so enchanted they forgave her.

This song is transliterated on the sheet music as When ich zol wider kenen sein a kind and on the 78 itself as Wen Ich Zol Vieder Kenen Zain A Kind.

I like the word smotshken (sometimes tsmotshken) which is surely related to the English word "smooch" (dating back to the 1570s perhaps via the German variant schmutzen).

All her best songs are full of Yinglish. This one has the same plot as the famous English song "I Wish They'd Do It Now."

Lyrics and translation after the jump.


Wen Ich Zol Vieder Kenen Zain A Kind

Ikh ken file zakhn nokh gedenken yetst af klor
Ven ikh bin nokh a kind geven, a 'baby' fun tsvey yor;
Ikh bin in eyn hemdele gekrokhn af ale fir
Di shenste boyes fun der gas hobn zikh geshpilt mit mir.
Me flegt mikh nemen af di hent tsu zikh
Un kushn, shmotshken, kitslen flegt men mikh.

Ven ikh zol vider kenen zayn a kind,
Oy, vi gut volt mir geven atsind!
Me volt vider mikh geshmotshket un gevitselt
Un nokh a mol gehotsket un gekitselt.
Di shenste boyes voltn vider yetst gekent
Mikh haldzen, kushn, trogn af di hent;
Mayn bester 'pleasure' volt dos geven atsind,
Ven ikh zol vider kenen zayn a kind.

Ikh volt nit gedarft keyn naye 'dresses' tsvantsik hets a yor
Zikh nit geputst un nit geshmirt un nit geblitsht di hor.
Als 'baby' fleg ikh yedn boy shnel gefeln zayn
Yetst muz ikh mikh shmirn, putsn biz ikh ketsh a boy arayn
'Endzshoyen' zikh - dos tor men nit zofort,
dertsu darf men ersht leysens (lessons?) fun der kort

Mayn bobenyu iz shoyn a froy fun akhtsik yor, 'you know'
Un hot nokh zeyer lib tsu geyn in theater tsu zen a 'show.'
Ven zi zet men kusht zikh afn 'stage' kumt ir tsu gezind,
Zi zogt zi filt zikh vider yung kemat azoy vi a kind
Zi makht di ekters 'googoo eyes' on a shir
Un nokh dem zogt zi shilerheyt tsu mir:

I clearly remember many things now from when I was still a child, a 2-year-old baby.
I crawled on all fours in a little shirt. The prettiest boys on the street played with me.
They'd take me by the hand, bring me close, they'd kiss, smooch, and tickle me.

If I could be a child again, oh, things would be so good now!
They'd smooch me again, and joke, they'd dandle me and tickle me.
The prettiest boys would again be able to embrace me, kiss me, take me by the hand.
It would be my greatest pleasure now if I could be a child again.

I wouldn't need any new dresses or 20 hats a year
I wouldn't have to dress up and smear on the makeup and bleach my hair
As a baby, I quickly pleased every boy
Now I have to put on makeup and dressup until I catch a boy
Enjoying oneself - you can't do that immediately,
First you need to take lessons? from the court.

My grandmother is already an 80-year-old woman, you know,
And she still loves to go see a show at the theater.
When she sees them kissing on stage, she says: bravo!
She says she feels young again, almost like a child,
She makes endless googoo eyes at the actors
And then she quietly says to me:



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

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