Researching Yiddish penny songs (tenement song broadsides of theater and variety show songs, 1895-1925)
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Saturday, January 30, 2021

Shmaysn vet men mikh shoyn say vi say (They're going to smite me anyway)

UPDATE: Reposting to add the video I just made of me singing this really fun song. It's a quarantine do-it-yourself special: I sang lead and harmony and played oompah and then added what should have been a fiddle line, but because I was babysitting for my son's dog and it was whining and barking, instead I played the line on the Yamaha ("clarinet" setting, YMMV). This was the first video I tried with two of me.

Sung with the greatest success by the famous coupletist
Mr. Morris Seidman
Distributed by Sani Shapiro 120 Delancey Street

I've pretty much given up on finding any more of the melodies in the Morris Rund Penny Song collection but every once in a while I give the orphans a whirl. Yesterday I was lucky at the Sound Archives of the National Library of Israel - they have the song printed by Sani Shapiro on a broadside as "Shmaysn" but recorded as Schmasen wet men dich. - and not by Max Zaydman (Seidman) who is named on the Shapiro songsheet, but by comic singer Max Streng (1874-1928).

Max Streng was born in 1874 in Lemberg, Galicia. He was a chorus boy in Gimpel's theatre and started to act in 1891 on the Polish stage, soon after on the Yiddish stage. He toured England, France, Romania, Poland and Germany and then staged theater for for many years in Vienna.

I found this recording of great interest because it is the first I've found of a Yiddish parody set to an American tune! In this case it's "I'm Goin' To Live Anyhow Till I Die," by Shep Edmonds, a tune also used for a parody I recorded called Ven ales iz farbay (check there for a longer discussion). On today's songsheet the original melody is not cited (perhaps because there are minor tweaks to make the Yiddish fit better) and the parodist is anonymous.

There is a strong flavor of the original in the contrafactum. In each version we have a non-religious, good-time-loving hero. In the original English chorus he sings:

I’m goin’ to live anyhow, till I die
I knows ma’ kind of a life ain’t very high
With sticks and stones a you can break a ma bones
[note in the Yiddish he is a "treyf bone"]
You may talk all you want to ’bout me when I’m gone
But I’m goin’ to live anyhow, till I die


I love Max Streng's voice, it is so joyous! Have a listen.




Transliteration of all three verses (Streng sang only two) and translation from the Yiddish after the jump. I had to face the fact that I don't know how to use the verb smote, smited, smitten? So I've decided to go around it.

SHMAYSN

Ikh ken a man fun mitl yor
Vi alt er iz veys ikh nit klor
Nor a man in zayne yorn volt badarft fil frumer zayn
Verend der alter denkt farkert
Hot oylem habe tif in dr'erd
Af yener velt vel ikh tsu im keyn shutef nit zayn
Vayl er frest fun a treyfene kikh
Ale treyfes shtoft er in zikh
Shlingt 'oysters' im gedavnt
Vos darft ir nokh mer?
Un ven ikh freg dem herr'n fine:
"Shrekt aykh yene velt gor nit ayn?"
Nit hobndik keyn ander terets, entfert er:

Shmaysn vet men mikh shoyn say vi say
Af der elter vern frum iz nit keday
"Ikh bin in der yungnt oykh geven
An apikoyres un a treyfene beyn.
Shmaysn vet men mikh shoyn say vi say."

Ikh ken a zeltn sheyne froy
Ir fargangenhayt veys ikh genoy
Zi hot keyn mol heyrat - zi iz oykh singl nit geven.
Fraye meynungen hot zi, zi lakht fun yidishe tseremoni
Der onshtel fun a khupe hot bay ir keyn kheyn.
Fraye libe iz ir plan, zi hot yedes yor eyn ander man
Der khupe un get kost zi nit keyn sakh
Alte vayber fun arum kukn af ir zeyer krum.
Az zey zogn ir muser, entfert zi mit a lakh:

Shmaysn vet men mikh shoyn say vi say
Nor plutsling vern frum iz nit keday
Als eyns vel ikh bakumen shmits
Vel ikh krign nokh a por tits
Shmaysn vet men mikh shoyn say vi say



I know a middle aged man,
How old he is I don't know exactly
But a man of his age should be quite pious
However, this old guy thinks the opposite
He doesn't give a damn about the world to come.
He and I won't be associates in heaven,
Because he gobbles food from an unclean kitchen,
He stuffs every forbidden food into his mouth!
He gulps down oysters, then goes to pray, what more do you need to know?
When I ask this fine gentleman:
"Aren't you afraid at all about the world to come?"
Not having any other answer, he tells me this:

I'll get clobbered eventually.
Getting religious in old age isn't worth it.
I was a heretic when I was young, too,
an apostate, a treyf bone. I’ll get smacked down some day.

I know an unusually lovely woman.
I know all about her past.
She's never been married, but she's also not single.
She has "free" ideas. She laughs at Jewish ceremony.
Standing under a wedding canopy has no charm for her.
Free love is her plan: Every year she has a different 'husband.'
A wedding and a divorce cost her nothing.
The old ladies around here look at her very suspiciously.
When they lecture her, she answers with a laugh:

I'll get clobbered one way or the other.
But getting religion all of a sudden? It's not worth it.
So what if I get hit. So I get poked a couple
times! One way or the other I'll get belted.


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

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