I'm Pirate Jenny this whole town
Black Freighter, I'm maggin' this
Pirate Jenny (German: “Seeräuberjenny”) is a song from the Threepenny Opera by Brecht/Weill. The song concerns the bitter lamentations of a woman washing dishes in a small hotel, who fantasizes that a massive pirate ship arrives at the town, shells it for three days, and then arranges for the execution of all the inhabitants except Jenny, who sails away with the ship at the end.
The beginning of the chorus in German is: “Und ein Schiff mit acht Seglen.” A literal translation of this would be: “And a ship with eight sails.” But as you can tell, the literal translation is missing a syllable. Thus when the American composer Marc Blitzstein attempted a translation in the early 1950s, he changed the line to “And a ship, the Black Freighter,” in order to keep the syllable count the same. The basic meaning of the original song is maintained, since the song is about a terrifying pirate ship that arrives one day in the harbor.
This line has taken on a life of its own — in her 1964 cover of “Pirate Jenny”, Nina Simone made the Black Freighter an obvious metonym for open revolution by America’s oppressed black citizens. And in his 1986 comic The Watchmen, Alan Moore wrote a comic-within-a-comic based on “Pirate Jenny”, whose apocalyptic forebodings rhyme with those of the comic book. Thus it makes sense that a contemporary reference to “Pirate Jenny” would focus on the Black Freighter line, even though it does not appear in the original lyrics by Brecht.
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