Sunday, December 6, 2009

What Keeps Mankind Alive: Issa's Sunday Service, #32

This week's Issa's Sunday Service features two repeat offenders: Tom Waits (as musician) performing the work of Bertolt Brecht (as inspiration), in this case "What Keeps Mankind Alive," a devastating little ditty if ever there was one. Monday, December 7th is the birthday of Mr. Waits, hence this week's selection. The song comes from The Threepenny Opera, with lyrics by Brecht and music by Kurt Weill. Here's the words:

What Keeps Mankind Alive

You gentlemen who think you have a mission
To purge us of the seven deadly sins
Should first sort out the basic food position
Then start your preaching, that’s where it begins

You lot who preach restraint and watch your waist as well
Should learn, for once, the way the world is run
However much you twist or whatever lies that you tell
Food is the first thing, morals follow on

So first make sure that those who are now starving
Get proper helpings when we all start carving
What keeps mankind alive?

What keeps mankind alive?
The fact that millions are daily tortured
Stifled, punished, silenced and oppressed
Mankind can keep alive thanks to its brilliance
In keeping its humanity repressed
And for once you must try not to shriek the facts
Mankind is kept alive by bestial acts

Happy birthday, Mr. Waits. And, as a little present, here is ol' Uncle Bill, of Naked Lunch fame, to give his rendition of same:


This week's feature poem comes from issue #48, a broadside entitled Tibetan Gun Flower by the poet Charlie Mehrhoff. Back in August, I read one of the poems from this broadside, "springtime in a city park,"(page down a bit to see) at the Six Gallery Press reading. Recently, I posted another, entitled "fact:", at the daily Twitter feed (which cross-posts to Facebook). For those of you who don't lean in those directions, here it is:


to think that god had to become me
in order to throw his cigarette out the window,
write these words.
Charlie Mehrhoff

And here's another from that same broadside, previously unposted:

leaf, green leaf
her shadow
upon the silence of an empty road
that is poetry.

Charlie Mehrhoff

And, of course, the last word goes to the master:

a wood fire--
her shadow in the window
pulling thread
translated by David G. Lanoue



tom said...

ah, thank you Don - can't think of a better way to start a Sunday than Waits and Issa -


Greg Schwartz said...

"Fact" is a great poem... very nicely worded.

Ed Baker said...

few poets
a tear-of-pleasure
to o these

old eyes:

as Charlie does.

let's see/have
a collection of his work
out of Lilli... en toto?

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Tom, thanks, indeed ...

Glad you liked that one, Greg -

Hey, Ed, Charlie is fine - have one chapbook - "One Hand Clapping" - and 3 broadsides, one under his scarecrow moniker. Shall I put 'em on your tab?

Ed Baker said...

please due...

and when I get up

send me a "past do" invoice.

menwhile just in Bunting's (new edition of) BRIGGFLATTS WITH two c-ds included:

1. Bunting reading the poem (1967?) and
2. Peter Bell's 1982 film of BB

have yet to imbibe as a read-along...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Ed, will do ... good news about the Bunting ... for those interested, here's the British "Poetry Archive" site with an 11 minute plus excerpt of Bunting reading from Briggflats (with text for those with a tin-Jersey-ear like mine). Enjoy those cd's, my friend (and new edition).

Charles Gramlich said...

Humans are too often inhuman.

Elisabeth said...

This is one I'm passing on to my non-blogger friends. They too will be wowed.

This post convinces me yet again of the power of blogging, and the way it introduces music, words, poetry, ideas and people that we might otherwise not know about.

Of course I know Waits and Burroughs, but not like this.

Thanks again and again.

By the way, have you heard of the experiment they're conducting somewhere in America?

They have released a number of large red balloons from secret locations and have offered a significant prize to the group that can come up with the location of all ten, I think , balloons.

They are hoping to demonstrate the social networking power of the Internet

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Yes, Charles ... Brecht had the pulse of the inhuman side ... Germany in the 20's and 30's -

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

How very kind, Elisabeth, to be pass this along, especially to non-blogger friends (and, for me, to non-poetry friends, too). To date, there have been 32 and a half postings (the half is a bit of a story) so I've made a separate website to collect them all.

Hadn't heard about the balloon release - I'll see if I can track some info down on it.

And you are welcome.


Jim H. said...

Happy Birthday, Mr. Waits.

Waits wrote a seasonal song (sort of) called "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" which I think is Brecht-flavored in its humor and pathos. The pairing of Waits and Brecht works for me!

From the song:
"I wish I had all the money we used to spend on dope. I'd buy me a used car lot, but I don't think I'd ever sell any of 'em. I'd just drive me a different car every day, depending on how I feel."

Jim H. said...

The song "Chistmas card from a hooker..." might qualify as lit rock because somebody told me once that it is based on a Charles Bukowski poem. I have been unable to verify that (even after revoiewing scads of Bukowski poems, some of them not so good).

Issa's Untidy Hut said...


I think you may be right about "Christmas Card ..." - I'll look into it a little further - thanks for the nudge.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


I'll look further but it seems it is based on "Charlie I'm Pregnant" from the Roominghouse Madrigals. The source isn't the best so I'm heading to the bookshelf to double check ...

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Just went through Madrigals quickly and didn't see it ... still digging .

Anonymous said...

Has anyone found out about Christmas Card?? I've been through tonnes of Bukowski poems looking for it but I can't find it, though I'm still convinced it was written by Bukowski.. It's very frustrating! A lot of people say it's called Charlie I'm Pregnant from the Roominghouse Madrigals but it's not in there! I've double checked! Can anyone shed any accurate light on this!?

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

I went through a number of Bukowski books and found nothing, I'm sorry to say. I did see the attribution listed online but the trail is cold.

Ed Baker said...

isn't the song the exact poem?

maybe it is out of his

Notes of a Dirty Old Man


am working a new piece or six
I don't have a moment to

spare towards an exhaustive
invest igative trek

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Ed - maybe I can check "Notes" when I get to work on Monday ...

And as to the new piece ...

go go go go ...

Anonymous said...

Ah I've read through Notes of a Dirty Old Man too, nada. Maybe he wrote it for City Press or whatever the paper was called... Perhaps we'll never know.. :/

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Yeah, and this is viral on the net without attribution, which makes it all the more frustrating. I'll keep an eye out if any other info comes along ...