"Weill grew up a shy, serious boy, devoted to music. ... The transformation of his style was quickened by Lotte Lenya. ... Weill became romantically and professionally involved with Lenya starting in 1924, and was never the same afterward. The product of a poor background and an abusive father, she found employment variously as a dancer, a singer, an actress, a stage extra, an acrobat, and briefly, a prostitute--a profession that ensnared countless German and Austrian women during the years of chaos and inflation. Weill's music began to resemble her voice--that famously unpolished, cutting, wearily expressive instrument...."
Brecht loved outlaws, thugs, men of no principles. In his adolescence, he idolized the turn-of-the-century Austrian playwright Frank Wedekind, who shocked Vienna with his scabrous, criminal appearance. ... Macheath, a.k.a. Mackie, the antihero of The Threepenny Opera, is the nastiest of Brecht's homunculi. ... He is at once charming and menacing, mainly because of the musical number that introduces him: 'Die Moritat vom Mackie Messer,' otherwise known as 'Mack the Knife.'
This most famous of Weimar songs takes the form of a 'murder ballad,' a catalog of killings. Macheath is revealed not merely as a high-living highwayman but as an apparent psychopath who kills as much for pleasure as for financial gain. Schmul Meier has disappeared, along with many rich men; Jenny Towler is found with a knife in her breast; seven children die in a great fire in Soho; a young girl is raped. [The libretto reflects the] Weimar culture which then exhibited an unhealthy fixation on the figure of the serial or sexual killer. ..."
In 1962 Lenya appeared in the revue Brecht on Brecht at the Theater de Lys in New York's Greenwich Village. a young Minnesota-born singer-songwriter named Bob Dylan came to see the show and found himself mesmerized by Lenya's singing of 'Pirate Jenny,' in which a prostitute fantasizes revenge on the men who exploit her. 'The audience was the 'gentlemen' in the song,' Dylan wrote in his autobiography, Chronicles. ... 'It wasn't a protest or topical song and their was no love of people in it.' ..."In the spirit of Brecht and Weill, Dylan proceeded to carve his own phrases into the minds of late-twentieth-century listeners: 'The answer is blowin' in the wind,' 'A hard rain's a-gonna fall,' 'The times they are a-changin' .' The last was a direct quotation from one of Brecht's lyrics for Hanns Eisler. The spirit of Berlin played on."Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Copyright 2007 by Alex Ross, pp. 187-194.