Yiddish Curiosities: a library of wonderful but forgotten Yiddish songs from the late 1920s and after (includes Polish Jewish Cabaret). Have a listen!

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Monday, March 10, 2014

Di velt hot zikh ibergekert (The world turned upside down)

UPDATE: Here's an Instagram video of one verse of this dolorous ditty:

Click the picture at left to listen to and/or buy this song from our Nervez! cd.

There are curmudgeonly songs like these in every language. "What's happening these days? Things used to be better." It's quite fascinating to compare the complaints in the version from Warsaw to the version from New York.

The verse I recorded is pointing out that, since Prohibition began, you go to a drugstore to get booze (you could get a prescription for medicinal alcohol for a couple bucks) and the doctors and police are in cahoots. Read more here and here.

I dreaded working on this song because its tune is odd and repetitive. If I weren't mired in a bottle-cap-collector's obsession ("collect all 126") I would have skipped it.

 There is no recording of it in any of its versions so I don't know if it was fast, slow, funny, sad... I have a guess that Eliakum Zunser's style was being emulated but who knows?

There's a mystery about this song beyond the mystery that no copies of this record seem to have survived. In 1929, in 35 letste teatr lider fun Sambatiyon un Azazel it says about the song: "farfast and sung by Sh. Lindenfeld with the melody 'Gevald a direh.' "

Usually farfasn is taken to mean written, composed, but the song was copyrighted in the US in 1924, under the spelling "Die Welt hat zich ybergekert," words and music by Joseph Feldman (arr. H. Zolis).

Lindenfeld recorded the song for Victor in 1925 (MatrixB-31764. Die weld hot sich yiber gekert) but perhaps it was never issued.

As with many of the songs and couplets of the time, the verses sent to the U.S. copyright office have the same gist but are quite different from the ones printed in the Warsaw songbooks.

Zylbercweig wrote: "Lindenfeld's songs are found in the Warsaw publishing house Melodiye (Varshe) also translated and worked over by him: ... "Gvald, vu nemt men a direh?" (1924) ... "Di velt hot zikh ibergekert" (1926) ..."

But wait, Feldman copyrighted "Di velt hot zikh ibergekert" in 1924, the year that Lindenfeld supposedly wrote the melody "Gevald vu nemt men a direh" which he then supposedly re-set in 1926 with the text of "Di velt hot zikh ibergekert" ...

... however, if Feldman wrote the music, then Lindenfeld stole it and used it twice.

So perhaps here farfasn means "worked over, elaborated, reworked" -- other possibilities being that (1) Lindenfeld was lying and just stole the song from Feldman or (2) Feldman was lying and stole the song from Lindenfeld or (3) there are two different songs with the same scansion and theme but with different tunes. I haven't found either this one OR "Gevald vu nemt men a direh?" as recordings. They are not in Lerski's Encyklopedia.

Here's my translation of the Yiddish Lindenfeld lyrics:

Listen to the troubles of today. Since war existed in the world we live in the dream that peace will come soon. But the times have seduced us all. We think about the new balloons, the new cannons, life is disrupted all over again. There’s talk of vengeance, about a new war, because the world has turned itself upside down.

The merchants in the street go around pale because they can’t do any business. Paying income tax and sales tax drains their strength. Commerce is in a tailspin and people throw themselves from the fifth floor right down to the ground. It’s no wonder, people, because the world’s turned upside down.

My neighbor Brayne, she’s got a gripe against her husband. I asked her, “What’s eating you? Tell me straight away what’s got you so upset.” She says: “Just hear my trouble, I need to go to Sopot becaue the doctor strongly advised it. But it’s a punishment from God: my husband is bankrupt! Because the world’s turned upside down.”

Matchmakers, even, are running around like madmen, what do you think about their toils? They’re looking for brides with all sorts of advantages, each one needs to have a house and a little business.* But the young men themselves, it’s not good at all, that they're so demanding. Any girl you talk to, she’ll answer you: “What can you do? The world’s turned upside down.”

Listen to my complaint, soon it will be eight days that my wife has been on strike. Whatever I ask her for, in the quiet, she answers No! And she gives me the finger. She yells and curses, the world is burning, and why is she now saying this to me? “we have to be careful to protect ourselves … from having children!” Because the world is turned upside down.

Here are the Feldman lyrics:

The whole world is corrupted these days, thanks to money, everything is just swindles and deception. Honesty is completely dead, falseness is living high on the hog. Everybody just wants to trample the next guy. Humanity is worth nothing. Bluffers just beat each other up. The world’s turned upside down.

Today’s kids, just notice this what one hears: no matter whether a daughter or a son, they’ll do this, father and mother are worth nothing to them. Often they’ll just be thrown away, in old age their lives are destroyed. They complain and cry, they don’t have anybody, the world’s turned upside down.

I feel really bitter about this overturning: I’m really mad at the women. They primp and adorn themselves, they paint their faces and smear lipstick on, right in the middle of the street. They dance and sing about cars, who ever heard of such a thing? When they’re 60 years old they cut their hair! The world’s turned upside down.

Police are partners in these ‘drugstores,” instead of medicine shnaps are sold. The drunkard’s goal is the sick people’s “refill.” Doctors are all cops. Wine, beer, salons, they’re all gone. Drinking, oh, that’s forbidden. But whether in a store or in the market, there’s a bottle in the pocket... The world’s turned upside down.

The worker slaves make a lot of money for the bosses, for themselves, there’s sickness. The boss gets richer and the worker gets weaker, he experiences a right good illness. This is his one direction, to be freed, that the worker shall be valued and shall lament no more. Then we’ll say: the world has turned upside down.

If you want the exact version I sang (it's an amalgam of the two), email me and I'll send it.

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