Mack the Knife lyrics interpretation, please

One of the middle verses of Mack the Knife (working with the Bobby Darin version, from memory) goes:

There’s a tugboat down by the river
With cement bags, just a-droopin’ on down
Oh that cement is just there for the weight, babe
Five’ll get you 10 ol’ Mackie’s back in town.

So…what the hell? What does Mack have to do with the tugboat, and why the cement bags?

To weigh a body down; ya know, sleeping with the fish. Old Mackie is a gangster.

Mack the Knife is based on a character named Mackie Messer (messer is German for “knife”) in *The Threepenny Opera * (in German, Die Dreigroschenoper), by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, which in turn was based on *The Beggar’s Opera *by John Gay, which contained a character called Macheath.

Mackie Messer was much more violent than Macheath, and a song introducing him compares him to a shark. The cement bags and tugboat in Darin’s version refer to his dropping one of his victims overboard.

The Wikipedia article is quite good.

Oh, and the Master speaks!

Aha. Thanks!
I knew Mack was a gangster (well, duh…). But I thought the cement was weighing down the *tugboat *for some reason that I couldn’t fathom.

I thought Mack The Knife’s name was MacHeath. I’m pretty sure Louis Armstrong’s version calls him MacHeath.

Actually, songbird speaks, not Cecil.

But your post was extremely helpful.

Cecil’s column on concrete shoes.

Louis Armstrong definitely says “Macheath.” Messer might sound too weird for an English speaking audience; I know the character was called only Macheath in the production I saw at the Roundabout Theatre a few years ago.

Louis Armstrong mentions Lotte Lenya (Kurt Weill’s wife) in the version I usually hear. I have Lotte Lenya’s version of the song, in German, in my iTunes.

Bobby Darin also calls him Macheath, in the first stanza. And refers to Lotte Lenya, too.

Second and fifth too. The fifth could easily be misheard as,
And now MacHeath spends just like a sailor
And now Mack he spends just like a sailor

That and the title could lead to folks that only know Darin’s version* (and no knowledge of the song’s history) to hear every “MacHeath” as “Mack he”.
(*More accurately Darin’s version/cover of Louis Armstrong’s version using the '54 Blitzstein translation.)

CMC fnord!
I’m a big fan of the '76 Manheim-Willett translation/version, notably used over the end credits of Quiz Show with Lyle Lovett singing. A nice counterpoint to Darin’s version for the opening credits.

Too deep for ya?

IIRC Lotte Lenya was in studio with Louis Armstrong when he recorded. She wasn’t in the song before that, she’d sung it plenty though.

Just a jacknife has old MacHeath dear and he keeps it out of sight

Yes, I’m a thread killer but I’m pointing out that MacHeath is mentioned in mny pop standards.
Now I’m going to listen to Lady GaGa

(Ignoring the pun)…I’d concocted some elaborate explanation involving cement compensating for missing cargo in some kind of smuggling operation.

My only knowledge of Lotte Lenya are from the lyrics of this song, and as the nasty Russian agent Rosa Klebb (with the knife in her shoe) in From Russia With Love. An odd juxtaposition…

Eh? You just quoted the same song. What other standards mention MacHeath?

All of them.

Are you confusing standards and stanzas? The line you quoted is from “Mack the Knife,” so of course it’s going to mention MacHeath.

I know the diffeence between standards and stanzas, so I don’t understand what the problem is. I was trrying to show that MacHeath is common in the song. What’s the problem?

‘Macheath’ is in the original German, in the first stanza. Later on he’s just Mackie.

Und der Haifisch, der hat Zähne,
und sie trägt er ins Gesicht
und Macheath, der hat ein Messer,
doch das Messer sieht man nicht
The composer sang it like this. Note he’s deliberately rolling his 'r’s and it’s supposed to be a little droning; the Moritat was a sort of tabloid news-style street performance.