Song of Black Max

by William Bolcom From Cabaret Songs (1978)

If you would like to use our texts and translations, please click here for more information.


Song of Black Max
English source: Arnold Weinstein

He was always dressed in black,
long black jacket, broad black hat,
sometimes a cape,
and as thin as rubber tape: Black Max.

He would raise that big black hat
to the big-shots of the town
who raised their hats right back,
never knew they were bowing to Black Max.
I’m talking about night in Rotterdam
when the right night people of all the town
would find what they could
in the night neighborhood of Black Max.

There were women in the windows
with bodies for sale
dressed in curls like little girls
in little dollhouse jails.
When the women walked the street
with the beds upon their backs,
who was lifting up his brim to them?
Black Max!

And there were looks for sale,
the art of the smile —
(only certain people walked that mystery mile;
artists, charlatans, vaudevillians,
men of mathematics, acrobatics, and civilians).

There was knitting-needle music
from a lady organ-grinder
with all her sons behind her,
Marco, Vito, Benno
(Was he strong! though he walked like a woman)
and Carlo, who was five.
He must be still alive!

Ah, poor Marco had the syph, and if
you didn’t take the terrible cure those days
you went crazy and died and he did.
And at the coffin before they closed the lid,
who raised his lid? Black Max.

I was climbing on the train
one day going far away
to the good old U.S.A.
when I heard some music
underneath the tracks.
Standing there beneath the bridge,
long black jacket, broad black hat,
playing the harmonica, one hand free
to lift that hat to me:
Black Max, Black Max, Black Max.


Previously performed at:

Help us with a Donation

Enjoying our texts and translations? Help us continue to offer this service to all.

Make a Donation

Select Tickets