Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Marlene Dietrich - "Lili Marlene" - The Biography of a Song.

In the film "Judgment at Nuremberg", with Spencer Tracy and Marlene Dietrich, there is a song which plays in the pub scenes and alehouses. It is a wonderful melody, which belies the bleak surroundings of that bombed out city. It was also the one song which was most favored by the soldiers of both sides during the war. Ms. Dietrich used to sing this song on the Bob Hope tours. I often wonder how she must have felt, a German born star who had found worldwide fame in America, as she toured the bomb ravaged cities of her continent of birth.

The song itself was taken from an old German poem titled "The Song of a Young Soldier on Watch." It was written in 1915 by Hans Leip, who was a schoolteacher from Hamburg, and first recorded in 1939 by Lale Andersen under the title "The Girl under the Lantern".

It appears that the Germans first used this song when they occupied Yugoslavia in 1941, when Yugoslavia's "Radio Belgrade" became "Soldatensender Belgrad", tasked by the Germans with entertaining the German troops.

There have been many versions of this song recorded, both before and after Ms. Dietrich's, which was recorded sometime around 1943. But hers remains the penultimate rendering of this timeless classic. Maybe it's because she was completely anti Nazi and had been ordered by Adolph Hitler to return to Germany as far back as 1935. Her refusal to return resulted in her films and records being banned from the country of her birth.

When the war broke out and the USO tours began, Ms. Dietrich was one of the first to join up in an effort to entertain the troops. And "Lili Marlene" was a natural for her to do. It was German, as was she, and by doing this song, which was also being used by the Germans in their own propaganda; it was like kicking sand in the Fuhrer's face.

At any rate, her performance and recording of this song have made it synonymous with her name. Not a bad legacy at all.

If you are looking for an in depth history of this song you can do no better than this link;

Note: These are the best translations of the song lyrics I could find. The poem was drastically altered from the original, yet still maintains its integrity. You will notice a great discrepancy in the lyrics, from artist to artist, depending on the various arrangements and styles of singing.

"Lili Marlene" by Hans Leip (altered for Ms. Dietrich about 1942)

Outside the barracks by the corner light,
I'll always stand and wait for you at night.
We will create a world for two.
I'll wait for you the whole night through.
For you, Lilli Marlene.
For you, Lilli Marlene.

Bugler tonight, don't play the Call To Arms,
I want another evening with her charms.
Then we will say goodbye and part.
I'll always keep you in my heart.
With me, Lilli Marlene.
With me, Lilli Marlene.

Give me a rose to show how much you care,
Tied to the stem, a lock of golden hair.
Surely tomorrow you'll feel blue.
But then will come a love that's new.
For you, Lilli Marlene.
For you, Lilli Marlene.

When we are marching in the mud and cold,
And when my pack seems more than I can hold.
My love for you renews my might.
I'm warm again, my pack is light.
It's you, Lilli Marlene.
It's you, Lilli Marlene.

My love for you renews my might,
I'm warm again, my pack is light.
It's you, Lilli Marlene.
It's you, Lilli Marlene.

(This is the original 1937 recording)

"Lili Marlene" by Hans Leip (Original 1937 lyrics)

Underneath the lantern,
By the barrack gate.
Darling I remember
The way you used to wait.
'Twas there that you whispered tenderly,
That you loved me,
You'd always be,
My Lili of the lamplight.
My own Lili Marlene.

Time would come for roll call,
Time for us to part.
Darling I'd caress you
And press you to my heart.
And there neath that far off lantern light,
I'd hold you tight,
We'd kiss good night.
My Lili of the lamplight.
My own Lili Marlene.

Orders came for sailing,
Somewhere over there.
All confined to barracks.
'Twas more than I could bear.
I knew you were waiting in the street.
I heard your feet.
But could not meet.
My Lili of the lamplight.
My own Lili Marlene.

Resting in our billet,
Just behind the line.
Even though we're parted.
Your lips are close to mine.
You wait where that lantern softly gleamed.
Your sweet face seems
To haunt my dreams.
My Lili of the lamplight.
My own Lili Marlene.
My Lili of the lamplight.
My own Lili Marlene.

And this is the translation of the original poem, from which the song was composed;

"Lili Marlene"(Semi-literal Translation of original poem)

In front of the barracks, at the large entrance gate
Stood a lamplight, and if it’s still standing there,
We want to see each other there again
We want to stand at the lamplight
As before, Lili Marlene, as before, Lili Marlene.

Our two shadows appeared as one
That we were so much in love, one saw immediately.
And everyone should see it
When we are standing by the lamplight
As before, Lili Marlene, as before, Lili Marlene.

The sentry had already called out: They are sounding curfew.
“It can cost three days.” “I’m coming momentarily, comrade.”
Then we said goodbye.
How much I wanted to go with you,
With you, Lili Marlene, with you, Lili Marlene.

It [the lamplight] knows your footsteps, your graceful walk
Every evening it is burning, but it forgot about me long ago.
If harm should come to me,
Who will stand at the lamplight,
With you, Lili Marlene, with you, Lili Marlene?

From the quiet place, out of the earthly ground
I am lifted as in a dream to your loving lips.
When the evening mist swirls in
I will be standing at the lamplight
As before, Lili Marlene, as before, Lili Marlene.

This post is for Eddie Ray.

1 comment:

  1. Note that in the first set of lyrics; which most closely resemble the ones Ms. Dietrich is singing; there is no mention of desertion, or going AWOL to see Lil Marlene; as there is in the original poem and recording. The lyrics were reworked fro Ms. Dietrich in 1942 for the USO tours, and desertion was not something the authorities wished to portray as romantic. I thought I had mentioned that when I wrote this in 2010, but evidently my memory cheats... Robert at RT 11-29-14