Have you ever thought to yourself, “Wow, I really wish someone would cover a Jimmy Buffett song in Yiddish?” I can’t say I ever had — but once it was presented as an option, I thought it was a pretty great idea. Journalist-playwright-Yiddishist Rohkl Kafrissen has just done exactly that, even changing the lyrics and context of the song to better fit, well, Yiddish.
The path that led from Margaritaville to the mame loshen is surprisingly easy to follow. As Rokhl described in her newsletter, it all began this spring, when, amidst the electric energy of a New York City that thought it was about to get vaccinated and exit the COVID pandemic (oh, how young and naïve we were), Jimmy Buffett was set to open his first Margaritaville resort in the Big Apple. In Kafrissen’s words, “thanks to a real estate quirk, he was forced to make room onsite for the historic Garment Center Congregation. This made it the only Margaritaville property in the world with a working shul. How better to welcome Jimmy Buffett to New York than by recording my Yiddish cover version of his 1973 novelty hit, ‘Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?’ Six days a week you can drink all the margaritas you want, but on the seventh day, God commanded us to pick up a glass of wine, damnit.”
Kafrissen collaborated with the Congress for Jewish Culture to make the song happen. Though, as with many things these past few months, the song’s creation had a few false starts before it actually took off, she did ultimately enlist a formidable crew of klezmer performers: Sasha Lurje (voice), Craig Judelman (violin) and Lorin Sklamberg (guitar, voice).
Of course, it wasn’t enough to merely translate the song’s existing words into Yiddish; the whole scenario had to be transposed to be more Jewish. Kafrissen was up to the task. “I decided to take Buffett’s song as a starting point,” she said. “Instead of a man propositioning a woman at a bar, I rewrote it from a woman’s point of view.” In her lyrics, “a woman is singing to her husband at the beginning of Friday night dinner. He sings the kiddush beautifully. But they’re all alone, and she just went to the mikveh. Maybe just this once they could skip dinner and go straight to dessert?” She feels her protagonist’s frustration is apt for the moment we’re all experiencing: We were promised a summer of hedonism, only to have gratification delayed again by the virus.
According to the CJC, the new Yiddish version, called “Kum tsu mir” (Come to Me), “blends Buffett’s boozy, chilled out vibe with a heymish, New York point of view.” Enjoy.