Songs About Warsaw

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Image source: Youtube

The songs I picked span the post-war decades and the videos give you a feel for the city of its respective decade. I translated selected verse lyrics, not the entire songs.

Though 82 years old now, Irena Santor is doing well and still occasionally performs. There is a whimsical other-worldliness in her voice, most so in her 1960s/70s heyday. The title of her early-1990s song Chodź na kawę Warszawo (“Come join me for coffee, Warsaw”) is grammatically constructed as one girlfriend addressing another. There is double entendre in the lyrics, with the capitalized adjectives also being names of Warsaw streets:

Your face is your streets
You wake up Cold like ice
Wolfish and Wild, and Dark like a Tear
I look and sense pain
But as a woman, you’re Fickle
You’re Kind when you want to be
Simple and Beautiful
Honey-filled to the brim
You’re as Bright as the bells of Jasna Street

Lady Pank (pron. like “Lady Punk” in English) is an eighties band. Unlike the bright pop culture of American eighties, Poland’s pop culture from that decade reflected a gloomy political reality. That aesthetic is prominent in Krzyztof Kieslowski’s “Decalogue.” Nineties-era song Stacja Warszawa (“Warsaw Station”) is about the alienation of people who came to the city for work during its post-Communist construction boom.

The faces on the metro are alien
So why bother knowing anyone
All of this is too expensive
Best to keep going and then sleep
Everything would be different
If you were here, I know

The band T.Love’s uptempo Warszawa lovingly catalogs the cold mornings and the scattered empty bottles. There is a sub-genre of poetry, notably William Shakespeare’s sonnet “My Mistresses Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun,” that lists the flaws of one’s beloved as testament to the speaker’s fondness for something that’s imperfect, but is his. As pop songs go, this one does something similar:

When I look into your eyes, as tired as mine
I love this city, so tired like me
Where Hitler and Stalin did what they did
Where springtime breathes in the exhaust

Krakowskie Przedmieście is sun-drenched
Whirling like mist, you come from the gate
And I’m hungry, so hungry
My love, feed me with dreams
The trees and the shrubs bloom
In leafy Żoliborz, fucking Żoliborz
Completely drunk on the river’s waters
I want to scream, I want to roar, I want to sing

Mieczysław Fogg’s career spanned from his first professional performance as an adult in 1928 until his death in 1990. His style recalls the 1930s aesthetic of a lost culture, not the least his aristocratic Kresy accent. Piosenka o mojej Warszawie (“A Song about my Warsaw”), recorded shortly after World War II, shows film footage of pre-war days. The song’s first two verses compare the speaker’s antebellum strolls through the city to the joy of young love. Clouds then gather in the third and final verse:

I know that you’re not yourself today
That you survived bloody days
That despair and pain crush you
That I have to cry with you
But such, as you live in my memory
I’ll restore with my blood
And believe me, Warsaw, beside my song and tears
I am ready to give you my life.

With its simple didactic lyrics and cheerful melody, the song “Warszawski dzień (“A Warsaw Day”) is an example of socio-realist art that was mandatory during the 1945 – 1954 Stalinist era. Warsaw was almost completely razed after the 1944 general uprising, including its historic Old Town and the King Sigismund column at the top of this post, and it had a quarter of its civilian population murdered. Seeing color footage of the city being rebuilt in this vintage Communist propaganda reel can bring a tear to your eye:

The streets were dark, the night was black.
A flame of hope lit the undergrounds,
Then it resurrected, and it awakened
The light over the ruins is once more in force.

Over the Vistula River, a new day dawns
It speeds with the trams, this Warsaw day!
Back to the schools
Back to the offices
Rushes to construction scaffoldings, this Warsaw day!

Here is English composer Richard Addinsell’s “Warsaw Concerto,” written in 1941. The quiet piano solos in this piece recall Frederic Chopin’s Nocturnes:

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18 thoughts on “Songs About Warsaw

  1. Addinsell’s concerto’s a head-turner. Looks like he was the Bernard Herrmann of England. Profuse old-time movie composer. Together with the films, those types’ musical creations seem to have basically forged ex nihilo a pioneering ‘aesthetic of nostalgia;’ call it movie consciousness. The vinyl of the silver screen’s emotive power. Seeing old movies, it’s the music that pulls you in and seems to rain scratchily on your very memories. Music completely makes the movies, even if the work is silent. Thks, have never heard of him.

  2. Glad you liked Addinsell. I actually thought of you when linking it.

    28Sherman does this thing I think is excellent, in posting WWI images on his blog. Some of them connect us with the soldier in the image, other photos show impractical inventions as each side was rushing to adapt to the changing technology of the battlefield. I think his aim is to reconnect us with the continuity of our civilization. I came across a good maxim the other day: “In Europe 100 miles is far. In America 100 years is old.”

    A cultural amnesia is reinforced by the cacophony of electronic stimuli and shades of mud. Westerners are drowning in sewage and have no idea what to say besides “White people have no culture.” For someone under 30, watching a YouTube video with 1980s TV commercials can be dislocating. “Wow, everybody is White and the girls are … how do you say… I’ve never seen this before… is ‘nice’ the word I’m looking for?”

    I don’t know much about Dresden beside what I read in Vonnegut’s novel. What do young Germans know about it? Do they even know that something existed before all the bitchy women, the Turks and now the full terror of strutting shitskins? The teenagers who died in the firebombings… did they ever exist? do they have anything to tell us?

    It’s a similar idea with my Warsaw snapshots. My blog tagline is also an appeal to cultural memory. How can you live any other way when all you know is the way you live now? To somebody who is Eastern European, the Commie reels in “A Warsaw Day” might connect him with his grandparents’ stories of the rabid Party apparatchiks (many being Jews) and their unchecked power to ruin lives at every level of society, the blood-curdling 3AM secret police knocks on the door, the mass imprisonments — and the Happy Face of socio-realist art plastered over all of it. But there were also ruins that had to be rebuilt, and they were. The workers were the heroes, whatever they thought about those staged Bricklaying Competitions.

    Other Westerners will look at past-eras’ Warsaw as exotic in its particulars but familiar in terms of his undefined hunger. Whether it’s the idyll of Irena Santor’s stroll through 1990s Warsaw or the bricklayers in 1947 “A Warsaw Day,” he will see … a public space that belongs to its rightful people. No war, no tension, no ceding of ground, no foreign faces, no ugly languages, no dissonance, no withdrawal from life. No Salvadorans at the construction site. Having seen the past, he’ll find clarity about fighting for peace and for his future.

  3. Pingback: Songs About Warsaw | Reaction Times

  4. Brilliant comment, PA.

    The ‘white people have no culture’ line is pure evil.

    “The teenagers who died in the firebombings… did they ever exist? do they have anything to tell us?”

    Who? Dude, that was like a hundred years ago. There’s good and bad on both sides. Whatever.

  5. I don’t know much about Dresden beside what I read in Vonnegut’s novel. What do young Germans know about it? Do they even know that something existed before all the bitchy women, the Turks and now the full terror of strutting shitskins? The teenagers who died in the firebombings… did they ever exist? do they have anything to tell us?

    Great questions, excellent comment.

    There was a book set in Poland, done in the style of epic historical fiction, in the build up to and then the eventual War. The title eludes, but the italicized quote on the opening page went something like, “And tonite let us dance, for tomorrow we cannot.”

    It was good enough reading, made about 400 pages which was halfway through. One of the main characters was of the young nobility class, and he was mountaineering in the Alps with the Europeans of similar backgrounds, and there was some tension about the emerging politics.

  6. The firebombing of Dresden was militarily unnecessary. It was pure evil, but hey, that was “the good war,” so shut up about it.

    For someone under 30, watching a YouTube video with 1980s TV commercials can be dislocating. “Wow, everybody is White and the girls are … how do you say… I’ve never seen this before… is ‘nice’ the word I’m looking for?”

    Indeed. Well as the saying goes, the past is another country. That is certainly true in America and Europe now. Not so much in, say, Japan, China, India, Bolivia…

    PS – Heartiste’s Twitter got shut down again.

  7. Thanks gentlemen. I’ll probably publish my above comment tomorrow morning as a new post, as there is a good deal to be said/thought about cultural memory.

  8. “The firebombing of Dresden was militarily unnecessary. It was pure evil, but hey, that was “the good war,” so shut up about it.”

    Well, ok, but before we do some more anti-p.c. WWII revisionism, let’s discuss and maybe even acknowledge a few of those ’45 Berlin measures and the Scorched Earth game plans that that poor, over-vilified and misunderstood military leader enacted..

  9. I of course have Euro-nationalist sense and sentiment re. WWII. I have the typical state-college American mid-u.s. background and familiarity with the history; i’m sure much of the politicized sentiment has seeped down and into my collective sense of the event to this day.

    But I just cannot imagine this Hitler revisionism you see everywhere; don’t know how a Pole or Russian or others can be so eager to re-interpret things. And there’s also a collective European urge to overlook or even actively forget the fierce predations the Nazis committed against their own race and kin.

    I mean, is that inappropriate for a ‘mino’ to point out? It does seem to me to be a rather non-negligible point, no?

  10. “Looks like he was the Bernard Herrmann of England. Profuse old-time movie composer. Together with the films, those types’ musical creations seem to have basically forged ex nihilo a pioneering ‘aesthetic of nostalgia;’ “

    That describes a good chunk of early-to-mid-20th-century English popular music; that was/is a big hole for me knowledge-wise; i got into filling it about a couple years ago and a lot of the popular music there for that period WAS connected to film.

    One also starts to see in more detail how the Beatles developed their musical stylings as well.

  11. Hitler revisionism is mostly trolling. It triggers libs, disarms them of their Godwin rhetoric, and the Nazi aesthetic is brilliant.

    There are also corrections needed to the Allied/Communist narrative for the sake of historical truth. Few people know of the things that Hitler and his supporters had been reacting to. Weimar Germany was run by international Jewish capital that financed the kind of degeneracy we see now in the West. Modern political correctness is direct heir to cultural Marxists in Frankfurt who fled to New York City when NSDAP came to power.

    Or look up Bela Kun’s brief reign of terror in Hungary.

    Few people also know about American and Soviet occupation of Germany immediately after the war. I read somewhere that more German civilians were killed by occupying administrations immediately after the war than from Allied action during the war.

    As to Hitler himself, he is quite obviously the second-worst thing that ever happened to Germany, after Angela Merkel.

    The nationalists in Russia and Poland who spray paint swastikas would have been fighting the Germans eighty years ago. Every invader forfeits his right to life once he crosses the border and Wehrmacht is not the existential threat to Poland or Russia today. German predation in Eastern Europe is well documented and it will never be forgiven, but its not the fault of the Germans who are alive today.

  12. Well, ok, but before we do some more anti-p.c. WWII revisionism, let’s discuss and maybe even acknowledge a few of those ’45 Berlin measures and the Scorched Earth game plans that that poor, over-vilified and misunderstood military leader enacted..

    The Fire Bombing of Dresden is not in any way shape or form, anti-pc revisionism.

    It has been acknowledged for what it is, the whole while. For example Vonnegut’s treatment of it. Vonnegut btw is of German extraction.

    Though it does get pushed under the rug, compared to the Jew Soap Factories. But not revisionist, at all.

  13. My knowledge of World War II is not impressive, but the Fire Bombing of Dresden is a part of it. It has always been known as a great and terrible wartime atrocity.

    So it is not revisionist, to consider it.

    It does go against the central politically correct jewish theme, that it was a Good War, and that Germans deserved it.

    But the Germans who died after the war was declared over, of exposure and disease and starvation, in containment zones — their story is largely unacknowledged in the central narrative of popular history, and thus might properly count as revisionist.

    But to repeat, Dresden does not qualify as revisionist, because it has always been acknowledged, if un-emphasized.

  14. But the Germans who died after the war was declared over, of exposure and disease and starvation, in containment zones — their story is largely unacknowledged in the central narrative of popular history, and thus might properly count as revisionist..

    Following both World Wars in Europe the flu and other epidemics that swept through killed many more than the actually fighting ever did.

  15. That describes a good chunk of early-to-mid-20th-century English popular music; that was/is a big hole for me knowledge-wise; i got into filling it about a couple years ago and a lot of the popular music there for that period WAS connected to film.

    One also starts to see in more detail how the Beatles developed their musical stylings as well.

    Love love love
    Love love love
    It’s easy!

    All you need is love
    All you need is love
    All you need is love
    Love is all you need!

  16. I am guessing that that song, All You Need is Love, would be an example of the style of Beatles songwriting, drawing on the referenced English traditions and with crisp orchestration.

    That particular song uses a device common in English folk music, which is to mix into common time 3 and 5 beat measures. (Do try this at home, kids.)

    Goofy ass lyrics though.

  17. You might recall my college anecdote in the post about Bill White, about how I saw him engage in impromptu open-air debates with travelling preachers on two different occasions.

    One of those preachers, a charismatic bona-fide Shitlord, started mockingly singing “All you need is love” to ridicule a point that one of the gathered liberal onlookers had made.

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