Songs From Yugoslavia

Hej Slovani, naša reč / Hey, Slavs, our Slavic language
Slovanska živo klije / Lives on

Those are lyrics from the former Yugoslavia’s national anthem. The wording and language varies a bit between the different national groups that comprised “The Land of Southern Slavs.” Balkan experience is different from that on the northern plains. The mountains and the shadow of the Ottoman empire shaped things differently than our history did, with Germany to the west and Tsar/Stalin to the east.

Doris Dragović Željo Moja. I linked to a live performance at 1986 Eurovision because there is some vintage Euro stuff in the announcers’ prelude to this performance, including a shot of Norwegian reindeer-sledding. But you can look up the recorded version easily for a high-definition sound; it’s a pretty song. It is introduced in English and French as “Love is Fire” for some reason, but Željo Moja means “My Wish.” It’s interesting to compare languages. For example, the line before the chorus:

Croatian: “Tiho tiho, suzo, ne daj se”
Polish: “Cicho cicho, łzo, nie daj się”
English: “Hush hush, my tears, don’t give in”

1991 Yugoslavian Civil War. The wounded Serbian soldier in the footage below appears to have been conscripted and assigned to a unit that didn’t have much in the way of leadership. He was left behind by his platoon, interrogated here by a more professional-looking Croatian unit that found him:

Croat commander: “Don’t worry, we won’t kill you”
Serb: “Please don’t, brothers”
Croats [laughing]: “Brothers? we are not brothers”

Serbian and Croatian languages are nearly identical, though the former is written in Cyrillic and the latter in Roman alphabet. The enemy soldiers in the video communicate without difficulty. My fluency in Polish allows me to pick up many of the individual words but without the subtitles, I’d be almost, but not quite, able to understand what they are saying.

It seems nonsense to us now, to see Serbs and Croats at each others’ throats. We just don’t understand the Balkans of that period. It helps to envision things coming to a showdown right here. Compare their ethnic conflict to our incipient ideological one and think about the liberal down the street who’d have you fired from your job if he discovered that you comment on right wing blogs. In a hypothetical situation similar to the one in the video, we’d understand our prisoner’s English just fine and all the same, we’d laugh at his appeals to brotherhood.

I think a lot about this. I don’t want a civil war so I’ve tried to be patient with libs because our paths are not separate, we’re just having to wait out their hysteria. But neither reason nor compassion works. There is no communication. They want to go down, and take us with them.

“In the modern Europe there is no room for homogeneous national states. It was an idea from 1800s, and we are going to carry it [multiculturalism] through…and we are going to create multi-ethnic states.” — Gen. Wesley Clark

NATO’s bombing of Christian Serbs on behalf of Muslim gangsters woke me up to the malevolent nature of the American empire. There was a news story about U.S. bombers hitting a downtown bridge in Serbia and people scrambling to help the wounded civilians. Then the planes made another pass, this time killing the bystanders who ran to give first aid. A man was quoted grieving over his teenage daughter, who was among the people who rushed to help.

Amadeus Band’s Moja Zemlja (“My Country”) features a contemporary HD video of a Serb special ops team rescuing a hostage in a hero-villain story. Watching it will increase your testosterone. As a commenter here once put it:

One thing that I’ve noticed about the music scene among the Slavs, is that a lot of mainstream music takes on nationalistic, militaristic, masculine/patriarchal and anti-“globalist” themes, and isn’t relegated to the fringe like it is in the western world. Love and pride of culture, country and people is promoted rather than outright ignored or even intentionally trashed.

There was a tired quality to Warsaw Pact’s and Yugoslavian armed forces. Since then, and especially as a result of several countries’ joining NATO, it’s been a different story. As dramatized in the video, the armed forces of these countries have modernized and some of them have combat experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. And arguably, morale and personnel quality is higher in east-central Europe than elsewhere on the continent.

Bijelo Dugme Te Noci Kad Umrem (“The Night I Die”). The great Bosnian band — I blogged about them a while back. The song is about different women’s reactions to the news of the speaker’s death. The guitarist (wearing a white shirt) in this 1987 fan-participation live performance, Goran Bregović, is now regarded in Europe as the Balkan folk-pop musician.

Divlje Jagode Krivo Je More (“The Sea is Wrong”) is a contemporary performance some years after the power ballad’s original release. Also from Bosnia. Something I find cool in Yugoslavian languages is the words that have an “r” but without any nearby vowel. They are spoken in a trochaic consonant burst. Examples: srce (heart), krv (blood), mrvica (crumb), or crni (black). Their equivalents in Polish are more pronounceable: serce, krew, mrówka, czarny.

Ti, ti si ga upoznala / You, you met him
jedne ljetne večeri / one summer evening
On, on te poljubio / He, he kissed you
dok more se pjenilo / while the sea was foaming
I ti si se zaljubila / And you fell in love
mada nisi htjela to / though you didn’t want to

Krivo je more / The sea is wrong
Znaj, ljeto je varljivo / You know, summer is deceptive
a srce ti zavodljivo / and your heart was seduced

Kući kad si došla ti / When you came home
znala si da si u zabludi / you knew you were lost
A to veče uz mora šum / But that evening by the roaring sea
Od sreće sva si blistala / you blissfully glowed
Krivo je more / The sea is wrong

Yugoslavian National Anthem, (1943 – 1992). Its opening line is at the top of the post. The melody is based on “Mazurek Dąbrowskiego,” which has been the national anthem of Poland since 1926, but the Yugoslav variation is at slower tempo. The video shows propaganda images from pre-civil war Yugoslavia, along with English subtitles.


“We are not brothers.”
— Croat soldiers laughing at a wounded Serb POW

Is that still true?

Laibach. Their pan-Slavic interpretation of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia anthem in English, from their 2006 “Volk” album:


“Wish You Were Here”

Is that the all-time greatest Rock song? Some will say that’s it’s too low-key for the pantheon. Those would be popular epic ballads such as “Light My Fire,” “Stairway to Heaven,” “Comfortably Numb,” “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Plainsong,” and “November Rain.” And maybe “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.”

But you’re all familiar with Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and chances are that you respond to something in that song. Maybe it’s the clear notes of the intro solo that join the low-fidelity plucks and strums. Or when the percussion kicks in with the G chord:

Do you think you can tell
And did they get you to trade

Or it could be the build-up toward “How I wish, how I wish you were here.”

The lyrics allow for free-association. They are elegiac and YouTube commenters testify to the song’s powerful tug at their feelings of loss of a loved one. Somehow, I connect that aspect of the song with one of my other favorite songs; specifically, with the bridge and the climactic final verse of Mother Love Bone’s “Stargazer,” with its own slightly bizarre lyrics:

[spoken, just past 3:15] “Tell you what…”

And then, the bridge:

Stargazer you cry in blue
Anything I’ve ever seen
It ain’t as good as you, child

Then the D chord sleight of hand, easy for a beginner guitarist: D Dsus4 D Dsus2 D. If you watch a cover performance that shows this, you’ll see how it’s done. It’s pinkie action. And then the chords go to Am and G:

I’m not trying to push your feelings
But I know you hold me
Like putty in your hands

And then the wild outro verse with its soaring backup chorus. I call myself an advanced-beginner and can bang out “Stargazer” pretty well on my acoustic guitar with the original playing along. As to “Wish You Were Here,” there are many worthwhile versions:

Avenged Sevenfold. Pure White Energy video with scenes from their arena concert and band members’ sons rocking along. It will make your Friday evening.

David Gilmour performs it unplugged. Also look up the Pulse Live or the 2006 Gdansk concert version for a performance in full power.

Guns N Roses smashed it last year in Minneapolis. There is an extended “Wish You Were Here” outro solo featuring Slash and Richard Fortus taking turns on lead guitar, followed by the band’s outro to “Layla” and a full rendition of “November Rain” with Axl Rose on piano and vocals.

You don’t need to be a musician to be curious about the anatomy of a song. I learned to play the tone-bending intro solo to “Wish You Were Here” from Justin.

“A Letter To Che”

I don’t get many of the allusions, but it’s fair to say that the song is about people who blindly follow fashion and revolutionary ideologies. It came out around the time of George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, so there is that as well. “A Letter to Che” (orig. List Do Che) by the band Strachy Na Lachy is musically in the style of tango.


Celują mi prosto w serce / They’re aiming straight at my heart
Dziś kupców jest dyktatura / Today’s dictatorship of merchants
Oni mierzą do mnie jak do szczura / They aim at me like at a rat 
Tych złotych Czterdzieści i Cztery / Those golden Forty Four
Kod z kresek na parabelce / A code of notches on the pistol
Zwymiotowało moje serce / My heart vomited
Taka dziwna przebija je gwiazda [x2] / Such a strange star pierces it

Hej ty i cała twoja wiara / Hey you and your comrades
Zastyga krew na transparentach / The blood on the banners dries
Ja pamiętam cię tylko ze zdjęcia / I remember you only from a photo
Komendancie Che Guevara / Commandant Che Guevara

Mijałem targ na sygnale / I passed the market on lights and siren
Twarz twoją widziałem wspaniale / Saw your face clearly
Tam gdzie kurwy grzyby i krasnale / Among whores mushrooms and dwarves
Na szklankach i na firankach / And on knick-knacks

Aż tu pewnego poranka / Until one morning
SMS z okolic piekła: / A text message from hell:
“Czerń dzisiaj głodna i wściekła” / “Hungry and vicious is darkness today”
Tak napisała Zetkin Clara / So wrote Clara Zetkin

[Refrain x2]

Roll call of Cuban political prisoners c. 2003:
Raúl Oliverio Castañeda
Alejandro González Raga
Margarito Broche Espinosa
Fabio Prieto Llorente
Osvaldo Acosta

Zawalił się kapitalizm / Capitalism collapsed
Światu but na nodze już się zapalił / The world’s feet are on fire
W Gawroszewie robią bomby w barach / They make bombs in bars
I palą hawańskie cygara / And smoke Havana cigars


Znów modna jest broda Jezusa / The Jesus beard is back in style
Na widokówkach z Nablusa / On postcards from Nablus
I znów odbiera wojsk paradę / And the military parade
Osama Bin Checko-Laden / Is reviewed by Osama Bin Chekho-Laden

A ja gdy z mego snu się zbudzę / And when I awake
Zaraz wam zdradzę to hasło: / I’ll reveal the slogan:
“Nie pozostanę wredną wszą / “I won’t be a wretched louse
W brodzie Fidela Castro” [verse x2] / In Fidel Castro’s beard”

[Latin music]

Ile ty chcesz za te szklankę [x4] / How much do you want for this glass

[Refrain x2]

Ile ty chcesz za te szklankę / How much do you want for this glass


“I shake like a spleen ripped out of an eel”

An older friend once explicated the llyrics of this 1981 anti-Communist song for me, connecting each verse with a historic circumstance. I wish I remembered more of his commentary. The only one I recall is that the “jug-ears of naïve confidants” refers to secret police.

The subject of “Witkacy’s Self-Portrait” (Autoportret Witkacego) is Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz (1885 – 1939), commonly known as Witkacy, a prolific artist and writer best known for his expressionistic paintings and eccentric persona. A biographical note about Witkacy, referring to his period of service as an officer in Russian imperial army:

Witkiewicz witnessed the Russian Revolution while stationing in St Petersburg. He claimed that he worked out his philosophical principles during an artillery barrage, and that when the Revolution broke out he was elected political commissar of his regiment. His later works would show his fear of social revolution and foreign invasion, often couched in absurdist language. — Infogalactic

Living in Poland in the 1930s, he fled toward the country’s eastern frontier when Germany invaded in 1939 and committed suicide seventeen days later when Soviet Union attacked from the east.

Translating songs or poems involves a tradeoff between three things: original intended meaning (word choice), meter, and rhyme. I always focus on the first. With meter, I aim to make it as close as possible to the original in terms of the syllable-count and scansion but I keep a soft touch there. A matching rhyme scheme between unrelated languages is too unlikely, and not worth doing at the cost of compromising the other two priorities.

The song taps into Witkacy’s style of absurdism. With a leap of faith, it is relevant now. The regular stanzas in the original have an AABA rhyme scheme. Roger Waters should perform my English translation:


Witkacy’s Self-Portrait

By habit I watch the world
So it’s not from narcotics
That my eyes are red
Like laboratory rabbits’

I just got up from the table
So it’s not from deprivation
That I have the clenched lips
Of hungry Mongols

I listen to sounds not words
So it’s not for fecund thought
That I have the jug-ears
Of naïve confidants

I sniff out the cutthroats
So it’s not for the sake of folklore
That my nose casts the shadow
Of aggrieved Semites

I see the shape of things in their essential form
And that makes me great and unrepeatable

Unlike you – ladies and gentlemen if you’ll forgive me –
Who are an idiot’s rhyme copied on a duplicator [line x 2]

My neck’s rather stiff
But I’m still alive
Because politics to me
Is dishwater in a crystal glass

My mind is hard like an elbow
So don’t kick me
Because the revolution to me
Is red fingernails

I’m as sensitive as a membrane
So by evening and morning
I shake like a spleen
Ripped out of an eel

I’m terrified of the apocalypse
So to calm my mood
I scream like a child
That’s locked in a dark room

I more than any of you choke and gag!
I more than any of you wish to stop living but can’t!

[The first person-singular pronoun above allows a primal scream in both languages: “aaaaaaaaiiii” in English and “yaaaaaaaah” in Polish. — PA]

But I won’t let anyone touch me and therefore
When necessary I’ll be the one
Who deprives the world of Witkacy


Lyrics: Jacek Kaczmarski. Music: Przemysław Gintrowski


Idle Thoughts On Music In The Public Space

Pop music is not high art. It is not Classical virtuosos, eclectic palettes for refined tastes, or subculture signaling. Popular music is mass-market recordings that have broad appeal, speak to the emotions of young people, and are occasionally sublime. They amplify a mood and — this being pop music’s tautologically defining quality — they are played in the public space.

Every year is The Current Year

In the current year, you ask yourself: am I too old to get contemporary pop music? After some thought, my answer is: irrelevant question, if you aren’t locked in solipsism.

Every era has its cultural artifacts, as well as its classics. Let’s use 1983 as an example. I was watching MTV and Quiet Riot’s “Come On Feel The Noise” came on. Anyone remember that song? My parents didn’t like it: “Where is the vocal talent, good lyrics and melody?” I learned later that as members of the Silent generation, they didn’t care much for the Rolling Stones back in their day either, but liked Elvis, Paul Anka and Dean Martin. However, also in ’83, we were doing a jigsaw puzzle together as my Pyromania tape played in the background. “Foolin” was playing and mom said: “That’s a really good song.”

She recognized a classic, and she was right. If you are perceptive, you’ll feel in its verses a dream-realm wonder similar to that in “Für Elise.” The point is, that Quiet Riot was an artifact of its time and as such, not only was it empty noise to older people, but it has also since been forgotten by its contemporary audience — early-teens like I was then. Yet every era also has its timeless songs. So, are there any recently released greats? Honest question.

Amplifying the mood

I experienced two contrasting musical scenes at different venues. In the morning, we went with friends to a chic breakfast place where the songs were either soft rock originals or excellent but unfamiliar to me covers. I heard “Nothing Compares 2 U” (cover), “I Wanna Know What Love Is” (original), “Against All Odds” (cover) and similar. It was one of those days when you’re grateful to be alive.

Later that day, we went to an outdoor ice skating rink where the music was current Billboard Top 40, I guess. Same crap that’s played at the gym. The vocalists sounded black but can you even reliably tell that’s the case, if you’re unable to identify Justin Timberlake’s voice? The music lacked the aggressiveness of Hip-Hop or the caterwaul of R&B, but one song after another sounded alike: pussy-begging in a flat high-register voice, modulated with Auto-Tune.

As the atmosphere at the ice rink went, everyone was having fun but the music was like a nearby buzzing electrical transformer: nobody paid attention to it. Hey, as a point of comparison — in 1983 when the right song at the roller-skate center came on, the girls squealed and jostled out onto the floor. No girls were squealing at the 2018 ice rink.

Light up the White Energy, it occurred to me. Diversity was minimal, the ice rink was bright with the faces of healthy teenagers. The girleens would have come alive to Avril Lavigne’s I’m With You. (Love that “yeah-yeah-yeah? yeah-yeah?” thingy she does). I swear, I’d use a more current example if I knew of one.

“Keep it tasteful for now.”

A word on black music. For reasons that are too esoteric to get into, I once passed through a town in northwestern Tennessee, humming Dwight Yoakam’s “Thousand Miles From Nowhere” as I drove. This was midnight, 1995. With a cigarette in my steering hand, I searched for radio stations with the other, hoping to get lucky and catch Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” but instead, found a vintage Blues song. I left it on because the ghost of Nathan Bedford Forrest, who still watches over his folk in that little town, listened with me and because that recording, which lasted as long as the night, was a different kind of Clair de lune.

Blacks created enjoyable songs when appropriating European forms: Scots-Irish ballads became reinterpreted as Blues, marching bands inspired Jazz, church hymns were Africanized into Gospel. They had to be told to perform to White tastes, though. Indubitably, a dawn-of-rock-‘n-roll recording studio (((boss))) would tell his wild troubadours: “This ain’t a bonobo orgy, boys. Keep it tasteful for now. We’ll let you grind in a couple of decades.”

I like some black pop songs. For example, and let’s skip Michael Jackson as he’s complicated, I enjoy their Disco era stuff. Even if you don’t dance, you’ll move to Boney M’s Daddy Cool when the keyboard kicks in. The video for Kool & The Gang’s Cherish shows blacks at their best and the song is nice. Prince’s “Purple Rain” is a great song.

A life’s arc or cycles?

There are two ways of thinking about popular music. One, is that its golden age went from roughly 1975 to 1995, birthed in the Dionysian supernova of the Seventies, then through the Apollonian glam of Eighties’ pop and heavy metal, terminating with the Dionysian swan song of early 1990s’ Use Your Illusion and Grunge.

Or, popular music goes through an endless cycle of yin and yang, with each generation expressing its collective pathos in its own way. As U2’s Bono put it a couple of weeks ago:

I think music has gotten very girly. And there are some good things about that, but hip-hop is the only place for young male anger at the moment – and that’s not good. When I was 16, I had a lot of anger in me. You need to find a place for it and for guitars, whether it is with a drum machine – I don’t care. The moment something becomes preserved, it is fucking over. You might as well put it in formaldehyde. In the end, what is rock & roll? Rage is at the heart of it. Some great rock & roll tends to have that, which is why The Who were such a great band. Or Pearl Jam. Eddie has that rage… It will return.

Pearl Jam’s 1992 performance of “Black” at the PinkPop festival, specifically the song’s heart-ripping outro, is the howl of our generation. Millennials listened to Insane Clown Posse and Eminem in their formative years. Generation Zyklon will speak for itself.

White Energy


A Poem About Leftism (Reprise)

“I ceased not in my efforts to level mankind” — leftism, from a 1983 poem by Zbigniew Herbert. Read along with the musical interpretation below. I posted this a long time ago but this one is worth a revisit from a larger audience and with my improved translation. Theseus was AltRight.


   Moje ruchome imperium między Atenami i Megarą
My movable empire between Athens and Megara
   władałem puszczą wąwozem przepaścią sam
I ruled over wilderness canyon abyss alone
   bez rady starców głupich insygniów z prostą maczugą w dłoni
with no advice from stupid old men or insignias but with a primitive club
   odziany tylko w cień wilka i grozę budzący dźwięk słowa Damastes
clad only in the shadow of the wolf and the horrific sound of the word Damastes

   brak mi było poddanych to znaczy miałem ich na krótko
I lacked subjects that is to say I had each one for a short time
   nie dożywali świtu jest jednak oszczerstwem nazwanie mnie zbójcą
they did not live to dawn however it’s slander to call me a murderer
   jak głoszą fałszerze historii
as cry the falsifiers of history

   w istocie byłem uczonym reformatorem społecznym
in essence I was learned social reformer
   moją prawdziwą pasją była antropometria
my true passion was anthropometry

   wymyśliłem łoże na miarę doskonałego człowieka
I devised a crucible for the perfect man
   przyrównywałem złapanych podróżnych do owego łoża
I fit the captured travelers to that bed
   trudno było uniknąć – przyznaję – rozciągania członków obcinania kończyn
it was difficult to avoid – I admit – stretching members cutting limbs

   pacjenci umierali ale im więcej ginęło
patients kept dying but the more perished
   tym bardziej byłem pewny że badania moje są słuszne
the more I was sure that my studies are just
   cel był wzniosły postęp wymaga ofiar
the goal was sublime progress requires sacrifices

   pragnąłem znieść różnicę między tym co wysokie a niskie
I longed to abolish the difference between what is high and what is low
   ludzkości obrzydliwie różnorodnej pragnąłem dać jeden kształt
to humanity disgustingly diverse I longed to give one shape
   nie ustawałem w wysiłkach aby zrównać ludzi
I ceased not in my efforts to level mankind

   pozbawił mnie życia Tezeusz morderca niewinnego Minotaura
Theseus took my life that slayer of the innocent Minotaur
   ten który zgłębiał labirynt z babskim kłębkiem włóczki
he who plumbed the labyrinth with a girl’s bundle of yarn
   pełen forteli oszust bez zasad i wizji przyszłości
so full of trickery without principles or vision of the future
   mam niepłonną nadzieję że inni podejmą mój trud
I have an inextinguishable hope that others will take up my toil
   i dzieło tak śmiało zaczęte doprowadzą do końca
and the masterpiece I started so boldly they’ll lead to its end



Morning Songs

An aubade is a composition about or evocative of sunrise. As popular songs go, Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken” is among the prettiest. Beck’s euphonic Morning is a keeper:

Can we start it all over again this morning?
I let down my defenses this morning
It was just you and me this morning
I fought all my guesses this morning
Won’t you show me the way it could’ve been?

I’ll relate an experience that might sound like nothing much but it continues to have an effect on me a year-and-a-half later. Make of it what you will. At dawn, my father-in-law and I were passing through a little town in eastern part of Poland, he drove. It’s countryside with birch forests and tall, flower-adorned crucifixes at every crossroad.

Driving slowly through the wioska, we turn a corner and a burst of early morning’s sunlight floods everything. How to describe this. My perception opened for a moment. This lasted for a microsecond. What I saw, when we turned that corner, was a young woman pushing an infant stroller and a little boy walking with her.

They were real people, actually walking on the sidewalk and like I said, the vision was a flash but during it their silhouettes against the golden sunlight made an effect of the light being the sole reality. People who describe their near-death experience talk about an overwhelming sense of being embraced by love and for that moment, without a prelude and ending at that same instant, that is exactly what I felt.

That morning is when I stopped worrying.

“When the Morning Lights Arise” (orig. “Kiedy ranne wstają zorze”) is Franciszek Karpiński’s aubade, written c. 1800. My translation:

When the morning lights arise
To You the earth, to You the sea,
To You the elements sing:
Be praised, mighty God.

And man, without measure
Showered with Your gifts,
Whom You created and saved,
How can he not praise You?

Still rubbing my waking eyes
I at once call to my Lord,
To my Lord in Heaven
And I seek Him by me.

Some into the sleep of death have fallen
After lying down last night…
We still woke up
To praise You, God.