Songs About Warsaw


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: