Stanislaw Staszewski was one of the greatest songwriters/lyricists ever to have lived. . .
in a Nick Drake sorta way,
but that’s the least of his achievements and only contributes a small portion to his overall etherial excellence.
He was born in Warsaw in 1925, making him 14 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland starting World War Two. He joined Poland’s underground Armia Krajowa (Home Army) and fought valiantly for years until being taken prisoner in the failed Warsaw Uprising.
The Real Inglorious Basterd
Facing execution, he cunningly convinced his captors that he had German ancestry and they allowed him to join the German army, from which he immediately escaped. He tried to rejoin the resistance, but before he could he was captured again.
He was taken to the Mauthausen-Gunen concentration camp, but once again managed to escape, this time by playing dead and being placed on a pile of corpses bound for cremation.
After the war he became an architect and began composing words and music. Some of his poems were deemed ‘dangerous’ by high-ranking politicians and he was expelled from the Communist Polish United Worker’s Party.
Fearing for the safety of his family, he fled to Paris, where he composed his most well-known songs. These only exist in crusty tape-recorded versions. He was generally unknown during his lifetime, but many of his songs have since become Polish music standards, performed by a wide variety of artists.
The Famous Father of a Famous Son
In the 90’s Stanislaw’s son Kazik (a musical legend in his own right) produced two albums of his father’s songs.
This is my favorite Stanislaw Staszewski song “Knajpa Mordercow” (“Murderer’s Row”) which I will attempt to translate for you:
Murderer’s Row (Translated from Polish by Humphrey King)
Don’t look for roads, that go far into your heart.
This pub is sad – we used to be killers.
If you chance upon us, don’t let us know you,
Our dark eyes burn with murder.
We have menacing sick grimaces
& the hearts of pigeons.
Army bands, gangs & dark legions -
yesterday’s warriors – today’s unemployed.
Emptiness and cold windy corners,
An old killer cleans glass for the owners.
Our tattered reminders collected in closets.
Patient killers sit & snap matches.
Sometimes a strange face flashes and vanishes.
Someone lifts himself from the table,
But returns expressionless tomorrow,
Cursing life he’ll pound his flagon,
but the others already surround him,
their eyes reflected in bottles,
& already you start to feel better,
you’re about to witness a murder,
maybe at last, some morning
you’ll wake from a hangover
And you’ll feel a pulse of anger
And they’ll have to pay for your pleasure.
And once again, instead of a bottle (in your
hand), the known feel of a luger pistol
And with a light touch of a finger, like a tickle
Life or Death is (decided).
Sweet glory days return to you,
famous wars, and daring escapes.
It’s the only way to live –
to be rewarded for killing.
On Murderer’s Row we bite our nails,
We are tormented by our desire for war,
But who trusts a murderer today?
so bullets sleep in dark barrels.
Soldiers used to erase forests, now they watch
balloons float in the night sky, from gondolas.
It used to be clear, and now it’s dim,
I see no enemy before me. But when
My head is alcohol-tortured
among porcelain knick-knacks & nickel pipes,
I feel again half-godlike,
For behold, you become my enemy.
The bullet strikes like a silver snake,-
In the silver mirror above the sink
your eyes will ‘go out’
and a murderer’s face will ‘light up’
and when they carry your body out the door,