31 May 1998
He is a 41-year-old poet and songwriter, best-known as a singer accompanying himself on the guitar. Opposed to the communist regime and involved in the Solidarity freedom movement, he left Poland in October 1981, shortly before martial law was introduced. From 1984 to 1994 he worked in the Polish section of Munich’s Radio Free Europe. Now he lives with his wife and daughter in Perth, Australia. Back in Poland for a series of shows, Jacek Kaczmarski talks to the Voice’s Wojtek Nerkowski.
What has brought you to Poland this time?
I’m going to present new material. Besides, my new record, Between Us (Między nami), is in the making. It will contain 17 new songs I wrote during the last year, mostly in Australia. I asked Janusz Strobel and his brilliant jazz musicians to prepare the arrangements for me. The songs speak of a life “in between”-between hope and hopelessness, life and death. The record begins with the motif of Prometheus and ends with the one of Orpheus. I’m going to sing about living across the divide between the omnipresent absurd and searching for the meaning of life, about the relationship between the artist and the world, between good and evil. Each song tackles a different subject, but what they all have in common is this life “in between.” The record is being released to coincide with my tour in May and June.
What’s your schedule for the visit in Poland?
I came here in March and played a few free gigs for my friends as well as some warm-ups. For one month I hardly left the studio, though, as I was working on my new record. For the first time in my 21-year career I was concentrating very hard on the musical side of my record. When my songs were banned by the censor, there was no possibility-and no need-to develop the technical aspect of my music. My songs were simply used as a weapon in the political fight with the regime, which was not always my intention. I did, however, try to experiment with the arrangement of my music several times. In 1984 I started working with Antoni Miłosz, son of the famous poet Czesław. We tried to incorporate some electronic instruments into my songs, which was a shocking novelty, but I am always searching for new ways to express myself. Looking at my music through someone else’s eyes, someone with a different way of thinking, a different style, was a very enriching experience. I have played with jazz musicians, too, in Germany and Switzerland, as I always felt the need to “support the other leg,” as our former president Lech Wałęsa would say. The music will always accompany the text, but as a lyricist I will always emphasize the words.
Is music the only reason for your visit in Poland?
Not the only one. I am also going to promote my new novel The Beach for Dogs (Plaża dla psów), which is soon to be published. It is a collection of my texts, poems and songs.
You are living in Australia. But is it really convenient for you? You have to spend 30 hours an a plane every time you want to visit Poland!
Not exactly, the flight takes around 20 hours, and I don’t mind because it gives me real pleasure. You leave behind your life in one place and have new things waiting for you at your destination. For 20 hours all your worries are off your mind. Australia allows me to see Poland and the rest of the world from a distance. That is why I do not write things on a hasty impulse, which gives them a more universal dimension. It is difficult to write about an ants’ nest when living in it. An ant doesn’t even realize it is living in one before it sees the shape from the outside. I lead a very active life in Poland, I play my songs, my friends and family live here. As soon as I arrive here, I turn into a “political animal” and instantly soak up the local reality.
Why have you chosen Australia as your new home?
It could well have been a chalet in the Polish mountains or a cabin in the northeast of Poland. But when I visited Australia for the first time 11 years ago, I simply fell in love with the country. Now, each time I leave it, I am sure my family is safe-I don’t get this feeling in Poland.
You moved to Australia dazzled by a new experience. But what if you get bored with this country, too, someday?
Possible, but I seriously doubt it. It’s a huge continent, after all. For some people a lifetime is not enough to see it all. You cannot compare Australia’s vast space with anything else in the world.
Don’t you miss the immediate contact with Polish matters?
Living there gives me a sense of healthy detachment but I don’t feel isolated at all. Any newspaper is delivered with a maximum three- or four-day delay. I keep in touch with my friends, who write to me, fax me and send their stuff. If something really important takes place in Poland, even Australian TV will mention it. Unfortunately, I am computer illiterate, so I have not figured out yet how to use the Internet.
Radio Free Europe has played an important role in your life. How did you get there?
I wound up in the West by accident. In the fall of 1981, Przemek Gintrowski, Zbyszek Łapiński and I went to play some concerts in France as the representatives of the Solidarity independence movement. It was originally for three days, but we were so popular there that we thought of prolonging our contract. So my friends returned to Poland to sort out the formalities, and I stayed in France.
Then came martial law. I lived in Paris for two years, where I was one of the founding members of the Solidarity Committee helping our persecuted friends in Poland. I traveled the world with my concerts that were supposed to turn the attention of the Polish community abroad to the events at home. After two years, Radio Free Europe approached me with an offer to move to Munich and start my own program called A Quarter-Hour With Jacek Kaczmarski.
What are your memories of those 10 years in Munich?
I am extremely proud to have contributed to the unique tradition of European freedom. Somebody told me that the annual budget of Radio Free Europe equaled the price of the sighting device for a single American Phantom fighter jet. And our political influence was huge, everybody was listening to the radio then.
What happened next?
It was 1994 and I had been visiting Poland with summer concerts for four years. I resumed cooperation with Przemek and Zbyszek. After Radio Free Europe stopped broadcasting, I talked my wife into a trip to Australia. I had already known then that I would like to settle there, but I still had to convince my wife. We filed the necessary documents and after 18 months of living in Poland we moved to Perth.
Is that why your songs are no longer politically involved?
It’s because, in my opinion, politics is the job of politicians, journalists and commentators. I was dealing with politics when it was prohibited and only a few had the possibility or courage to do it. What’s more, the situation was simple then. There was a clear division between the oppressors and the oppressed. Every honest human being wants to take the side of the weak. My songs have never been strictly political, they only had a political context or aim. I had something more universal in mind-the human condition in the modern world, people’s problems with themselves and reality.
What are your current publishing and musical plans?
I will be thinking of the continuation of The Beach for Dogs. It would be worth developing some of the plots. I am also thinking of a bigger musical piece, namely an opera based on Juliusz Słowacki’s poem Beniowski. I’ve been pondering it for eight years now, but it would be a serious undertaking, a year of hard work. My new stuff could also make a whole new program.
And what about the film based on your first novel, Self-Portrait With a Scoundrel?
As far as I know, the producers still lack the necessary funds. The first draft of the screenplay is ready, waiting for its lucky day to come.
THE MIĘDZY NAMI CONCERT TOUR
Kielce, May 29, 5 and 8 p.m. at Wojewódzki Dom Kultury center
Lublin, May 30, 6 and 8:30 p.m. at the Wieniawski State Philharmonic, 5 Marii Curie-Skłodowskiej St.
Warsaw, June 2, 6 p.m. at Sala Kongresowa; guest performances by Antonina Krzysztoń, Janusz Strobel and his group, presented by Piotr Bałtroczyk
Warsaw, June 3, at Proxima student club, 99a Żwirki i Wigury St. (party after the concert)
Gdańsk, June 7, 6 and 8:30 p.m. at Kwadratowa student club, 4 Siedlicka St.
Białystok, June 14, 6 and 8:30 p.m. at Pokój cinema, 14 Lipowa St.
Bydgoszcz, June 20, 6 and 8:30 p.m. at the Pomorska Philharmonic concert hall, 16 Libelta St.
Wrocław, June 21, 6 p.m. at Muzyczny Theater, 72 Piłsudskiego St.
Poznań, June 22, 6 and 8:30 p.m. at Muzyczny Theater, 1 Niezłomnych St.
"The Warsaw Voice"
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