In this installment David gives us some thoughts on music and its application in language learning. Song lyrics, when sung, are difficult to understand, but the internet means that nothing cannot be deciphered. David will usually have a number of windows open on his computer, one playing the track, one with the text of the lyrics and a few others for whatever else is going on today.
The great thing about the pre-accession thing was that I got to go to Poland once a year at someone else's expense and got to know Empik intimately. [Empik is the Polish Virgin, or Fnac. Magazines, music and books sold in large quantities]. The ground floor is crossword territory, upstairs is book heaven, and upstairs again is audio bliss.
It was just when Napster was the big thing and I happened upon two slim volumes [about Polish music and musicians], Podwojna linia zycia by Kora and Gwiazdy polskiej sceny by Witold Filler which was the prelude to six months of intensive music downloading. This was a bizarre experience because I had previously thought that the Eastern Bloc was an elephant's graveyard and then suddenly, there was all this incredible music. My friend Darek kept sending me these CD's, which he claimed were the best Krakowian rockabilly bands, as if there were millions, which of course there are. I always thought of Poland as a square country, like France, and then Germany, and then Poland, three peas in a pod, with Poland as the stamp on a postcard. And then you realise that all the surrounding countries are collective plurals, not just for the Poles but for the Slavs, and you've got the Germans, and then the Italians, and the Hungarians, and the Indians and the Chinese (the western border is half the length of the eastern border, making the country a kind of funnel).
Maanam [a Polish punk rock group] is famous for having imported the punk ethos into Poland, in the early eighties, but it's not an exact comparison, you have to imagine the Sex Pistols as performed by the London Symphonic Orchestra, because the musicianship is incredible, whether it's them or Ascetoholix, Hey, Budka Suflera, Edyta Gorniak, Perfect, Cieslaw Nieman... a very long list.
Lyrics are a real acid test [of whether you know your language or not] because lyrics are not easy. Listen to Rammstein or Nora Jones, you get the occasional word, but I defy anybody to do it word for word. But all you need is a couple words, stick them into Google and you'll find it, thanks to www.pipol.pl and www.teksty.pl and kopalnia tekstow (sites with Polish lyrics), but actually all you need to do is put in the band and the word for lyrics in the appropriate language and Bob's your uncle.
It's the weirdest thing to listen to a song and not understand a word and then find it and you realise that it's the easiest thing in the world. For example, there's a song by Lombard called Adriatyk, which I listened to for a while, without understaning a word, in the car, many happy mornings, making my way up the Chaussee de Wavre (towards the European Parliament in BXLs), being overtaken by pedestrians, que dis-je, classes of schoolchildren, two by two, and it seemed like a very complicated exercise, but actually it was bog simple.
To brzeg pulsujacy , to rak ocean goracy
To mrok, cierpki mrok , i noc, noc
Wolania coraz mniej, w wolny odplywam sen
Adriatyk zamknal sie
I szept slonej ciszy, i nagle blask, ostrosc kliszy
I biel, gesta biel, to sen, sen
but believe me, it seemed more difficult, even now it seems incredible that I couldn't have got it a bit better, maybe I wasn't paying attention, or maybe I was worried about being late, and I wasn't thinking properly. Every so often, there's a litle thing that you know you should be understanding, and you're sitting there, and it's Place Jourdan, and you think, bugger, I'm not getting anywhere, and you play it to yourself a hundred times, and it's so tantalising. I had that experience recently with a duet by Kasia Nosowska and Dezerter. There's a spoken intro and the guy says "Do jasna cholera ja lubie Dezertera", but I was hearing "ja snach olera", which of course was meaningless. I asked somebody what it was and they said "Do jasna cholera ja lubie Dezertera". The Poles are very gentle, they don't make you feel bad.
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