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What’s the point of shooting at TV, it’s better to switch it off

Published on March 30, 2011 by: in: Culture

Interview with Zygmunt ‘Muniek’ Staszczyk – where the border between culture and pop culture is; if there is any reason to be ashamed of your songs played in Radio ZET (commercial Polish radio – ed.) and why the most outstanding Polish artists always screwed it up politically. Interview is a part of a series ‘Ask about Poland’.


A few years ago you said you were fed up with world which is ruled by Crazy Frog.

I started as a musician in entirely different time. When I started a band in the 80s there were tanks on the streets and Jaruzelski ruled the country; later on there was the first decade of freedom – choking on it as well as on the wild capitalism; today we are in the European Union so the situation changed again. These changes occurred not only in a social-political context, sufficient to have a look at the media, which are based entirely on the Internet. These times of Crazy Frog simply have to be different – I am not criticizing it, I am just trying to observe and understand. Nowadays the compilation of mp3 files downloaded from the Internet has move value than a record. On the other hand – digital space gives enormous opportunities for beginning artists, who are outside the biggest mainstream radio stations. I am not going to ever write a protest-song that Internet sucks, it would be ridiculous (laughs). Parallel to this social-political and technological path the music as such changed as well. Rock’n’roll is not longer revolutionary, it became a part of pop culture.

Do you feel part of it yourself?

Part of the culture – yes. Pop culture? I don’t know. I am aware of the fact that it is very easy to become a specialist on everything in Poland. Unfortunately, a while ago I was tempted myself – TVN (Polish commercial TV channel) especially liked me. They kept calling me saying ‘Mr. Muniek, say something’. About designer drugs, Polański, Kaczyński, Tusk, about my wife, about John Paul II. Fuck! Once Bob Dylan sung ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ and this is how it works in Polish media. There are certain puzzles: somebody will jump all over Kaczyński, someone else will criticize Tusk and another one will curse the Church.

What role you were supposed to play in this puzzle?

I haven’t been assigned any yet I guess. A few years ago I gave the same interview for ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ and ‘Dziennik’, I talked about exactly the same things: that I believe but I am skeptical at the same time, that I have various friends – also homosexuals – and that I don’t mind it, that I feel closer to Gombrowicz than to Sienkiewicz. ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ underlined that I am liberal and have lesbian and gay friends and ‘Dziennik’ printed in bold that I am the Church’s guy: once bad but now converted. Sorry – this is a paranoia! So now when a journalist from TVN calls me I say ‘Madam, I can talk about my record!’. I simply know my narrow specializations – my own music, culture, censorship, I don’t want to babble about everything. Obviously you have to have some relations with the media, but you can’t jump out of every fridge. I am not shooting at the TV, I simply mind my own business.

Don’t you sometimes feel like shooting?

What’s the point of shooting, it’s better to switch it off. With whom I am supposed to fight? With Kaczyński and Tusk? They will fade away in a few years. People are so excited about all this now but eventually we are nothing more than a sandwich between the Smoleńsk crash and weather forecast.

Media also became a part of pop culture?

Yes and this annoys me because rock’n’roll always opted for individualism. If anything from this remained in me – because the slogan ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’ is empty today, doesn’t mean anything anymore – this will be exactly such an individualist attitude. While decorating the Christmas tree I was watching TV and suddenly some guy jumped out, completely innocent person, and he shouts ‘Come on people, rock!’. And what? He became a rock star in one second!

Today we have bigger spectrum – twenty years ago nobody would hear about him.

This problem is wider: it shows how the television formats and softens everything. Today it seems that Roxette is rock’n’roll because they hold guitars. Obviously it is also a result of the fact that now we can see more than 500, 200 or even 15 years ago.

A word ‘post-politics’ made a career recently.

Politics is a part of pop culture, unfortunately the most trashy part. In music pop culture consists of The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and some passing star and in the politics these passing stars create pop culture. I remember that in the 80s I was amazed by the Western media, I didn’t understand it when my foreign friends were saying that their media suck and they should be blew off (laughs). I thought ‘What the fuck they are saying!’. Now I understand them, even though I still wouldn’t like to blow off anything. People who work hard whole day need these media so that in the evening they can forget about problems and see how somebody dances on the ice, in the water, fuck, on the hay.

But media don’t mean only the entertainment.

No, we have an enormous choice, so everyone can surely find something which he finds interesting – thanks to this the society is very divided today. Once, when you met a person your age, he knew the same films and bands. In the 80s there were a lot of such connotations – somebody said he was listening to The Clash or Iggy Pop and you knew everything straight away. Today it is not like this, which – by the way – is very interesting, I like observing it. I hate this bullshit that once it was awesome. People often say that there used to be more ambitious things, now it’s all massive. Not at all! There was both ambitious and massive stuff.

What place in pop culture has – often overused word – commercialism? What does it mean?

For us, Poles, it is new. On the other hand in the United States a word ‘commercialism’ is very popular. For me commercialism means for example singing songs about John Paul II only because they surely will be a financial success. Pretending to be saint with selling 200,000 CDs at the same time. This is pure cynicism and commercialism!

Are these two concepts synonymous? Commercialism is always cynicism?

There are musicians and businessmen. Usually they combine these two functions and it requires finding balanced proportions. I belong to this group myself: I started in the backyard and now I am working in a small business and I hire around 15 people. Everyone wants to sell their work – CD, book, painting – nobody can say that he just wants to sit in a closed room and create. Earning money by your work is nothing wrong, some push it too far however and then they become not only commercial, but also cynical. You will see how many football fans there will be next year in Poland! Everyone – from hip-hop, through pop to rock! Back to the last question, it is true that very often pop culture and commercialism are accused groundless of simply everything.

Many people accuse you of commercialism.

T.Love went through the way characteristic for Polish bands created in the 80s – we earned first money only after some time, after 1989, but now we are earning quite good money. I am not ashamed to say it because it is a natural way of the majority of well-known bands. Is it a commercialism? Probably yes but I don’t know how negative this concept should be. I am happy that I have a few recognizable songs because thanks to this I can hire soundmen and sound during the concert as I always dreamt to. There has to be moderation in everything! People often tell me ‘You used to be awesome’. But we play the same songs, only much better than we used to (laughs)!

You said once that you liked only the first, garage records of Dire Straits. Later on the band became more popular, you stopped liking it. Can money sometimes be harmful to music?

Yes, every musician has surely right to choose. I don’t want to attack Dire Straits because it is a classic rock band, but their first three records were fantastic and then there was attempt at adjusting to the market, widening instrumentation, enormous tours. Dire Straits can be – metaphorically speaking –  kind of example that sometimes money can harm the music. In their case it completely changed their sound. I am sure though that many people would say exactly the same about T.Love, throughout years we evolved a lot. I usually answer that I follow my own way, probably Knopfler would say exactly the same (laughs).

Similar discussion took place recently in a political debate – it concerned the differences between privatization and commercialization of the hospitals.

For me another example of negative commercialization is giving up investing in yourself – this is clearly visible in the macro scale, with the stadium bands. Some of them converted huge profits into huge spectacles for fans, others stuffed their pockets with this money. It is not commercialism itself but its negative effects. After all commercialism itself is not bad!

Do you remember when you made a decision about commercialization of T.Love?

In 1989 Communism was beaten up, people went out to the streets, were happy. Then I went to London and worked hard –  I remember that when I came back I came to the conclusion that we have to go in the direction of professionalism. Of course, I still wanted to play with my friends, but to earn money to support my family at the same time. Whole life can’t be based on the same notion that it will stay the same: we are losers but we can at least say we still play in a garage! I am supposed not to earn money because for fuck’s sake 30 years ago I used to listen to The Clash?

The Clash which by the way earned quite a big money from their music.

(Laughs) Yes, even though they had very Leftist attitude to it. Once – even though I used to and I still love The Clash – I didn’t like it, because at the times of the Communism I had bad connotations with the Left. They used to sell record at a very law price, a few in a price of one. Curiously when they, a symbol of the Left, were accused of recording for a big company CBS, Joe Strummer said: ‘If we hadn’t recorded for CBS, you wouldn’t have heard us at all!’

Accusations of commercialism are absurd because commercial artists are these whose work succeeded and creating works for people to like them is the most essential meaning of art. Today fulfilling this basic task is considered to be something negative.

It’s the same with the word ‘success’. In the United States people exaggerate another way, everyone shouts ‘Success! Wow!’. I like the most the Scandinavian attitude: an artist is not ashamed to talk about his work but doesn’t swagger either. This solution in the middle is the best: it is between Poland, where artist is afraid of saying anything and the United States where there are all the time histories such as Western-like Puff Daddy or tragic Michael Jackson.

Maybe we just go too far with such a strict assessment of pop culture. In Poland educated actors criticize those who haven’t gone to any film schools forgetting at the same time that the most outstanding American actors are not graduates of such schools either.

Similarly in music – majority of remarkable musicians were strictly connected with pop culture. Sometimes they were there from the beginning, sometimes just since a certain point in their career, but usually one way or another they belonged to it. But – as The Rolling Stones sung – Time is on my side and with time these musicians become bigger and bigger and finally they go beyond pop culture.

They go further and further and with time they become immune statues. Fryderyk Chopin, whose love for salon life was laughed at by Adam Mickiewicz, has nothing to do with pop culture for Poles today.

Yes but who would now say that Mozart and Bach belong to pop culture? Nobody! The rule was always the same, it used to be even worse because artists were often connected with the court, which was meant – translating to contemporary times – political putting out.

This rule concerns not only music. Similarly the most remarkable figures of Polish literature – Jan Kochanowski and Henryk Sienkiewicz – would be part of pop culture today.

Not to mention Mickiewicz! Artists from the centre of pop culture can instantaneously jump onto the statue. Unfortunately we absolutely can’t see it, we don’t have a proper perspective and there is a very visible parallel after all.

19th century’s blues won over American salons very Fast, after the Second World War rebellious rock appeared and with time it found its place in the biggest record labels. The same happened to hip-hop lately. Is there any alternative genre now which might become the mainstream music?

It’s true that the history of majority of music genres is very similar. I talked earlier about the slogan ‘sex, drugs and rock’n’roll’ – today sex is in every advertisement and drugs on the streets. You don’t have to play rock to maltreat yourself (laughs). I think that today there is no place for romantic heroes such as Janis Joplin or Jim Morrison. Generally speaking I think that something like generation doesn’t exist anymore. In the 80s it was easier: here was Jaruzelski, Urban was telling some bullshit, the tanks were out in the streets and we all were in the opposition. It put together bands such as Kult, Dezerter, Armia, Republika, T.Love etc and it brought about common social expression of Polish rock’n’roll. I mentioned divisions of the world and people’s interests. At that time creating common expression was easier because we all knew films made by Holland, Kieślowski, Zanussi and Wajda.

Today nobody will become a generation’s voice?

Mass media tried to come up with some phenomenon at any cost. They described something called ‘Generation JP2’ which I consider to be a complete nonsense. I think that such ‘generations’ ended irrevocably with the development of mass media and appearance of the Internet.

To sum up this conversation – what do you feel when you hear your song in Radio ZET?

I am not ascetic – it doesn’t bring me any medal but I’m not depressed either.

Interview: Marek Korcz and Jan Radomski

Translation: Martyna Bojarska



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