Polish punk rock is something about which I have probably never given a moment of my time. And I have spent time (mainly thanks to other books I’ve reviewed for Razorcake) thinking about random nations and music styles—Maltese heavy metal, for example. Reading this biography of the band Dezerter, however, really showed me how hard some punks can have it for the sake of wanting to share their music.
Dezerter is a punk band that formed in the early 1980s while living in communist Poland. At that time Poland wasn’t as harsh in their persecution of rock music as say, the Soviet Union was, but that’s not saying much. It was still hard for Dezerter to get going, with a lack of instruments, or ways to go about purchasing them, as well as finding practice spaces and places to play. If you think punk rock in your country is political, Dezerter shows that it can get much more dicey. How do you write in your lyrics about your distaste for an oppressive government when the same government reviews your lyrics before giving you the okay to release that record? This is just one such problem faced by Dezerter.
As one might imagine, it’s hard to separate the politics of Poland (both communist and post-communist) from the story of Dezerter. So, the author of the book, the drummer, Krzysztof Grabowski, intermixes the two. In most cases, in the years before the end of communism in Poland, the politics of the nation affected the band. This portion of the book is the most fascinating. This time period from approximately 1981 to 1989 was incredibly difficult for the band and it wasn’t until the latter half of the ‘80s that the band got solidified as a three-piece (with Grabowski on drums and as the main lyricist).
The portion of the book that deals with the band after 1989 isn’t nearly as interesting. It generally follows the typical pattern of most any band: a member change here or there, record an album, tour, etc. There are still comments about politics, but the band was much more free to do their own thing starting in the 1990s, so it was hard to make that portion of the material as fascinating. Of course, there are family dynamics, relationships, and the like, but the band has remained fairly stable for the past few decades.
While the book was captivating in many regards, it’s hard not to notice the translation and copy editing issues. From what I gather, Grabowski’s first language isn’t English, and the book was originally written in Polish and then translated to English. Unfortunately, it wasn’t translated well, and while the overall sentiment and emotion may come through, I can’t understand why the people who commissioned the English translation didn’t do a better job and work on the editing. The Polish version of the book came out in 2010, so it’s not as though there’s a huge rush at this point. For such a unique book, it seems as though it would be better to take time and do it well.
There were other translation issues, as well. Pasted throughout the book are a number of articles about the band and reviews of their albums, but unfortunately, the vast majority are in Polish. While it does prove the point that the band was popular (especially in Polish press), it would’ve been great to know what some of them said. A large portion of the book (approximately one-third of it) is comprised of the band’s lyrics. Reading through them, I was amazed at how bad most were. Once again, perhaps it was a translation issue, but they seemed rather juvenile, including the more recent ones. I can’t help but think (and really hope) that something was lost in the translation, but if that’s the case, it also means that one-third of the book was kind of pointless.
Despite these glaring errors, the book serves a purpose in exploring a time and place in punk that has had little written about it. For that it’s important, but I’d really love to see a re-translated and edited edition be the final say. –Kurt Morris (activedistribution.org)