Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Perfect: English Autobiography

I took up the idea of creating English lyrics for Perfect's Autobiography following Pacze Moj's first post with video and second post with progressing versions. I've managed to complete something, which while far from perfect, I reckon deserves a C+ for effort. How did the original go again?

What I've tried to do is create 'sing along to the original' lyrics that give the right flavour to the song. The result is:

I was only ten:
We first heard about him then;
In my basement we made our club.
My pal's radio played:
Our first hearing 'Blue Suede Shoes'
And I couldn't sleep that night.

The changing wind it blew,
Those imprisoned were set free:
Once again, we laughed and joked.
Café’s buzzing scene,
Like tornadoes, jazz blew clean:
Just to play,
That was my right.

Father, God only knows,
Why our factory he did close.
Me? My finger nail came off,
Shaving fretted my throat,
Playing loads of magic? Nope!
And I found the thrill of sex.

Music Postcard craze,
Found five hundred in those days;
Didn't get a new pair of jeans.
And come Saturday night,
Luxembourg, a cabin, drink:
Oh, how much,
We wanted life!

There were us three.
Though in our blood we were free,
But with one overwhelming goal:
In several years,
Have the world at our heels,
Grind it down in the dirt.

Alpaga plonk,
And discussions 'til dawn,
Our wakened spirits never able to rest.
Who punched whose nose?
And then tears for this flowed:
Things happening.

Separated us,
Perfect Pola Raska's face;
All ready to die for this.
On a summer night,
On a blanket in moonlight,
What I wanted then, I found.

She said quick to me that our problems they might come.
I said I worked for my exam;
She turned up the heat.
After some time, we don't meet.
Once again,
Me alone.

New faces I claim
To mask out my pain.
Life taught me much more than they did.
Dossed on the floor,
Just killing off time.
Our greatest time

Pub visit for cheers,
Klezmer asked me to play;
So much rubbish that still I go red.
One certain day,
Figured out that I knew:
Nothing at all.

Hearing my past,
Overcoming at last
Coming real then was my greatest dream:
The thousandth crowd,
Drinking words from my mouth,
All loving me.

A hotel, a fan,
Saying "recorder I ran
That's just how a real throat should sing".
I open the door,
Saying nothing at all:
Blank walls never can

It reads pretty awfully, but many song lyrics do. So how does it sound? Here's an enhanced lektor style video of a nearly completed version: you can see work in progress if you look closely.

Given that I am trying to translate a song between languages that have little equivalence in word syllables; where word and sentence stress is different; and where, as in this song, natural sentence structure can be very different, I forgive myself the strange English. Some explanations, however.

My lines: "Father, God only knows, why our factory he did close", comes from the original lines "Father, God only knows, where he put the Martenowski (open hearth) furnace". I have interpreted this as a reference to the furnaces being built in Poland, but through some distant decision making process, not installed here. It is therefore a complaint about economic failure. My reference to factory closure is intended to reflect this, but makes it accessible to a foreign audience. It adds a touch of irony related to the modern situation, where factories are moved to Poland. Other interpretations I immediately think of are: Martenowski was also slang for a domestic heater of some sort, which no one could find after Dad put it away (although I have found no internet reference to this slang); or it asks why Dad has lost his red hot, fiery enthusiasm. My interpretation could therefore be completely wrong even in its intention. Is the direct relationship of 'Father' and 'God' obvious in Polish eg from the Pope being Father of the World?

I would have translated "Klezmer asked me to play", as "Busker asked me to play", but Kompas Translator has an excellent English dictionary. Webster's Third New International [English] Directory tells me Klezmer is "a Jewish instrumentalist; a member of a band of folk musicians in Eastern Europe hired to play at Jewish weddings and gatherings". I intend it to sound like a name in the song, but it is a hidden reference to Poland's cultural past. I wonder if Perfect (or Bogdan Olewicz, who seems to have written the words) knew about this?

Since use of English seems to be quite fashionable at the moment, perhaps Perfect would like to put it on their next album. Obviously, I claim full money grabbing rights - OK, Pacze Moj may deserve a couple of quid too.


student SGH said...

I've long had in mind an attempt to translate this very song and eventually I've given it up.

I'll try to have a look at it over the weekend and maybe put forward some changes, but all in all I'm lost in admiration.

Great job!

Pacze Moj said...


We'll split the cash!

Right from the beginning, the "ten-then" rhyme: seems natural yet I didn't think of it at all.

The change in the line about the heater is good, too. I wondered how to translate that line to keep the general meaning and I didn't do it nearly as well as you. (Indeed, I didn't do it at all and resigned myself to losing the meaning).

Though re "Alpaga plonk" we did the opposite.


But I admit that my knowledge of wines, whether Polish and no longer made, or otherwise, is minimal, so maybe only I had no clue what Alpaga is (until Google helped me).

"Shaving fretted my throat": Not sold on this line ("Z gryfu został wiór"), though the next line and question-answer rhyme is worth a smile. [Maybe: "Even my guitar couldn't cope" or "I ground my axe into soap."]

"On a summer night, / On a blanket in moonlight,": Love these lines. I had trouble keeping faithful to the original, so I changed some of the detail, too, but yours is a lot more elegant.

"She turned up the heat. /
After some time, we don't meet.": If I didn't know the original, I wouldn't realise that this is about suicide. It makes the song slightly more cheerful but at the expense of a bit of drama and tragedy.

"Dossed on the floor": :)

"Klezmer": I don't think it carries the same negative (hack musician or wedding singer) meaning that it does in Polish. But I couldn't figure out a way to translate it, either.

I'm glad you took up the challenge. I think that together we've proved how imprecise yet creative the business of translation is.

PS: I've been listening to Polish 80s rock lately and I think I can safely say that no Polish band should ever (ever!) sing in English. I produce my proof:


ajuc said...

"Martenowski furnace" line was rather about father always being far from home, building these things - it was 60' - 70' and economic failure was forbidden then :)

student SGH said...

OK, I'm making a stab at it...

Most corrections are made to make the number of syllabes in lines square.

In my basement was our club
Then 'Blue Suede Shoes' I first heard

Wind of change would blow
The imprisoned were let go

Just to play
my wish was

Father, God knows where
Those days he would go astray

Shavings out of picks
Played the guitar, learnt the tricks


Not a single pair of jeans
Come Saturday night
Was Luxembourg, drinks, free house
And we felt
Lust for life

With one goal stuck deep in our minds
Never hard up

Our spirits were always awake
And whose tears for this flowed

All ready to lay down our lives

(...) problems, they might be,
I just had my homework done


Roles go in vain,
they can't relieve my pain
Life has taught me much more than they did

I was wasting my time
greatest time

A pub far away

Coming real was my greatest dream then

Just wanted to brush up on the perfect job, don't get me wrong and say what you make of it.