Every month, Kafkadesk explores Central Europe’s rich folk and pop cultures to present some of the region’s most popular tunes and beats… that you might never have heard of! This month, we go back to Poland and the 1980s with Lombard‘s legendary song, Przeżyj to sam.
The Polish pop-rock band Lombard bypassed communist censors and released the legendary song Przeżyj to sam (“Experience it Yourself”) in 1982. Though the song was taken off the airwaves within two days, the damage had already been done.
As is often the case, the reason why the song was censored and so hated by the former Polish communist government is also the reason why it has always been so inspiring to most Poles.
Przeżyj to sam: Poland’s sing-along crowd pleaser since 1982
Despite the best efforts of the censorship officials in the Polish People’s Republic, crowds were already singing along to Przeżyj to sam (pronounced “pshe-zhiy-to-sam”) during some truly moving concerts held in the same year that the song had been released and censored.
Crowds continued singing along years after Poland became a democracy, and they continue singing the song today – not only in Poland, and not only in its original form.
Spend any time searching on YouTube, and you’re destined to find videos of Polish newlyweds embracing each other as they sing along to the song’s lyrics which, ironically, could be translated as “live it alone.”
Anybody who spends any amount of time in Poland can recognize the significant role that Przeżyj to sam plays in Polish society. Don’t miss the below video of three Nigerian artists who spent time living in Łódź, Poland (my hometown) and incorporated the chorus of Przeżyj to sam into a Polish-English rap remix after learning about its timeless popularity.
Unraveling the song’s meaning
Lombard’s legendary song initially bypassed censors because it took some time for communist officials to recognize that the meaning behind the song’s title is actually “experience it yourself” rather than “live it alone” or “survive it alone.”
Clearly, if everyone understood it to mean the latter, the song wouldn’t have turned into a crowd favorite or a staple song for newly-married couples at weddings.
The song addresses the listener. In the first half, the lyrics say that “you are seeing life without emotion” and “letting others change the world on your behalf,” while standing “afar” yourself, “just in case, so you aren’t losing anything.”
But the chorus that follows is the most important part of the song—and the part that has been weird for a Polish person not to sing aloud since 1982:
Experience it yourself! Experience it yourself!
Do not turn your heart into a hard glaze…
While you still…. have a heart…
By this point, you should already know that the words mean something like “be the change you want to see” or “don’t let life pass you by.” But for those for whom that still isn’t clear enough, the last line of the song tells of how the “sharp words” of an unknown “speaker” have finally made the listener angry enough to think: “enough of being silent.”
Experience it yourself
People with hardened hearts and souls for sale will always have trouble recognizing what motivates others but, through a lyrical wink and nod, Przeżyj to sam inspires the rest of us to recognize that life is only worth living if we experience both happiness and heartache firsthand.
This is why Lombard’s legendary hit single quickly lost popularity among communist censorship officials, but why graduating seniors, newly-married couples, and activists in the Solidarity movement – who later defeated the communist government in free elections – have been singing the song for decades.
Polish or not, if you ever find yourself in need of inspiration to embrace new experiences instead of observing from afar, I encourage you to learn the words Przeżyj to sam and sing along.
So without further ado…
By Piotr Narel
A bilingual Polish-American who has spent much of his life traversing the Atlantic, Piotr Narel is a communications professional based in Washington, D.C. Send Piotr your feedback and story ideas and feel free to check out more of his articles right here!
Check out more KafkaTunes from Central Europe: