He is fascinated by Platonov, and Gogol was the same age as he was when he made his debut. He owes his love for literature to an extraordinary Polish teacher. Tomasz Organek talks to Rafał Bryndal about his book and more.
A musician, singer, now also a writer, and an English graduate. You graduated from the University of Toruń, which I also tried to graduate from. We have a little bit in common.
Yeah, I also feel like we have something in common. You also spend more time here than in Toruń. And we have this kind of ‘family’ connections. I performed with your brother.
That’s right. The first time I heard about you was when you and Michał were in the band Sofa.
I was invited to join that band. It was a great time, midway or the end of my studies… a nice moment in my life. Thanks to Sofa, I got to know what music is, what a musician does in general, and I could set up my current band, Organek, in its original line-up. I’m fully aware of all of this, because I learned practically everything in Sofa. How to work with people in the studio, on stage. I learned how to compose, I started to write songs, lyrics; in other words – I learned everything about the profession of a musician, which later helped me in my career and is still useful today.
At that time, apart from music, you were also interested in literature. Is that why you decided to choose English studies?
I’ve always been interested in the humanities, although I admit I had an adventure with Maths in high school. In line with the spirit of a new IT high school, I chose the Maths and Physics major. I must have gone crazy, because after two weeks, I already knew it wouldn’t work and I transferred to a humanities class. English studies were probably a subconscious choice, because already in high school, I spoke English quite fluently. There was a moment when I was considering Polish studies, but I dropped the idea. I chose English studies and I don’t regret it, because I had a nice time in Toruń. Whatever you might say, it was not an ‘English course’, but studies in the humanities where you had to speak the language from the start, because you explored serious topics – literature, cultural studies, cultural theory, and you read works by Roland Barthes, cultural theorists and a variety of other texts.
And above all, when you listen to songs, you know what they’re about.
Yeah, that’s the most important thing. That’s why I started to learn English in the first place. We had satellite TV at home, and I was crazy about MTV. It was in the ’80s. A beautiful, colourful world, bands playing foreign guitars which I couldn’t afford. I was fascinated by all of that, I needed to know what these people were singing about.
Do you remember when you wrote your first lyrics? When did you start to feel the need to express something that had been stuck in your head?
The song Ona Movie was the breakthrough. I played in Sofa at the time. At first, I didn’t know how to do it, but when I wrote the lyrics, and we recorded the song, I realised that it gave me extra energy; that I felt some kind of fulfilment and motivation to really start thinking about songwriting. And I started to do it with great care and consideration. My later lyrics were no longer accidental. But back to Ona Movie. That song did very well in the Trójka radio station, it was even one of top three songs. I think this was my first song so high on the charts.
The first lyrics in your life and an immediate success. Maybe you just had to get something out of your head, something authentic. The success of that song was probably due to the fact that you were honest, because that’s what writing is all about.
Yes, but you don’t understand that only until later. This strength which comes both from music and literature – from written text in general – comes from the common experience that we share when we read what the author wants to say. And it has to be honest, because if it isn’t, it won’t match our emotions, our experiences, and then it won’t make sense.
What were your first literary fascinations? What is your background, whose writing skills were you jealous of?
It was a long process, but thanks to that great high school teacher, larger than life, you could say…
That’s beautiful, those crazy teachers, who make us remember school.
Ms Marecka, her hair was so red…
I’m sorry I said crazy.
I’m sure she wouldn’t take that amiss. She wore a poncho, she was a very colourful person. Some people didn’t get along with her at all, for some, she was a guru, a colourful bird, a person out of this world. And she introduced us to another world by showing us that reading books isn’t torture but a way to discover other worlds, layers of sensitivity which we didn’t know before. I read everything and a lot. I read all the mandatory books in high school and I still remember that I liked And Quiet Flows the Donvery much, even though it consists of four lengthy volumes.
It’s important to have such a guru who will show you the shortcuts and things that are worth doing. Did you have someone like that when it comes to music, too?
I probably did. My role model was my father, a free spirit, a vagabond. He was always on the go, singing, playing. He probably was a little trapped in Raczki and he needed to see the world. He was the one to show me different bands and, I remember it as if it was yesterday, when I applied to high school, and we were on our way back home from the school’s office, we stopped at Kościuszki Street in the music shop. My father said, you need to listen to this and that. He bought me tapes of legends like Nalepa, Jimmy Hendrix, the Beatles.
Moving forward to your book debut, because this is the excuse for our meeting. I’m sure you’ve been asked this question a thousand times – when did you come up with the idea to write a book?
I know it’s so unusual for a guy with a guitar to write.
Besides, he doesn’t write an autobiography; he doesn’t write about his background or experiences, but he writes something that can be called a road book, which is somehow intergenerational.
There is such an impression about my environment, my generation, but I don’t try to fight my way and announce I’m going to write intergenerational novels. I observe various situations, I talk to people, and this is the image of people from these generations I have in my mind. My hero, 39-year-old Boris…
Boris who is on the road all the time. In this book, you’ve made a lot of references to the world of culture and literature. In music, you’re a rebel, but in literature, you become sceptic about what awaits us. This world isn’t very colourful, it’s not very optimistic.
It isn’t, of course, but every generation is disappointed in the world. Boris gets on this trip more by an accident than on purpose. When I observe people, I probably think the same about myself, that I’ve caught up some kind of a platform. And Boris gets in the car without being sure about it, too.
The car which is worth as much as an apartment, right?
Yes. Even though he is so apathetic, cynical, a little bit frustrated, indifferent to many things, he’s still attracted to something, he wants to hold on to something, and the only thing he can hold on to is a feeling. A real feeling, like love used to be. He’s looking for something, even though he has nowhere to go. A book is practically unlimited, because the limit depends only on my imagination, writing skills and intelligence, and this is where I can write myself out, express myself deeply and more clearly than in songs which are often poetic, limited by their form.
It’s impressive that this isn’t just writing for the sake of writing. You express your thoughts, but also create a great plot. How did you do it?
First of all, I didn’t want it to be empty babble or a journal. Of course, journals are a great form of writing, and I’ve read a lot of them, but I also wanted to introduce some plot, I wanted it to read well, to be somewhere in-between genres. Combining different styles and genres is very close to my heart.
And how has the book been received?
Critics don’t like it; it gets mixed reviews.
But it wasn’t that bad, was it?
Today, I got a beautiful review from Jack Nizinkiewicz. What’s important, that writers like it.
Are these writers good enough to be your role models?
Nominated for the Nike award.
It’s important for someone who writes their first book that such people talk about it in glowing terms.
It’s actually weird, because I obviously want to listen to critics, I want to learn how to write, I take it very seriously, but I sometimes get the impression that some people want to show that busker his place, so that he wouldn’t try to stand out too much.
This may be because a guy who has been writing songs suddenly releases a book.
He writes songs, runs around with a guitar, and suddenly he wants to write books. But I read all the reviews thoroughly and try to make conclusions.
How did people around you react to your literary debut? Your bandmates, colleagues from the industry…
Those who knew that I was writing something weren’t surprised, but are now surprised by the result, because they didn’t know what to expect. I get a lot of positive feedback from musicians as well.
That must be nice.
That’s very nice. Especially since the book has been selling very well. I know that it’s thanks to my popularity, but I wouldn’t want it to stop there.
You’re so experienced and wise that you’re humble and you know what the success is based on, but on the other hand, you’re intelligent enough that the next time you write a book you’ll do it in a different way.
Of course, I even know how.
Will there be a sequel?
No, there won’t be a sequel; the story is finished in terms of the plot and in terms of what I had to say, I don’t want to repeat myself. There will be some common aspects, but I have an idea for a new book, and it will be even more stripped of its plot. The writers who impress me the most are those who convey some synthesis of their perspective, all their sensitivity, in one fragile event that hardly ever happens because it happens in their head.
They don’t need fireworks.
Exactly. I often cite the same example, but I haven’t been able to shake it off for a very long time. It’s Andrei Platonov and his book, The Foundation Pit.The plot revolves around a few workers trying to dig a pit, which they don’t in the end, but there is a closed socialist world there, so literally conveyed in the language itself.
I love you. Platonov, The Foundation Pit! I’d love it if young people listening to our interview had a notebook with them to write down all these titles and then went to the library or a bookshop to get them, because this would give them a really big intellectual kick.
I encourage everyone to read, although the statistics are, unfortunately, alarming.
People like you can make others read more.
I try to talk to people, but not to speak ex cathedra that they should read books just because. After such conversations or meetings, people are often a bit shocked that this guy with a guitar has something to say, how is that?! There is this stereotype of a stupid guy with a guitar.
This may be also because they have such an image of guitar players. People sing songs about nothing, especially the young generation.
And that also worries me a lot, because contemporary music is thoughtless. I’m worried about this trend in hip-hop which comes down to: we have money, we’re bored, drugs are great and so on. It’s a bit pretentious, it doesn’t bring anything new, but perhaps it’s the right voice of the generation, and maybe that’s the mood out there. Which actually makes me feel even more worried.
But maybe something new will come out of it.
I hope there will be some kind of breakthrough. There are a few artists I follow, who have something to say, a kind of sensitivity that allows them to write and sing these things. I support all of them because I would like the entertainment music that is on the radio today to be at a good level, as it used to be.
Yes, rock music was, above all, more ideological, there was a message, people were quoting songs.
Yes, generational bands, and even the generations themselves, would fight for something. They had some purpose. Today, bands like KULT, Strachy na Lachy, Fahrben Lehren, are unfortunately in their fifties. I’m a youngster there.
But you’re also a youngster as a writer. We will follow your literary career. Tomasz Organek ‘Teoria opanowywania trwogi’ [The Theory of Controlling Fear]. Available in the best bookshops.
Read it, and believe us that reading helps you survive.
It helps you survive because even when everything else fails you, literature will never let you down. You can jump into a world that nobody has ever dreamt of, where you will be alone and safe.
I’ll embroider this somewhere. Thank you.