At last: rock 'n' roll from Poland.
The band is named Lady Pank and back home they have limos and bodyguards and a line of Lady Pank perfumes, towels and sneakers.
"We have groupies, too," lyricist Andrjez Mogielnicki says. "There is no rock and roll music without groupies."
Now they are sitting in an airless hotel suite in the middle of their first American tour. They've been playing for college deejays and doing several showcase concerts. Except for lead singer Janus Panasewicz's gaunt middle-European features, Lady Pank has the sullen looks of any American or British rock band -- long hair, tight pants, insouciant attitude.
The difference is, they don't speak much English.
Panasewicz doesn't speak any, so he's learned his English lyrics phonetically -- they were translated by a British Embassy official.
Group founder and lead guitarist Jan Borysewick seems to understand some words.
Which leaves Mogielnicki to handle most of the interview during a stop here to play for the Intercollegiate Broadcasting System convention.
"Is a big problem," he says. "We didn't believe we would ever arrive to America. For us, it's just like fly to the Mars. Of course, now in Poland, we have very good English teacher."
He checks in frequently with Borysewick and rhythm guitarist Edmund Stasiak, who, sitting on the edge of a single bed, suffer patiently through translations.
It's the old rock 'n' roll story they have to tell.
Stasiak says: "I left my family home when I was 17 because my father wants me to be an engineer, not rock music."
"For old people in Poland, 40 or more, rock and roll music is no," Mogielnicki says. They still prefer nationalistic, folk-based music, but "folk music is old music. When we were young, we listen to many American and British groups. Our fathers in [the] '50s, under Stalin rule, they didn't know nothing about rock and roll music and now the rock music for them is very noisy. They can't understand, you know, this music. You was born in U.S.A. and for you is normal music, rock and roll. When you are young, all the time from radio, you got the music. Now the rock music is very popular in Poland.
"When we will be fathers and when our sons play rock and roll music for us, it will be normal situation, our music too."
There was not a lot of Polish rock 'n' roll music before 1980.
"We have no shops with [imported] records, you can get only from friends on black market," Mogielnicki says. "But it's very expensive. The cost of one record is 6,000 zlotys. A monthly payment is about 12,000 zlotys so you can buy two records monthly."
Mention instruments and Panasewicz and Stasiak laugh.
"Impossible. Ridiculous. In Warsaw is only one shop with equipment and prices is very expensive. Sometimes, we buy instruments from friends who build. It's not easy," Mogielnicki says.
Still, in the past four years, "we have a very big boom for rock. It came maybe from the air and now we have all kind of rock and roll music in Poland, from orthodox punk to heavy metal to pop groups."
When Mogielnicki says it "came maybe from the air," he's not being mystical. Polish radio may consist of only three state stations and 16 local stations, but it has a reputation for being progressive and playing all kinds of music. As a result, "it's very popular in all the socialistic countries who are listening," he says.
The group's three-week tour, which has included stops in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, is their first journey west. In fact, despite its superstar status, Lady Pank has played only two concerts outside Poland, both in Hungary. "Three years, when we started, the people in Polish offices, they didn't like us. They were afraid of us Polish rock bands, you know. It was not good material to export."
Ironically, those same Polish officials have nothing against importing rock 'n' roll: British bands of all persuasions regularly perform in Poland. "Is a peculiar situation because the officers are still thinking rock and roll music is not our Polish music. Is not our national music. We can export folklore, but not Polish rock."
Lady Pank's first American record, "Drop Everything" on the MCA label, reveals a band that owes some stylistic debt to both the Police and Dire Straits.
The problem is going to be with the lyrics.
Sample from "Hustler": You could scratch my itch if you were a little bolder . . . I could make you rich if you had a warmer shoulder First I turned the switch and then I rock and rolled her.
One song is titled "Do, Do." These lyrics might actually sound better in Polish.
There is little suggestion of political opinion, though a case could be made for "The Zoo That Has No Keeper."
"Of course, when you want to write something, especially in Poland, you have to be the fox," Mogielnicki says. "All the time, it is a game."
Don't get him wrong, though. Mogielnicki's no victim of political repression. "People in America know about our problems through the newspapers and know that Poland is a small country next to Russia. Poland is government, church, Solidarity. But there is 40 million peoples and they have 40 million problems, not always with Solidarity, church and state. We have rock and roll problems."
They include strict vinyl allocations that allowed Lady Pank only 250,000 copies of their first album (they sold another 250,000 tapes) and mandatory licensing of musicians and artists.
"I am a First-Class Poet," Mogielnicki says.
The group is traveling with an apparently genial watchdog from the Polish state organization for culture.
"They're mostly concerned that the guys eat every day, that they have nice hotels, that we don't just drop them off in New York City, that the guys aren't beat to death in interviews," says "Timski" Brack, part of Lady Pank's American management team.
("We change all the American names with 'ski,' " Mogielnicki chortles. "Is joke, of course.")
Lady Pank has also been invited to perform in the Soviet Union, a result of the group's exposure on Polish radio.
Whether the Russians will cotton to Lady Pank perfume any more than Americans will is unimportant, they say, as long as they have their fans at home. And as long as those fans buy records and sundries.
Isn't that merchandising approach a tad capitalistic?
"Show business in Poland is near the capitalism," Mogielnicki concedes. "We have our private equipments, private cars, bodyguards. It's just like a small capitalistic business. But of course we belong to the state organization."
And though they sing some songs in Polish (and at high volume, it all sounds Polish), Lady Pank insists "we don't want to change especially for America. We are a good rock band, a good sound, a good image."
And soon, a good video: This week, they'll start work with Polish expatriate filmmaker Zbigniew Rybczynski, who won an Academy Award for his short, "Tango," and who has made several outstanding rock videos in the past year. The band members are already anticipating a preproduction meeting scheduled to be fueled by a large supply of Polish vodka