Tuesday, April 24, 2012

V is for Vega



Suzanne Vega seemed to be high profile in the late 1980s and then she was gone; wispy and thin with a pale voice and pastel skin that reflected her Swedish, German, Scottish, English, Irish roots. No Latin blood in Suzanne Vega or hint of the Salsa.

Her songs brought to mind urban parks and brownstones and the wind buffeting leafs along a chilly sidewalk somewhere near Central Park in November as the last of the light scuttled for cover.

Her voice was as crisp as her lyrics such as those in Freeze Tag.

We go to the playground

In the wintertime
The sun is fading fast
Upon the slides into the past
Upon the swings of indecision
In the wintertime

There are allusions to Dietrich and Dean, Bogart and Bacall, but we know the great movie lovers are specters, for the characters in the park who are more interested in a cold fumble on the swings than a great romance.

Vega seemed to be keen on Marlene Dietrich, the German actress, as evidenced by the song Marlene on the Wall.



Vega wrote the song about coping with loneliness. She had a poster of Dietrich on her wall and found comfort by looking up to it. She explained in SongTalk magazine: "That was a truthful song. The lines came out of my life."

It was her first hit, and while it was big in Britain it didn't register in the US. But the 1987 album Solitude Standing made Vega a household name for a while on both sides of the Atlantic. It's most recognizable single was Luka, a song about an abused child.



Vega later said in an interview in Sweden. "A few years ago, I used to see this group of children playing in front of my building, and there was one of them, whose name was Luka, who seemed a little bit distinctive from the other children. I always remembered his name, and I always remembered his face, and I didn't know much about him, but he just seemed set apart from these other children that I would see playing."

Although the song was about an abused child the real life Luke was just different.

Tom's Diner became Vega's biggest hit in 1990. It was a quirky song with an a cappella voice, an unusual candidate for a mega hit. Rather bizarrely Rapper Tupac Shakur later sampled the track in "Dopefiend's Diner".



Vega is still recording. In retrospect her heyday in the 1980s seems brief and fleeting and yet Vega's songs were a contradiction in many ways - light and pleasing to the ear but at the same time weighty in their themes such as loneliness and child abuse.

Curious fact about Suzanne Vega - Tom's Diner was set at Tom's Restaurant at 112th Street and Broadway in New York City. Exterior shots of the same restaurant appear in the television sitcom Seinfeld as Monk's, the eatery where Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer hang out.















12 comments:

  1. I do remember her songs as being quite contradictory. I never liked them as much after I listened to the lyrics :-) Too sad.

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  2. I do like Tom's Diner but Luka, not so much.

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  3. I really liked Suzanne Vega and was sort of disappointed when she disappeared from the music scene. Her music and voice just had such an airy, light feeling that it was hard not to like her.

    Luka was a really sad song and maybe hard to listen to for some, but I remember thinking that it was a good reminder to raise awareness of child abuse. Many years later, when I was volunteering as a CASA...this song came onto a station that myself and the program administrator were listening to as we were reviewing case files and neither of us were able to hold the tears back.

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  4. I had no idea who this woman was until I played that Tom's Diner video. That song used to (and still does on some stations) play every five minutes on the radio. I hate to say it, but I'm still sick of it. Shame what the radio stations do to good music.

    Wasn't that song in Benny & Joon?

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  5. Thanks Jenny - yep far from upbeat

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  6. Cool that you volunteeted at CASA Tracy - I think she's still around, just not so high profile.

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  7. Interesting Jo Jo - I feel the other way around about it I think

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  8. ha - for sure Jen. I'm not totally won over by it actually....Um it may have been.

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  9. Never heard her music, but you make me want to check out her older works.

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  10. I really only know Luka and Tom's Diner, but those are both classics. I especially like TD-takes me back to the college days. And I agree, I'm glad the Challenge is just about over.

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  11. I remember the song Luka, like it was yesterday. thanx for all the cool memories that came rushing back to me.

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  12. I keep wanting to get some of her on my iPad. You have reminded me.

    I love love love Tom's Diner.

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