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Suzanne Vega

 

TOM’S DINER

Music and Lyrics: SUZANNE VEGA

  
 

Some time ago nobody would have believed that a record of folk music could get into the charts.
But Suzanne Vega, with her personal, modern folk music, has proved that we were wrong. In the summer of 1987, “Luka” became a hit.
At the beginning of her career, Suzanne found it very difficult to make record companies take an interest in her. And it took a long time for the general public to discover her music.
Her first record appeared in 1985, when she was 26 years old. It’s called “Suzanne Vega”. At that time she said in an interview that she would be happy if her record sold as well as an ordinary book of poems - about 100 copies. The international success of “Solitude Standing”, in 1987, came as a great surprise.
Her songs record what she calls “the public strangeness” of life in the cafes and on the sidewalks of New York. She has developed the confidence to write about the characters and themes that interest her most.
“I wanted to be like the female Woody Guthrie. My first songs were about travelling on a freight train. Then it occurred to me that I lived in New York and I’d never been on a freight train!”
Her second album “Solitude Standing” is about “characters who are all solitary, all in specific situations. I don’t write about myself; I try to define identities. I try to give people’s feelings shape, colour and texture”.
The title song “Solitude Standing” she says “Kind of came out of the clear blue sky, actually... The idea behind that was that I had recently moved from living with someone to living alone. And I was sitting in this bare room, looking at the window. Suddenly it seemed to me that, if solitude were a person, she would be standing right there, probably right by the window. And I decided to take it a step further and describe her as I might have seen her, if she were a person. I decided she would be sort of severe, seemingly friendly, but there’s something frightening and very severe about her”.
The album includes the song Luka”, also released as a single.
“When I write a song I’m always trying to uncover points of view that I feel haven’t been explored before, or find a language for people who can’t speak for themselves. I suppose “Luka” is a song like that. There was a real boy named Luka in one of the neighbourhoods that I lived in, and I guess I sort of took his character for this point of view, of the abused child.”
Each word in Suzanne Vega’s songs is carefully chosen. “To me language ‘Is something that’s important. And to me language never goes out of fashion, although I am aware that other people may not feel the same way I do. In the eighties, since video has become more and more popular, we’re subjected to short bursts of visual inspiration without any sort of connecting thread. Things are not so much narrative, or literal so much, any more. I think it’s important to keep language in use; to keep it active and muscular, to keep it healthy - because otherwise it’ll just waste away. To me there’s something very basic and simple about speaking. If suddenly all the electricity in the world were to go out, and we had no more MTV or television, you could still sing a song. That’s the most basic form of communication. A mother doesn’t need to flash images at her child. You talk to it, sing to it, tough it and handle it and reassure it. Maybe this is coming back - I like to think it never really went away. I like to think that there is a small group of people who keep the fire going."

From "BBC English", 1992.

 I am sitting
In the morning
At the diner
On the corner

I am waiting
At the counter
For the man
To pour the coffee

And he fills it
Only halfway
And before
I even argue

He is looking
Out the window
At somebody
Coming in

It is always
Nice to see you
Says the man
Behind the counter

To the woman
Who has come in
She is shaking
Her umbrella

And I look
The other way
As they are kissing
Their hellos

And I’m pretending
Not to see them
And instead
I pour the milk

I open
Up the paper
There’s a story
Of an actor

Who had died
While he was drinking
It was no one
I had heard of

And I’m turning
To the horoscope
And looking
For the funnies

When I’m feeling
Someone watching me
And so
I raise my head

There’s a woman
On the outside
Looking inside
Does she see me?

No she does not
Really see me
‘cause she sees
Her own reflection

And I’m trying
Not to notice
That she’s hitching
Up her skirt

And while she’s
Straightening her stockings
Her hair
Has gotten wet

Oh,this rain
It will continue
Through the morning
As I’m listening

To the bells
Of the cathedral
I am thinking
Of your voice...

And of the midnight picnic
Once upon a time
Before the rain began...

And I finish up my coffee
And it’s time to catch the train

 
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