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Music / Suzanne Vega

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She is watching you.

When they ask me, "What are you looking at?"
I always tell them, "Nothing much, not much"
I think they know that I'm looking at them
I think they think I must be out of touch

But I'm only in the outskirts, and in the fringes
On the edge and off the avenue
And if you want me, you can find me
Left of center, wondering about you

Suzanne Nadine Vega (born July 11, 1959) is an American singer, songwriter, and record producer. She is best known by the mainstream for the radio hits "Luka" and "Tom's Diner", but her entire career is something to appreciate.

Her musical style, while it has evolved throughout her career, is an instantly identifiable cocktail of multi-instrumental folk and soft, ethereal rock, with heavy reliance on melodic guitar and honest, unaffected vocals. Her songs cover a wild range of topics, but most are united by the theme of sensitive, detailed observation of both the human and natural worlds and often contain much symbolism and introspection.

"Tom's Diner" was used as the reference track in an early trial of the MP3 compression system, earning her the distinction of being the Mother of the MP3. It was chosen because her a capella vocal with relatively little reverberation was used as the model for Karlheinz Brandenburg's compression algorithm. Brandenburg heard "Tom's Diner" on a radio playing the song. He was excited and at first convinced it would be “nearly impossible to compress this warm a capella voice.”

In 1990, two British music producers remixed "Tom's Diner" and released it limitedly to clubs under the name "DNA" without permission from Vega, PolyGram, A&M Records, or the music publisher. A&M quickly discovered the remix...but didn't sue them. Instead, they bought and released it fully, and it became a larger hit than it originally had been.

Another notable song is "The Queen And The Soldier" (1985), the characters of which have an active fandom to this day.

  • Suzanne Vega (1985)
  • Solitude Standing (1987)
  • Days of Open Hand (1990)
  • 99.9F° (1992)
  • Nine Objects of Desire (1996)
  • Songs in Red and Gray (2001)
  • Beauty and Crime (2007)
  • Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles (2014)
  • Lover, Beloved: Songs From An Evening With Carson McCullers (2016)

Today I am a small blue trope:

  • A Cappella: "Tom's Diner" is an A cappella song written in 1981 about impressions and feelings of a woman in a city during one morning. She did later also an instrumental version of the song.
  • Answer Song: "(I'll Never Be) Your Maggie May", in answer to Rod Stewart's "Maggie May".
  • Anti-Love Song: "Frank & Ava"
    And so, now we know
    That it's not enough to be in love
  • Big Applesauce:
    • There are many references to New York City in Beauty & Crime, including its track "New York Is A Woman."
    • More subtly is "Tom's Diner." The song is based on Real Life Tom's Restaurant in Manhattan and the lyrics make reference to listening to "the bells of the Cathedral." This is a reference to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is one block over and can be seen from just outside the restaurant looking east across W112th St.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: "Luka" is a song very obviously about child abuse, runs with the "walked into the door again" approach in amidst claims of being clumsy and recommendations not to ask.
  • Darker and Edgier: The whole of 99.9F° is this, or rather it's Darker and Edgier-sounding, her earlier material tending to be lyrically dark but musically very pretty.
  • Darkness Equals Death: Discussed in "Night Vision."
    By day give thanks
    By night beware
    Half the world in sweetness
    The other in fear
  • Distracted by the Sexy: "Gypsy", where the man she's addressing is "Distracted by the women/With the dimples and the curls".
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: "Undertow" opens with the line "I believe right now if I could, I would swallow you whole." Vega confirmed in an 80s interview that yes, she is doing that to him.
  • Downer Ending: "The Queen and the Soldier" where the queen orders the soldier shot in the back after he sees her in a moment of weakness.
  • Driven to Suicide: "Straight Lines" could very well be about this, while "In Liverpool" and "50/50 Chance" are pretty unambiguously about this.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Jealousy is a big part of what drives "Frank & Ava" apart.
    He says, "It isn't me you're thinking of."
  • Hurricane of Puns: "No Cheap Thrill". A hurricane of poker puns, most of which also serve as Double Entendres, to be precise.
  • Important Haircut: "Straight Lines" is about this. Unless it isn't.
  • Love Is Like Religion: The similarly themed "Bound" and "Penitent" both play with the idea of the singer as the disciple of her lover, asking them to take her back like a prodigal son and wondering to what extent she would obey them.
    You appear without a face
    Disappear but leave your trace
    I feel your unseen frown
  • Lyrical Dissonance:
    • "Luka" is a peppy little song... about an abused child.
    • There's also "Tombstone", an upbeat song about death.
    • Going the other way, "Small Blue Thing" sounds, well, blue, despite its lyrics being ambiguous at least but interprably joyful.
  • Motif: Playing cards in 99.9F°.
  • The Musical: Lover, Beloved is a musical version of her own play Carson McCullers Talks About Love.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Many of her songs take simple observations of the world around her and elevate them to something incredibly beautiful.
    • "Tom's Diner," about going to the location for coffee, reading the newspaper and observing the other customers.
    • "Headshots" is all about an advertisement flyer she sees on a wall.
  • Non-Appearing Title:
    • "Tom's Diner". The name of the diner the singer is in is never mentioned in the lyrics.
    • "Penitent"
    • "Woman on the Tier" (though the subtitle, "I'll See You Through", does appear)
    • "Gypsy".
  • Rape as Drama: "Bad Wisdom" seems from the lyrics to be about a child who's been sexually abused.
  • Revenge Ballad: In her own typical twist. "In the Eye", where the singer warns someone about the revenge she is capable of:
    If you were to kill me now, right here
    I would still look you in the eye
    And I would burn myself into your memory
    As long as you were still alive
  • Self-Titled Album: Her first.
  • Setting as a Character: "New York Is a Woman."
    And she's ever girl you've seen in every movie
    Every dame you've ever known on late night TV
    And her steam and steel
    Is the passion you feel, endlessly ...
    New York is a woman; she'll make you cry
    And to her you're just another guy
  • Shout-Out: Many of her songs are based on real events, people, or stories:
    • "Calypso" is about the Greek goddess Calypso, as seen in the Odyssey.
    • "Frank and Ava" describes the relationship between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner
    • "Rock in My Pocket" is about David and Goliath.
    • "Marlene on the Wall" references a poster of real life actress Marlene Dietrich that was on Vega's wall in her room.
    • "Angel's Doorway" is about a cop on duty at Ground Zero after 9/11 and how he leaves his clothes at the door when he comes home, because they smell of "the dust and the dirt and the destruction."
  • The Watcher: She discusses being this in several of her songs, including "Big Space" and "Left of Center."