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.
-Suzanne Vega, “Tom’s Diner”
Talk-sing-whispers. Suzanne Vega burst onto the scene in 1985 with her eponymous debut on A & M Records. My friend Giles turned me onto it over the holiday break that year while we were visiting family and friends in Pittsburgh. It was a refreshing change-up at the time for acoustic music fans, and indeed the public at large, to hear something like “Marlene On The Wall” on the radio. Amidst a musical landscape dominated by synth pop, hair ‘metal’, modern R and B, a burgeoning alternative rock and post-punk scene, rap and more, came a record of quiet observations and introspective verse delivered in a half whispery singing style atop a finger-picked acoustic guitar. Qu’elle difference! A sparse but sharp set of backing musicians fleshed out the arrangements with a modern feel, mixing in atmospheric electric guitar and keyboards.
Her smash followup, 1987’s “Solitude Standing”, featured “Luka”, “Tom’s Diner” and a bevy of great songs including “Wooden Horse (Kasper Hauser song)”, “Ironbound/Poultry Parts” and the Homeric references of “Calypso”, presented live below from a July 2011 performance:
I was talking about her first two albums with a friend over the holiday break and was reminded of her uncanny sound as we streamed bits of her work on YouTube. It was also interesting to note the sheer number of prominent women folkies and chanteuses who emerged and got airplay in her wake: Tracy Chapman, Shawn Colvin, Sarah McLachlan, Michelle Shocked, Tori Amos, Ani DiFranco, Edie Brickell, Indigo Girls, etc. A few years later she gained an even larger worldwide audience with the remix of “Tom’s Diner”. I was fortunate enough to have attended several of her live shows by the early 1990’s and was always impressed with her acapella delivery of the song in concert:
cross-posted at Life Is Melody