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 both in town 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 in France: