I was recently lucky enough to catch a mini-doc on Ovation Television on Suzanne Vega. It must have been filmed in New York in the late 80’s, not long after Vega’s Solitude Standing album was released (the one with Luka and Tom’s Diner). The doc consisted mostly of clips of Vega wandering the city, talking about being avant garde (though she’s far too humble to call herself avant garde), and clips of her performing. Unfortunately the doc was only half an hour and the clips were short, almost all of them just pieces of songs; the only song that got full play was Luka, maybe my least favorite, but certainly the most commercially successful, of her songs.

Watching the show prompted me to pull out my turntable and the original, eponymously titled Suzanne Vega album – I still have the lp I bought in ’86, with a worn ring visible through the cover – and give it a new listen.

turntable.jpg

I was first turned onto her music the summer of ’85, which I spent at Liberty Farm, a rep theatre for teens. Phoebe Jonas, who I had been friends with in grammar school and thought was the coolest thing since sliced bread, turned me onto her. The 70’s, hippy-kid in me was drawn to the seemingly simple folk songs, and the alienated teen in me loved songs like “Marlena on the Wall,” and “The Queen and the Soldier.” Listening to it now, with twenty more years of life under my belt (ouf, when did that happen?), I hear new, more complex themes.

Most people only know Luka, my least favorite, but the most commercially successful, of Vega’s songs, or Tom’s Diner, which was better before the re-mix, if only because they cut the last line of the poem to coincide with beats. These songs do nothing to show the depth and beauty of Vega’s writing. What seem to be simple folk songs on first listen, reveal more textured meanings when listened to with more intent. Of course I’m certain the meanings have changed for me as I’ve gained more life and perspective.

Small Blue Thing by Suzanne Vega

Today I am
a small blue thing
Like a marble
or an eye

With my knees against my mouth
I am perfectly round
I am watching you

I am cold against your skin
You are perfectly reflected
I am lost inside your pocket
I am lost against
your fingers

I am falling down the stairs
I am skipping down the sidewalk
I am thrown against the sky
I am raining down in pieces
I am scattering like light
Scattering like light
Scattering like light

Today I am
a small blue thing
Made of china
made of glass
I am cool and smooth and curious
I never blink
I am turning in your hand
Turning in your hand

small blue thing

What a joy it is when the pleasures of youth can stand up to the critical rigors of adulthood.

Advertisements