Femme Fridays: Looking Closely with Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner”

Femme Fridays: Looking Closely with Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” Photo: A&M Records

Welcome to AdHoc’s Femme Fridays, a weekly column highlighting the work and talent of trailblazing femmes throughout music history. In this week’s edition, we’re looking at Suzanne Vega’s classic hit, “Tom’s Diner,” in honor of the songstress’s 59th birthday this week.

Some melodies just never seem to disappear. They weave into our collective memory without notice, surreptitious and enduring, until it seems like they have been rooted in us all along. Beloved folk-pop singer Suzanne Vega is author to one such melody: 1989’s “Tom’s Diner,” an expository tune where she details a rainy morning at a Brooklyn cafe. Nearly 40 years have passed since it was written, yet its simple, a cappella arrangement feels more charming than ever.

Vega's voice is a gentle reprieve from a world inundated with noise and confusion. It is grounding. “I am sitting /In the morning /At the diner /On the corner,” she begins. No frills, no feelings—just the close-mic’d cadence of soft vocals and quiet intakes of breath. Look around, Vega seems to ask us. She does plenty of it herself, detailing her morning newspaper and taking in the movements of people at the diner: “There’s a woman / On the outside / Looking inside / Does she see me?”

Vega’s lyricism has sometimes been noted for its detached, or even clinical, perspectives— but with her tender voice and smooth melodies, I’d argue that she expertly turns the mundane into pop fodder. It’s telling, too, that this seemingly dry track would eventually be used by mathematician and electrical engineer Karlheinz Brandenburg as a marker of “warmth” when developing the MP3 in the early ‘90s. Vega’s was not a world of cold observation—the careful curiosities of any woman can glow, too, if only you listen closely.

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