One of my favourite songstresses from the 1980s achieved the grand total of one US top 50 single and no UK top 20 entries. And yet mention the name Suzanne Vega to music fans older than a certain age and they will be able to name at least Tom’s Diner, Marlene On The Wall (and possibly Left Of Center) as well as her biggest hit Luka, a song with a deceptively happy-sounding melody about the subject of child abuse.
A fictitious tale based on a boy she used to see outside her apartment building, the video was co-directed by Michael Patterson using a distinctive animation technique called rotoscoping that he also famously utilised in the promo for a-ha’s Take On Me. The role of Luka in the video was played by young actor Jason Cerbone, who went on to have a recurring role in The Sopranos.
The song reached number three in the US and 23 in the UK and received three Grammy nominations (winning none). It deserved to do better, not so much because of its tough subject matter but because it’s simply a great, distinctive pop song.
It’s also a track that has a strong personal history for me. When Isaac was still an infant, he used to regularly wake up at 2-3am and nothing we did would get him back to sleep. That is, until I stumbled upon the idea of snuggling with him in our darkened living room watching a recording of Vega performing live in Montreux. Luka was one of two songs guaranteed to soothe him enough to settle down to sleep. We spent many late nights dozing off together on the sofa in this fashion. When I think of our early father/son times, the song is inextricably linked with my memory of that period.
Isaac’s early and strong association with music prompted me to write a post several years back documenting this distinctive sleeping technique. And who should just happen to comment on it? Yep.
As a footnote, Vega attended New York’s High School of Performing Arts – better known to 1980s TV viewers as the Fame school – whose alumni include Robert de Niro, Jennifer Aniston, Al Pacino, Irene Cara and Liza Minnelli. Not too shabby.
Suzanne Vega’s ninth studio album, Lover, Beloved: Songs From an Evening With Carson McCullers is released next Friday (October 14th).