While probably not the most articulate addition to the singer/songwriter lexicon, that melodic snippet from Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" (courtesy remix outfit DNA) catapulted the literate folkie to worldwide recognition back in 1990.
It's also a track you'll find on the singer's just-released Retrospective, a 21-track anthology that includes an assortment of hits ("Luka") and rarities ("Rosemary"), while omitting classics like "Cracking" and "Widow's Walk."
Vega, who co-produced the disc, says she butted heads with the suits at A&M Records over several such "signature" tracks. "[The label] wanted 'Calypso,' and I wanted 'Cracking,' and, in the end, we went with 'Calypso,'" Vega explains in an interview from her tour bus. "It was important to have songs that the fans hadn't heard on the radio." Still, she is pleased with the results.
"I like the songs that are on the album because I think they're a good balance," she says. "There's a mythology that I write and sing melancholy songs, but when I listened to the CD, I realized, 'There's a lot more contrast there than I thought.'"
Retrospective also marks Vega's return to Atlanta; she didn't pass through town for her last album of original material, the critically lauded Songs in Red and Gray. She and her band play the Roxy Friday, May 23, and Vega says about half the shows so far have highlighted new material. "It's a long set list, 20 or 21 songs, so if we have a moment to do some new things, I've been trying to work in some of the new songs."
That new music may or may not have a home, as RetroSpective fulfills her six-album deal with A&M Records. Based on her sparse output over the last decade-and-a-half, it's worth wondering if she'd even welcome a return to the majors -- or if they'd have her.
Will she pursue another big label deal or explore smaller, more independent avenues? Vega suggests that writing new material is a higher priority. "What I really want to do is finish a bunch of songs, and figure out where they belong. I'd feel better if the work is done first, then that way [record companies] know what they're getting."
She knows the music business has morphed tremendously since she signed on with A&M nearly 20 years ago. In fact, her early successes prompted some to credit her for the boom of successful female singer/songwriters, a la Lilith Fair. It is hard to deny Vega's influence -- both "Luka" and "Tom's Diner" seemed unlikely chart toppers in a particularly male-dominated era in music.
"Well, I don't know if I've really opened up the door, or paved the road or whatever," she says. "I guess my mother raised me to just do what I wanted, so I never had the feeling that I was breaking ground when I was making my first record. I just thought I was making my own idiosyncratic music. As for my role, I don't feel like I'm a great hero."
Hero or not, Vega's work is thriving on Apple's newly unveiled iTunes Music Store, where folks can legally download songs for 99 cents. By the end of the store's first week of operation, Songs in Red and Gray, Vega's 2-year-old release, ranked seventh in alternative album downloads. Surprising, considering many thought Vega had dropped off the pop culture radar completely.
Not true, says the artist; instead, she diversified, releasing The Passionate Eye, a collection of poems, lyrics and essays; hosting "American Mavericks" on public radio; compiling a CD retrospective; and touring. In addition, the '90s saw Vega marry and divorce record producer Mitchell Froom; now a single mom, she is raising 8-year-old daughter Ruby.
Looking back at her career so far, what makes Vega most proud? "Having the body of work and being able to see that I was able to endure over time and make the music I wanted to make. My songs have my own stamp on them and that's an accomplishment."
come on man you know you got a bromance. you probably still rock that OutKast…
Yes, 14 is the correct answer. I'll pass your info along to the group's manager,…
That was January of 2007, and they are 21 now, so I'm guessing 14?