Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Out On Blue Six : Suzanne Vega and the Story of Tom's Diner

Suzanne Vega and her 1987 track Tom's Diner taken from her excellent second album Solitude Standing (seldom off my record player)



In 1990, two British producers under the name DNA remixed Vega's track, with thrilling results for the covers album Tom's Album the following year



Some facts about the track; it's considered 'the mother of the MP3' as it was the test track used by Karlheinz Brandenburg, the developer of the MP3.

The song was originally released for the Jan 1984 issue of Fast Folk Musical Magazine.


The song was written while sitting at (and indeed is about) Tom's Restaurant, a diner on the corner of Broadway and 112th Street in New York City.

The diner behind the song

Tom's would later become famous as the exterior location for Monk's, the diner where the characters hang out in the 90s sitcom Seinfeld.

Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza chew the fat at Monk's


The 'bells of the cathedral' referenced in the lyric are those of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, located one block to the east.

The song is based on a comment by Vega's friend Brian Rose, a photographer, who mentioned that in his work, he sometimes felt as if "he saw his whole life through a pane of glass,  like he was the witness to a lot of things, but was never really involved in them." 

The song was an exercise in her attempting to think and write in this fashion (including form a male perspective)

Just one of Rose's photograph's documenting New York in the early 1980s


Vega has said that she wrote the song sometime in 1981 or 82; but an extensive article on her website has claimed to pinpoint the exact timeline of the song.  The lyrics of the song refer to a rainy morning, when she was at the diner on the corner, reading in her newspaper the obituary of an actor (she hadn't heard of) whilst looking for the funnies.  Only two newspapers in New York City carried comic strips, in 1981 and 1982, and only one, the New York Post, featured a front-page story of the death of William Holden whose body was discovered on Monday, November 16, 1981. He had died from a fall at his apartment, suffered after drinking excessively. The story in the Post concerning Holden's death was not carried until two days later on Wednesday, November 18, which is taken to be the exact date of the composition. 

William Holden in Sabrina

They even go so far as to check the weather for the day itself, which was 'overcast' as opposed to 'rainy', though Vega has subsequently admitted to artistic licence and writing a composite of events for the song.



End Transmission




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