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Suzanne Vega

Suzanne Vega in 2006
Background information
Birth name Suzanne Nadine Vega
Born July 11, 1959 (1959-07-11) (age 50)
Santa Monica, California, United States
Origin New York City, New York, United States
Genres Alternative rock
Folk
Experimental rock
Occupations Singer, songwriter, record producer
Instruments vocals, guitar
Years active 1982 - present
Labels None at present. Previous labels include:A&M Records
Blue Note/Capitol/EMI Records
Website SuzanneVega.com

Suzanne Nadine Vega (born July 11, 1959) is an American songwriter and singer known for her eclectic folk-inspired music.

Two of Vega's songs (both from her second album Solitude Standing, 1987) reached the top 10 of various international chart listings: "Luka" and "Tom's Diner". The latter was originally an a cappella version on Vega's album, which was then remade in 1990 as a dance track produced by the British dance production team DNA.

Contents

Biography

Suzanne's mother, Pat Vega, is a computer systems analyst of German-Swedish heritage. Her father, Richard Peck, is of Scottish-English-Irish extraction. Her stepfather, Ed Vega, also known as Edgardo Vega Yunque, was a writer and teacher from Puerto Rico.[1]

When Suzanne was two and a half, the family moved to New York City. She grew up in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side.[2] At the age of nine she began to write poetry; she wrote her first song at age fourteen. Later she attended New York's prestigious High School of Performing Arts (now called LaGuardia High School). There she studied modern dance and graduated in 1977.

While majoring in English literature at Barnard College[3], she performed in small venues in Greenwich Village, where she was a regular contributor to Jack Hardy's Monday night songwriters' group at the Cornelia Street Cafe and had some of her first songs published on Fast Folk anthology albums.[4] In 1984, she received a major label recording contract, making her one of the first Fast Folk artists to break out on a major label.

Vega's self-titled debut album was released in 1985 and was well-received by critics in the U.S.;[2] it reached platinum status in the United Kingdom. Produced by Lenny Kaye and Steve Addabbo, the songs feature Vega's acoustic guitar in straightforward arrangements. A video was released for the album's song "Marlene on the Wall", which went into MTV and VH1's rotations. During this period Vega also wrote lyrics for two songs on Songs from Liquid Days by composer Philip Glass.

Her next effort, Solitude Standing (1987), garnered critical and commercial success including two hit singles: "Tom's Diner" and "Luka", the latter of which was an international success. "Luka" is written about, and from the point of view of, an abused child—at the time an uncommon subject for a pop hit. While continuing a focus on Vega's acoustic guitar, the music is more strongly pop-oriented and features fuller arrangements. The a cappella "Tom's Diner" was later a hit again, remixed by two British dance producers under the name DNA, in 1990. The track was originally a bootleg, until Vega allowed DNA to release through her record company, and it became her all-time biggest hit.

Tom's Diner

Tom's Restaurant, after which the song Tom's Diner was named

Suzanne Vega's song "Tom's Diner" was used as the reference track in an early trial of the MP3 compression system, earning her the distinction of being the Mother of the MP3. It was chosen because her a capella vocal with relatively little reverberation was used as the model for Karlheinz Brandenburg's compression algorithm.[5] Brandenburg heard “Tom's Diner” on a radio playing the song. He was excited and at first convinced it would be “nearly impossible to compress this warm a capella voice.”

"Tom's Diner" takes place in Tom's Restaurant at 112th Street and Broadway in New York City. Exterior shots of the same restaurant appear in the television sitcom Seinfeld as the eatery where Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer hang out. The DNA remix of the track was so popular that it inspired many cover versions—the best of which were eventually collected by Vega on an album titled Tom's Album.[5] A variant of this version was the inspiration of a remixed version of Julee Cruise's "Rocking back inside My Heart". Nick at Nite did a remake of the song in the mid-1990s for a commercial advertising I Dream of Jeannie, in which the chorus is set to the theme from the show. The remixed version of "Tom's Diner" was later sampled by hip hop artist Nikki D in her hit single titled "Daddy's Little Girl", the title track of her debut album. Rapper Tupac Shakur sampled the track in "Dopefiend's Diner".

Luka

"Luka" was covered by The Lemonheads on its 1989 album Lick, shortly before the band was signed by Atlantic Records, and was a minor college-airplay hit. On a 1987 Swedish television special, Vega said this about the song "Luka":

A few years ago, I used to see this group of children playing in front of my building, and there was one of them, whose name was Luka, who seemed a little bit distinctive from the other children. I always remembered his name, and I always remembered his face, and I didn't know much about him, but he just seemed set apart from these other children that I would see playing. And his character is what I based the song Luka on. In the song, the boy Luka is an abused child — in real life I don't think he was. I think he was just different.[6]

Also, in an ASCAP interview, she responded to a question about "Luka":

Interviewer: When you can touch so many people with songs like "Luka", it must be pretty rewarding.

Vega: Yeah. It’s an amazing feeling. Especially since that particular song is a very special song. It’s a song about child abuse, so therefore it does touch a lot of people in a different way than if it were, say, a love song or some other kind of song.[7]

1990s

Vega's third album, Days of Open Hand (1990) signified a change in style.

In 1992 she released the album 99.9F° (ninety-nine point nine Fahrenheit degrees). It consists of an eclectic mixture of folk music, dance beats and industrial music.

Her fifth album, Nine Objects of Desire, was released in 1996. The music varies between a frugal, simple style and the industrial production of 99.9F°. This album contains "Caramel", featured in the movie The Truth About Cats & Dogs and, later, the trailer for the movie Closer. A song not included on that album, "Woman on the Tier", was featured on the soundtrack of the movie Dead Man Walking.

In 1997 she took a singing part on the concept album Heaven and Hell, a musical interpretation of the Seven deadly sins by her colleague Joe Jackson, with whom she had already collaborated in 1986 on "Left of Center" from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack (with Vega singing and Jackson playing piano).

2000s

September 2001 saw the release of a new album, Songs In Red and Gray. Three songs deal with Vega's divorce from first husband Mitchell Froom.

At the memorial concert for her brother Tim Vega in December 2002, she began as the long-term subject of a direct cinema documentary, Some Journey, by director Christopher Seufert of Mooncusser Films. This has not been completed.

In 2003, the twenty-one-song greatest hits compilation Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega was released. (The UK version of Retrospective included an eight-song bonus CD as well as a DVD containing twelve songs.) In the same year she was invited by Grammy Award-winning jazz guitarist, Bill Frisell, to play at the Century of Song concerts at the famed RuhrTriennale in Germany.

In 2003, she hosted the American Public Media radio series American Mavericks, about 20th century American composers, which received the prestigious Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcasting.

On August 3, 2006, Vega became the first major recording artist to perform live in the Internet-based virtual world, Second Life. The event was hosted by John Hockenberry of public radio's The Infinite Mind.

On September 17, 2006, she performed in Central Park, as part of a benefit concert for The Save Darfur Coalition.[8] During the concert she highlighted her support for Amnesty International, of which she has been a member since 1988.[9]

In early October 2006, Vega took part in the Academia Film Olomouc (AFO) in Olomouc, the Czech Republic, the oldest festival of documentary films in Europe, in which she appeared as a main guest. She was invited there as the subject of the documentary film by director Christopher Seufert, that had a test screening at the festival. At the end of the festival she performed her classical songs, and added one brand new piece called "New York Is a Woman".

Vega is also interviewed in the book Everything Is Just a Bet which was published in Czech in October 2006. The book contains twelve interview transcriptions from the talk show called Stage Talks that regularly runs in the Švandovo divadlo (Švandovo Theatre) in Prague. Vega introduced the book to the audience of the Švandovo divadlo (Švandovo Theatre), and together with some other Czech celebrities gave a signing session.

She signed a new recording contract with Blue Note Records in the spring of 2006, and released Beauty & Crime on July 17, 2007. The album was produced by Jimmy Hogarth, which won a Grammy for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. Her contract was not renewed and she was dropped in June 2008.[10]

In 2007, Vega followed the lead of numerous other mainstream artists and released her track "Pornographer's Dream" as podsafe. The song spent two weeks at #1 during 2007 and finished as the #11[11] hit of the year on the PMC Top10's annual countdown. Vega joined the 9th annual Independent Music Awards judging panel to assist independent musicians' careers.[12] [13] [14] She was also a judge for the 6th, 7th, and 8th Independent Music Awards.[15]

Vega is currently included in the Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse/David Lynch collaboration "Dark Night of the Soul". She wrote both melody and lyrics for her song, which is titled "The Man Who Played God", inspired by a biography of Pablo Picasso.

Personal life

On March 17, 1995 Vega married Mitchell Froom, a musician and a record producer. They have a daughter, Ruby Froom (born July 8, 1994). The band Soul Coughing's Ruby Vroom album was named after her, with Vega's approval, though she requested a slight change.[5] Vega and Froom separated in 1998.

On February 11, 2006, Vega married Paul Mills, a lawyer and a poet. They originally met each other at Folk City on West 4th Street when Michael Cera, a friend of Froom, introduced them in 1981. In their own words, Mills proposed to Vega in May 1983, and she accepted his proposal on Christmas Day 2005.[16]

Discography

Studio albums

Year Album UK[17] U.S. AUS NZ GER FR SUI
1985 Suzanne Vega 11 91 23 9 54 - -
1987 Solitude Standing 2 11 7 1 6 - 8
1990 Days of Open Hand1 7 50 74 24 16 - 19
1992 99.9F° 20 86 56 38 27 - 24
1996 Nine Objects of Desire2 43 92 - - 43 25 23
2001 Songs in Red and Gray 100 178 - - 53 36 47
2007 Beauty & Crime3 127 129 - - 81 52 79
2010 Close-Up Vol. 1, Love Songs - - - - - - -

Compilation albums

  • Tried & True: The Best of Suzanne Vega, 1998 - UK #46, AUS #96, GER #58
  • Retrospective: The Best of Suzanne Vega, 2003 - UK #27

[17]

Singles

Year Single Chart positions Album
UK[17] U.S.
Hot 100
AUS IRE GER SWI AUT NZ CAN SWE FR
1985 "Marlene On The Wall"
Suzanne Vega
"Small Blue Thing"
65
"Knight Moves"
1986 "Marlene On The Wall"(re-release)
21
39
9
"Left Of Center"Feat.Joe Jackson
32
35
Pretty in Pink (soundtrack)
"Gypsy"
Solitude Standing
1987 "Luka"
23
3
21
11
9
8
5
2
24
"Tom's Diner"
58
"Solitude Standing"
94
91
45
1990 "Book Of Dreams"
66
Days of Open Hand
"Tired of Sleeping"
"Men in a War"
"Tom's Diner"(DNA remix)
2
5
8
2
1
1
1
8
16
Taste This
1992 "In Liverpool"
52
99.9F°
"99.9F°"
46
"Blood Makes Noise"
60
61
42
27
1993 "When Heroes Go Down"
58
1996 "No Cheap Thrill"
40
  • "Rusted Pipe (DNA remix)", promotional, 1991
  • "Caramel", 1996
  • "Birth-day", promotional, 1997
  • "World before Columbus", 1997
  • "Headshots", promotional, 1997
  • "Book & a Cover", 1998
  • "Rosemary / Remember me", 1999
  • "Widow's Walk", promotional, 2001
  • "Last Year's Troubles", promotional, 2001
  • "Penitent", promotional, 2001
  • "(I'll Never Be) Your Maggie May", promotional, 2002
  • "Frank & Ava", promotional, 2007
  • "Ludlow Street", promotional, 2007
  • "Unbound", promotional, 2007
  • "Pornographer's Dream", podsafe, 2007 - PMC #1

Other contributions

  • Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films (1988) - "Stay Awake"
  • One World One Voice (album) (1990) - "One World, One Voice"
  • Deadicated: A Tribute to the Grateful Dead (1991) - "Cassidy" and "China Doll"
  • DNA: Taste This (album) (1992) - "Tom's Diner (DNA Remix)"and "Salt Water"
  • Hector Zazou: Songs From The Cold Sea (album) (1994) - "The Long Voyage" (with John Cale)
  • Tower Of Song (album) (1995) - "Story Of Isaac"
  • Dead Man Walking O.M.P.S. (album) (1995) - "Woman On The Tier (I'll See You Through)"
  • The Smithereens: Blown To Smithereens (album) (1995) - "In A Lonely Place"
  • Time And Love (album) (1997) - "Buy And Sell"
  • Perfect Day (single) (1997)
  • Joe Jackson: Heaven & Hell (1997) - "Angel (Lust)"
  • Mitchell Froom: Dopamine (album) (1998) - "Dopamine"
  • Celebrate The Season (album) (1998) - "Coventry Carol"
  • Bleekerstreet (album) (1999) - "So Long, Marianne" (with John Cale)
  • Dan Zanes: Rocket Ship Beach (album) (2000) - "Erie Canal"
  • Hear Music Volume 7: Waking (2002) - "Widow's Walk"
  • 107.1 KGSR Radio Austin - Broadcasts Vol.10 (2002) - "Widow's Walk"
  • WYEP Live and Direct: Volume 4 - On Air Performances (2002) - "(I'll Never Be) Your Maggie May"
  • Vigil (album) (2004) - "It Hit Home"
  • WFUV: City Folk Live VII (2004) - "Penitent"
  • The Acoustic Album (2006, Virgin) - "Marlene On the Wall"
  • Dar Williams: Promised Land (2008) - "Go To The Woods"
  • Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse Present: Dark Night of the Soul (2009) - "The Man Who Played God"

References

External links








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