Suzanne Vega to me epitomizes a certain sad truth about the arts, and particularly the music industry: for every superstar there are thousands upon thousands of wanna-bes who never make any money in music, but who squander some of the best years of their lives trying. But, even sadder, to me anyway, are those who, like Vega, have a moment of fame in their youth and then are forgotten almost entirely. Perhaps they are making good music still, perhaps even better music, but it goes largely unheard.
Vega had one "hit" in "Luka" in 1987, an odd little folk tune about an abused child. Why did such a song hit it big? That's the question that I'm sure songwriters always ask themselves: what is the magic ingredient to a pop song? The instrumental hook? The lyrics? The subject matter? The sound of the voice singing? The arrangement? Hard to say. My son and I often talk about Bruce Springsteen ("often" actually doesn't begin to capture the level of the Regular Son's obsession with the Boss), and we have noted that even Springsteen had trouble identifying which of his songs would be hits, leaving "The Fever," "Pink Cadillac," "Because the Night," and "Fire" off his early albums. (He also left off one of our favorites, a long song called "Thundercrack," but that one wouldn't have been a hit, it's just really cool.)
Anyway, Vega is my age, 52, today. Here's "Luka" from way back when, back when I was a bartender and ne'er do well graduate student at Duke in English: