Eating Out.

Better red than dead.

Here’s a great piece from The New York Times’ fantastic “Measure for Measure” series, which documents the songwriting impulse and process. In this edition, artist Suzanne Vega, above, talks about her computer systems analyst mom, her techy daughter, and how ease with digital tools seemed to have skipped a generation in her family.

But, most of all, she discusses creating her a cappella song “Tom’s Diner,” which became a 1990 hit when British producers Nick Batt and Neal Slateford, aka DNA, remixed her vocals over a shimmering, trampolining beat.

Fascinatingly, Vega also talks in-depth about first hearing the DNA track, her initial assumption that its creators were Black, and the racial issues the remixed song’s release compelled her to relive and reconsider.

It was astonishing to me to hear that the kids at Joan of Arc Junior High on West 93rd Street were dancing in the street to it one day, since as a kid growing up on the Upper West Side, I was ostracized in some of my classes for being “white.” In African Dance class in 1972, I was smacked in the back of the head for being there at all. (I was raised in a half-Puerto-Rican family, as half-Puerto Rican. I found out at the age of nine or so that I actually had a different father from my brothers and sister — my birth father was English-Scottish-Irish from California.)

Suddenly, with the remix of “Tom’s Diner,” that world that I had grown up in and struggled with had accepted me and my music in a way I couldn’t have predicted and couldn’t control.

Other versions came flooding in from all over the world. People made them up and mailed me cassettes. I loved one by Michigan & Smiley, a kind of reggae improvisation. And Nikki D, a young black woman from Los Angeles with a gold tooth, changed it into a song about teenage pregnancy — that was another one of my favorites.

All in all, it’s a thought-provoking read on the mechanics of creativity and music production from a passionate and profound songwriter, and, incidentally, one of my favorite artists. Plus, for an extra treat, flip back to this post in June where Vega reveals how she made her other famed composition, “Luka.”



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