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Suzanne Vega

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This song is about child abuse. It tells the story of a frightened boy who is forbidden to talk about what he's going through.
On a 1987 Swedish television special, Vega said: "A few years ago, I used to see this group of children playing in from 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."
Speaking with SongTalk magazine, Vega explained that she started with the title for this song. Describing how she wrote it, she said: "It takes months of kind of fingering it in my mind, while I'm walking around or doing something else, it's just like a problem that my mind goes back to. It wiggles. It's like you're trying to get the right angle, and once the angle comes, I can write the song in two hours. Like 'Luka' took two hours. It took months of thinking about it and lining up the shot, in a sense. Like if you're playing pool and you want to clear the table, you line it all up, and then you just hit it and everything clears. It's very satisfying, but it takes months of preparation.

I wasn't sure what the character would say. I knew what the character's problem was, but I didn't know how to get the listener involved. I wanted it to be from the point of view of a person who is abused. Now the problem that that person has is that they can't say it. So how do you get the problem out if you can't say it? How do you involve the listener? Well, you introduce yourself: 'My name is Luka.' And 'I live on the second floor, I live upstairs from you,' and so therefore you're engaging the listener. 'I think you've seen me before,' so you start to listen. You're drawing the listener into this world with very simple, basic information. And it then proceeds to state the problem without ever saying what the problem is. That was my problem as a songwriter: How do I give this information without ever giving it?

It's easy to point a finger. It's easy to say, 'Child abuse must stop' and everybody knows this."
Vega wrote this song about three years before it was released on her second album. It was written before her debut album, but Vega said it "needed some time for it to settle into the bag of songs."
There is a great deal of lyrical dissonance in this song, as the stark story of child abuse contrasts with the catchy melody. Vega explained to SongTalk: "Because I was aiming at such a complex subject, I was aiming for the simplest line to get there. Simple melodies, happy chords. I felt I had to make it accessible because it was such a dark subject. So I went all out. But I also tried to write in the language of a child. So that's probably why it worked, because it is so accessible."
The video was directed by Michael Patterson and his wife Candace Reckinger, and it used an experimental animation technique that they popularized in the video for a-ha's "Take On Me."
Suzanne Vega
More Suzanne Vega songs
More songs with boys' names in the title
More songs that deal with child abuse or domestic violence

Comments (9):

Does anyone know who plays the guitar accompaniment? Is there a list of the performers and their instruments anywhere?
- Bocknobby, Toronto, ON
Ironically "Luka" means bruise in Malay.
- Adrian, Johor Bahru, Malaysia
I read once that, according to Vega's former roomate from the apartment where she met Luka, the real "Luka" once showed up with a girl (he was around 15 or 16 at the time) knocked on the roomate's door, and asked her to verify that the apartment used to be Vega's. She said he wanted to impress the girl.
- Nighthawk, Marble Falls, AR
This is the song everyone liked to hum but few knew what it was about. Once they did, they wanted to have a translation in Spanish. I think this woman writes beautifully, she is truly gifted.
- montse, verdĂș, Spain
Its a wonderful thought-provoking song with a nice melody and crisp instrumentation
- Soutiman, Mumbai, India
Strange how such an unobtrusive song from the late eighties can still be so impressive.
- Benjamin, Amsterdam, Netherlands
suzanne..i m crazy over you
- sum sum, New Delhi, India
Strange time the late 80's when songs like this could become a hit. Good song, but even in the wake of REM, 10000 Maniacs and Tracy Chapman I can't imagine a record company executive saying: "Morose child abuse ballad? That's it! Get it on the radio! We're all gonna be rich!"
- craig, madison, WI
Suzanne Vega sung this song in Spanish also in 1987.
- Sergio, Seville, Spain
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