Luka

Album: Solitude Standing (1987)
Charted: 23 3

Songfacts®:

  • 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 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."
  • 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."
  • The following year, 10,000 Maniacs released "What's The Matter Here?," which is also about an abused boy told from the perspective of a neighbor.
  • Around the time of writing this, Vega was listening to a lot of Lou Reed's music. "I was impressed by the way he wrote about a violent world, and I had to think of how to write about a subject that no one talks about," she told Top 2000 a gogo. "One day I was listening to Lou Reed's Berlin album and the whole thing came out. Started about 2 o'clock, by 4 o'clock I had the whole song done." Not only was it done, but there were no rough drafts or alternate lyrics; it was written just as we hear it.
  • Before this landed on Solitude Standing, Vega would occasionally play it for live audiences but they never liked it. Once they figured out the song was about child abuse, it made them sad and uncomfortable. When Vega's manager suggested it could be a hit, she was shocked. She recalled: "We had a big argument and he said, 'I think it's an important song, it's a song about abuse. This is the '80s and no one's writing songs about issues anymore. Music changed the world.' And I fought with him and I said, 'I don't think that music changed the world,' and he really let go: 'We ended the Vietnam war, you know, how can you tell me that music didn't change anything?' So in the end I said, 'Fine, knock yourself out.'"
  • Vega lived on the ground floor of her apartment building, so Luka really did live upstairs from her. She finally met him one day in the elevator.
  • This was used on Scrubs in the 2007 episode "My Therapeutic Month." It was also used on The Simpsons in the 1997 episode "Reality Bites," when Homer sings it while driving.

Comments: 10

  • Kjsgad from Nigeria This song is very touching, I happened to come across it on YouTube while searching for oldies; and then song captivated my mind; this prompted me to google it up to know more of the reason for the song. It’s really a great song.
  • Bocknobby from Toronto, OnDoes anyone know who plays the guitar accompaniment? Is there a list of the performers and their instruments anywhere?
  • Adrian from Johor Bahru, MalaysiaIronically "Luka" means bruise in Malay.
  • Nighthawk from Marble Falls, ArI 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.
  • Montse from Verdú, SpainThis 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.
  • Soutiman from Mumbai, IndiaIts a wonderful thought-provoking song with a nice melody and crisp instrumentation
  • Benjamin from Amsterdam, NetherlandsStrange how such an unobtrusive song from the late eighties can still be so impressive.
  • Sum Sum from New Delhi, Indiasuzanne..i m crazy over you
  • Craig from Madison, WiStrange 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!"
  • Sergio from Seville, SpainSuzanne Vega sung this song in Spanish also in 1987.
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