Vega wrote this about coping with loneliness; she finds comfort by looking up to a poster of Marlene Dietrich on the wall. Vega really did have a poster of Dietrich on her wall. She explained in SongTalk magazine: "That was a truthful song. The lines came out of my life. But you want to be careful, too, because you don't want to get into 'Oh, my boyfriend left me...' I have a problem with specifically confessional songwriting. I think you have to craft it in some way. I don't think you can come on stage and blurt out your innermost feelings. My niece can blurt out her innermost feelings. She's four years old. I wouldn't want to pay $25 to go see her do that. You need to put it in a form. Although it is truthful, you have to give it some respect, or a certain kind of dignity, by putting it into a kind of form. Because these people are not my friends. They're paying to see a show, some form of entertainment. So I'm not gonna sit there and talk to them like Ronee Blakely in Nashville."
Marlene Dietrich was a German actress who became an international film star in the 1930s. During World War II, she put her movie career on hold in order to entertain US troops, a move that won her the Medal of Freedom, the highest military award a civilian can receive. Dietrich was 90 years old when she died in 1992.
Vega told SongTalk that this song always seemed "a little wide of mark, somehow." Said Vega: "It's accessible and people do like it, but for me, personally, inside myself, I feel I had something in mind, and I kind of did it, it was stylish, it was interesting, but I didn't feel it was quite the bulls-eye that some of the others were. The idea of using a poster as a reference point is a very pop idea. It's a song about Marlene Dietrich. You kind of get that from it, or it's a song about a relationship."
This was Vega's first single. It did well in the UK, but didn't get noticed in America. Vega, who is from New York, found success in the US 2 years later with her album Solitude Standing, which contained the hit song, "Luka."
Bauhaus lead singer Peter Murphy included a song called "Marlene Dietrich's Favorite Poem
" on his 1989 solo album, Deep
, where he makes an apparent reference to this track:Just wise owl tones no velvet lies
Crush her velvet call
Oh Marlene suffer all the fools
Who write you on the wall