Just don’t ask me how I am :: VOTD

Luka :: Suzanne Vega
from the album, Solitude Standing

Luka was the first single released off the 1987 album, Solitude Standing, from singer-songwriter, Suzanne Vega.

This song is about child abuse. It tells the story of a frightened boy who is forbidden to talk about what he’s going on in his life in the apartment upstairs.

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.”

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 music video (see above) 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.


Editor’s Note:

In the mid-90’s I lived in a small apartment complex, the kind that had a courtyard in the middle, a fountain, and a couple of gardens. I lived downstairs. 

On the other side of the fountain, upstairs, lived a woman and her two young kids. I would see those kids out in the courtyard all the time, alone, dirty faces and big, sad eyes. They would huddle together close, never making much noise, playing quietly with a couple of matchbox cars, never moving much, as if they were trying to be invisible. The woman would scream down at them sometimes, never coming out, and they would jump up and run, fear screaming silently across their faces and movements.

Some nights I could hear her screaming up there, calling them names that were not their given names, and I could hear the sound of crashing, of things breaking. I would hold my breath and hope it wasn’t those two little ones breaking.

I would try to talk to them sometimes, but they would hardly engage with me, never looking me in the eye, answering politely in a whisper, then turning away. 

One day they were gone, all of them.

I always wished I had said something, done something, anything, to help them. Sometimes I wish someone had said something, done something, anything, to help me as a child, too.


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