About Tom’s Diner, by Suzanne Vega

Doo Doo Dooo Dooo Dooo Do Do Do Do Do Do…

The best songs are often observational, and Suzanne’s observations that rainy morning at Tom’s Diner tell so much more than the words indicate at our first listen. She tells us subtle details about her own life, the diner, it’s employees, it’s patrons. She has a job, or least somewhere to go after her shot of caffeine. The man pouring the coffee plays favorites, she tells us. She is trying to mind her own business, but her eyes wander inside and outside the goings-on in Tom’s Diner.

The original song is much softer than the D.N.A. Remix (video above) that was a Top Ten hit in 1990. It is also the backbeat sound for Fall Out Boy’s 2014 Hit “Centuries,” heard on the Big Hero 6 soundtrack.

Oddly, many of you have seen “Tom’s Diner”, or “Tom’s Restaurant” as Tom called it. It was the exterior shot of the diner that Jerry Seinfeld and friends ate at on the NBC TV show, although they called it Monk’s Café. It is located at 2880 Broadway in New York City.

I open up the paper
there’s a story of an actor
who had died while he was drinking.
it was no one I had heard of

The actor who died was most likely William Holden. I can vouch for Suzanne here, very few people at age 22, in 1981, would have known who he was. The New York Post headlined the story of his death on November 18, 1981, although he died on the 16th.

As I’m listening to the bells
of the cathedral I am thinking
of your voice…

The church bells heard were from the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, located just down the street.

Some sources say that Karlheinz Brandenburg, an mp3 pioneer, used the original a cappella track, with her pure voice, to fine tune the mp3 technology he was helping to create.

Back to the song – It is a world before Starbucks and designer coffees. Coffee was ‘black,’ or with cream; sugar or saccharin; large or small. On the train, we read the paper or took a nap. There were no Blackberries or iPods or cell phones designed to keep us in contact with our friends and associates – people were in their own little worlds…

Some aspects of her morning are timeless; an actor succumbs to his own self-destruction, the horoscope, the comics, the rain, the sounds in the city.

…and while she’s straightening her stockings
her hair as gotten wet.
Oh, this rain, it will continue
through the morning

The song was not written about a particular, actual day in her life –  it may or may not have been raining the day that the New York Post featured the headline about Mr. Holden’s passing, and the song was probably not written in a single day

Most of us are in our own little universe first thing in the morning. We never notice the guy or girl on the other side of the counter. We say hello, hand over some money, usually the exact change, as our daily routine requires, grunt goodbye and walk back out the door. Maybe if she got her full cup of coffee on a timely basis, we never would have known what happened, or didn’t happen, that morning. It is a song about nothing, and a little bit of everything.

The song is barely four decades old, but it captures a slice of life that may soon be forgotten, far better than a film or photograph ever could. Whether you are listening to the original, at just over two minutes, or the catchy remix at 3:47, or one of the many 12 inch variations, you can sense her detachment from the things she has observed in the diner. She is merely narrating what she saw in a melodic, almost sing-song way.

She doesn’t give us a clue about what was really on her mind until the last few lines of the song, but that’s another story.

tom1Tom’s Diner Lyrics
I am sitting in the morning
at the diner on the corner
I am waiting at the counter
for the man to pour the coffee And he fills it only halfway
And before I even argue,
he is looking out the window
at somebody coming in

“It is always nice to see you”
says the man behind the counter
to the woman who has come in
she is shaking her umbrella

and I look the other way
as they are kissing their hellos.
I’m pretending not to see them
instead I pour the milk.

I open up the paper
there’s a story of an actor
who had died while he was drinking.
it was no one I had heard of

And I’m turning to the horoscope
and looking for the funnies
when I’m feeling someone watching me
and so I raise my head

There’s a woman on the outside
looking inside.
Does she see me?

No she does not really see me
’cause she sees her own reflection
and I’m trying not to notice
that she’s hitching up her skirt

And while she’s straightening her stockings
her hair as gotten wet.
Oh, this rain, it will continue
through the morning

As I’m listening to the bells
of the cathedral I am thinking
of your voice…

and of the midnight picnic
once upon a time
Before the rain began…
I finish up my coffee
it’s time to catch the train…

Doo Doo Dooo Dooo Dooo Do Do Do Do Do Do
Lyrics  © Suzanne Vega

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