Pick of the Week
“Luka”, Suzanne Vega (1987)
The last time I was in a serious physical altercation I was 10 years old. O.K. Well at least it seemed serious at the time. Believe it or not it was over a record.
I was coming back from one of my friends house down a walk-way to my house, when this kid that I did not particularly like, Mark E., jumped out and knocked a record out of my arm and stomped on it. You see I had been using it as background music for my ‘multi-media’ presentation on the Vietnam War. It was the Gordon Lightfoot album “If You Could Read My Mind”. I thought the title song sounded good and I was using it as background music. It was moving and it made my presentation better – my teacher seemed to dig it too which didn’t hurt.
Anyway, I was told by my parents that you do not hit first in a fight; you wait till the other guy hits you. So at this point I was a bit on the fence as to whether to smack Mark or not – he had damaged my property.
I didn’t have long to think about this as he took a swing at me, and although it was lame, his intent was clear. The other parental advice that was ringing in my ear was “When you do hit him, make it count.” I wound up and smacked him good. For some reason he fell back and his shoe came off. I yelled at him that he had smashed my Dad’s record and that if he tried to hit me again I would hit him again. Not exactly tough words but hey, I was only 10.
Anyway he kind of sat there stunned on the rounded concrete curb of our crescent and tried to put his shoe back on as I picked up the record and started walking off in disgust. He said something to me like “I’m gonna get you for that!” It was not exactly a war of words, that’s for sure.
When physical violence happens to us or around us we generally have very heighted senses and tend to remember. I think for most people, physical violence is very traumatic. If you get ‘used to’ it, or are desensitized you are somehow dehumanized. Children do not have a frame of reference or a defence against violence really. They also do not have the ability to understand their recourse or even who or how to say what happened to them. You would think this was common sense, but apparently not.
Suzanne Vega brilliantly made this statement with her 1987 song “Luka”. It tells us about her observations of domestic violence and child abuse in a very clever way. The cheerful, simple music juxtaposes the pain and anguish, leaving the listener to ask, “Why is no one stepping in to help this kid?”Somehow the impact of this song is greater than the straightforward approach Pat Benatar took in her 1980 “Hell is For Children”, which was based on a series of articles she had recently read about child abuse in America.
Raised in New York in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side, Suzanne Vega had a unique, refreshing, stripped down style that was a perfect showcase for this song, one of her first hits. She claimed that ‘Luka’ was the name of a real boy, but did not think that particular boy was the subject of abuse. Alright, well where did you come up with this Suzanne?
Actually quite a talented guitarist, Suzanne has always stayed true to what she wanted to say at the cost of commercial success somewhat. She has many brilliant songs including “Marlena On the Wall”, “Knight Moves”, “In Liverpool”, “Blood Makes Noise”, and “99.9 F”. Her 1992 album “99.9F” is a very eclectic, percussive journey in bohemia; my favourite for sure. She does seem to have an odd fascination with doctors though. Hmm.
I heard that Mark E. moved away at the end of that summer but he told one of the neighbourhood kids to tell me that he was taking jujitsu and that I better watch out ‘cause if he ever saw me again he was going to kick my ass. I have never seen him again to this day.