Britney Spears’ “Tom’s Diner” Lyrics Have An Interesting Origin That Sheds Light On The Song's Meaning — LISTEN

You don't want to miss this: Britney Spears' "Tom's Diner" cover premiered on Friday, and it's going to introduce a whole new generation of listeners to Suzanne Vega's 1990 classic. Because the song tells such a unique story (and has an atypical structure for pop music), I have a feeling a lot of people are going to be wondering over the next few weeks: What do the "Tom's Diner" lyrics mean? That's a good question. Fortunately for us, Vega shared some details about the track's conception in a 2008 essay for The New York Times. Fancy that!

According to Vega's essay, she wrote "Tom's Diner" in 1982 (though she "got the idea" for it in 1981). The song's title was inspired by Tom's Restaurant in Manhattan, a place she used to frequent while attending Barnard College. (Fun fact: An exterior shot of Tom's Restaurant is famously used to represent the fictional "Monk's Café" on the NBC sitcom Seinfeld). Here, Vega explains how the tune came to be:

I have a photographer friend, Brian Rose, who has taken pictures of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the Berlin Wall. He told me once long ago that he felt as though he saw the world through a pane of glass. This struck me as romantic and alienated, and I wanted to write a song from this viewpoint.

I had been taking classes at Barnard with titles like “The Dramatic Monologue.” I was in Tom’s and I thought it would be fun to write a song that was like a little film, where the main character sees all these things but can’t respond to any of it unless it relates to him directly. ...

Check out Spears' "Tom's Diner" cover below.

Is "Tom's Diner" based on Vega's real-life experiences as a customer of Tom's Restaurant? Yes and no. For example, she mentions in her essay that the part of the song about reading about an actor's death in the newspaper is true. However, she also mentions that the part about looking out the window and seeing a woman "straightening her stockings" in the rain (which actually isn't used in Spears' cover) is not. So, there you go. "Tom's Diner" seems to be a mix of both fiction and non-fiction.

Check out the full lyrics to Britney Spears' "Tom's Diner" cover below. (Note: The strange "spoken bridge" section does not appear in Vega's original version of the song, which can be heard here.)


Doo doo doo doo, doo, da-doo doo

Doo doo doo doo, doo, da-doo doo

Doo doo doo doo, doo, da-doo doo

Doo doo doo doo, doo, da-doo doo

1st VERSE:

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


2nd VERSE:

"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

And I'm pretending

Not to see them


I pour the milk



Everybody's welcome

Come on, come on in

Sit yourself down

The fun never ends

Love is the drug that makes you wanna drink

'Til the morning after

3rd VERSE:

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