Thursday, June 26, 2008

Songwriting: The Queen And The Soldier

Suzanne Vega: The Queen And The Soldier


My wife and I compliment each other very well. When it comes to songs, I usually respond first to the music, the arrangement, and the production. I sometimes go years loving a song without knowing what it is about. My wife is the opposite: although she has more musical training than I do, she hears lyrics, sometimes to the exclusion of all else.

So when the first thing that grabs me about a song is the lyrics, it's an event. The first time I heard "The Queen and the Soldier" was such an event.

The story this song tells is fairly straight forward. A soldier goes to tell his queen that he will no longer fight in her wars. She has him killed for his disobedience. End. But it's not so simple as all that.

What sets this song apart is the description of the characters' emotions. He either is in love with the queen, or falls in love with her in the course of the story. She seems to fall in love with him, which terrifies her. So does she order his death because he defies her orders to fight, or because she fears her own emotions?

Sometimes this song for me is a literal story about two characters who are trapped in societal roles which doom their love. Sometimes it is a symbolic antiwar song. And sometimes it is a metaphor for a failed relationship. Are any of these interpretations what Suzanne Vega had in mind? I have no idea, and I wouldn't want to ask her if ever got the chance. The mystery of "The Queen and the Soldier" is what makes it a great song.

Reader submission from Darius


boyhowdy said...

This is one of my absolute favorite songs EVER, from one of my very first folk albums (and very first folkcrush). It's a great story, and set SO well, too. Epic win, Darius!

Bonus (and shameless) linkage: I posted a great Celtic Folk cover of this song just a few weeks ago as part of a feature on new Celtic Artists. You'd be amazed how well the song comes off as a traditional irish ballad, as if it had always been one.

Anonymous said...


Why do I suspect that you've had many "folkcrushes"?

boyhowdy said...

LOL. Now THERE's a theme idea.

And what, if anything, is the difference between a crush and the kind of fandom that makes you tonguetied when you're in the face-to-face presence of a musician you admire? As I just mentioned to a label rep (they're trying to get me to do some interviews at Grey Fox Bluegrass festival), I hate interviews, because I get all blush-y and stuttery.

That said, I'm proudest of my early crush on a very young Alison Krauss. She's a year and a half older than I am, you know -- at 16, it was an amazing thing to watch her on stage, shy and delicate behind the fiddle, stepping forward for a song once per set. Current folkcrush: Kris Delmhorst. And maybe the new, happy version of Feist.

Confession time, Paul and others: how about you? Country crushes?

Anonymous said...

I had a huge crush on Kelly Willis back on the early 1990s.

My 1980's pop music crush was on Suzanna Hoffs. I love a girl with a Rickenbacher...

I think maybe there is a theme idea in here...

Matt said...

Nice post, Darius. Welcome to the Machine, and hope to see you back again!

Anonymous said...

Darius, my lady and I are the same way. She hears lyrics, I hear production. Glad you shared that. Great posts btw, real good.

Anonymous said...

Maybe there is something to this male/female thing in hearing music. I hear snippets of lyrics, good lines here and there, but mostly enjoy the sound of the music. There are songs I've enjoyed for years without ever stopping to realize what they are really about. My wife, on the other hand, hears the whole story and can remember full lyrics after one listen. (I wish I could do that.)

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for your kind words.

- Darius

Anonymous said...

Darius didn't tell this story, because it would detract from the post, but my favorite instance of my hearing the lyrics, while he heard bits of them interwoven in the whole of the music, was Madness' song "House of Fun". He included this song in a Ska mix he put together for us to listen to in the car. With the kids along.

The first time I listened to it, I asked him if he was aware of what the lyrics were about. He hemmed and hawed a bit, then admitted that, no, he just really liked the upbeat feel and musical sense of it, and hadn't listened all that closely to the lyrics.

"Dear, do you realize that this song is about a 16-year-old guy who goes to the pharmacist on his birthday to buy condoms for the first time, and tries to get her to understand what he wants without asking for them outright?"

It's a good thing he wasn't drinking a beverage at the time. It would have probably come out his nose.

I love my husband.

-Janice, Darius' wife

Paul said...


That's a funny story. And it's the first time I ever realized what the Madness song was about myself.

My guess is the kids probably didn't notice.