The song talks about one morning at a diner, and nothing distinctive happening. Vega wrote it in the early 80's. The very same diner this was written about was also featured on the popular sitcom...
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
And Instead
I pour the milk

I open
Up the paper
There's a story
Of an actor

Who had died
While he was drinking
He 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
Is getting 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

Lyrics submitted by Novartza

"Tom's Diner" as written by Suzanne Vega

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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Tom's Diner song meanings
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  • +6
    General CommentWow. What a theory on this great tune. I have a much simplier one. It's about being lonely and focusing on everything going on around you to avoid thinking about how lonely you are.

    I think the lines "I am thinking
    Of your voice...

    And of the midnight picnic
    Once upon a time
    Before the rain began..."

    pretty much sum the whole thing up!
    neutro511on April 07, 2005   Link
  • +4
    General CommentThe song is written as a simple first person vignette of a man stopping at an unnamed diner for a cup of coffee. He notes the newspaper he is reading, and the women who come and go in the diner, outside in the rain. The ringing of bells at a nearby cathedral cause him to reminisce on an unnamed companion with whom he had picnicked previously. Finishing his coffee, he hurries from the diner to catch a train.

    Vega wrote the song based on a comment by her friend Brian Rose, a photographer, who mentioned that in his work, he sometimes felt as if "he saw his whole life through a pane of glass, and [...] like he was the witness to a lot of things, but was never really involved in them."
    Ryucotsaon February 18, 2006   Link
  • +3
    My Interpretation
    Strange, I've heard this song like a million times, but only when I stopped and read the lyrics (on one of the lyrics websites) did the start to make sense to me. My take:
    It's a snapshot of the speaker's feelings during a short morning scene at a cafe. She doesn't seem to be feeling great about herself. First, she's ignored by the waiter, who then goes on to show preferential treatment to another customer. She tries to turn to something else, the paper, but the news there is bad too - an actor who died while drinking. Perhaps the speaker is also an artist and can't help but identify with the actor - will her stumbling career end that way too? Okay, maybe that was a bit of a stretch - but at the very least, encountering that article seems to reflect and enhance the speaker's gloominess.
    "Turning to the horoscope" - equates to asking: and what will be of ME? And again, perhaps asking, how will my fate end up compared to that actor?
    "Looking for the funnies" - in hope of consolation, that she does not get to, once again, because she's interrupted by the feeling of being watched.

    Now, this being watched thing can be read at more than one level. Perhaps, as others suggested, this shows the disconnection between people (the other woman can't see her). But on another level, I'd say the other woman is the speaker as well. I mean, "on the outside, looking inside" is a perfect description of introspection.
    "Does she see me?" - do I understand myself? or, perhaps, does my external behavior reflect who I am? Can I see myself for who I truly am, or have I got caught up in my "reflection",i.e. the face I like to show to the world.

    "Hitching up her skirt…. and while she's straightening her stocking / her hair has gotten wet"
    The author is reflecting on how stressing (and perhaps using) her sexuality has worked out for her. Did she get damaged along the way ("her hair has gotten wet").

    "Wet" seems to represents sadness - as is evidenced by the sigh "oh… this rain" - the gloomy period in the speaker's life isn't over yet. Perhaps it will continue as long as she's "listening to … the cathedral… thinking of your voice", that is, not over him.

    sleepy1on June 30, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI had this song stuck in my head for, literally, seven years before finding out what it was.
    katicuson August 07, 2002   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI also agree with bellevedette. This song has more levels than simply the plot - it symbolizes the feelings of lonely person in modern society. The structure of the song is also meaningful - for example, when she sais "Does she see me?" in the end of one verse, leaving hope that someone is actually looking for her, but immidiately afterwards denies that hope. Or when the man behind he counter says "it is always nice to see you", but only in the next verse we are dissapointed to find out he is really saying it to the woman who had come in.
    bartoshekon April 09, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI love this song. If you ever want to annoy someone, sing the "do-do-do-do-do-do-do-do's". It gets stuck in your head so easily!
    nietzsche_66on May 26, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General CommentOk enough of this "OMG!!! COOL Song!!! do-do-do-do-SHUT UP!" This song is apparently WAY too deep for any of you chillins to understand. Its pretty obvious, pretty simple, but pretty meaningful. She is simply talking about being lonely and invisible to the world. One of the first lines, "And he fills it only halfway/and before I even argue/he looking out the window at somebody coming in"---showing how the man didn't really notice her existance. They kiss hellos and she turns her head (a bit of irony, she tries not to notice them when they don't know she's alive) Second example; the actor in the paper is no one she has heard of, only fueling her alienation. Third example; the woman observing her reflection not noticing what's behind the window, again ignoring the existance of another and again, our narrator tries not to notice someone not noticing her. All examples of being nothing in a busy world, passed over without a second glance. Suzanne is attempting to show her pain of being "simply another face in the crowd"
    bellevedetteon July 06, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI agree with bellevedette. I always sensed that somewhat existentialist view to the song about being all alone and alienated from everyone. I'm glad someone saw that besides me.
    lollirot_queenon June 20, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentTom's diner is a Diner on the upper west side of New York that was popular shooting for the Tv show Seinfeld. Vega has admitted to writing this song while she was eating at the establishment. The song is just about her time spent in there.

    Thats all it means. I've also met Suzeanne Vega personally, and this song has gone through an interesting turn of events. It was bootlegged by DNA without her permssion, she originally wrote it as an acapella.
    Necrophagus2Comingon September 08, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI remember watching a TV show on VH1 mentioning that the song was about isolation.
    If you wanna look at it deeply, it seems to be expressing the loneliness, isolation, and alienation the narrarator experiences in modern society in the day to day grind.
    But if you want it on a simple level, it's about someone in a coffee shop (obviously).
    Everyone has a different interpretation.
    xFaithon March 23, 2007   Link

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