A GUEST POSTING by STEVE McLEAN
Ahoy McLeanites,I missed you. I was supposed to go to Suzanne Vega at the Royal Festival Hall the other evening but Covid had other ideas. Sucks, eh?
You probably don’t know that I got engaged to Suzanne in 1987. I wrote her a letter asking her to marry me and she never said no in a reply so I’m guessing it’s still on. I addressed it Suzanne Vega, Second Floor,Thomas’s Diner, New York, America. I know the US postal service is reliable so she’s probably in the planning stages (she takes ages to do things as 9 albums in 41 years will confirm)
Aside from the economical output, Suzanne’s career has been amazing. A shining light of the 80s folk revivalists and the flip side of Lou Reed to the great city of New York. She’s one of those acts that are so much more than her Greatest Hits might suggest. But then I would say that, being her fiancé.
So here’s four Suzanne Vega crackers that you might have missed because the radio only ever plays Marlene on the Wall or the one about Tom having his dinner.
It Makes Me Wonder (2001) Songs of Red and Grey
All of Vega’s best songs can be read as poetry. I think that’s intended and possibly how they’re written. This one seems to be personal and about someone in particular. That someone sounds like a bit of a dick. It feels like it’s both a sex song and a regretting sex song. I dunno, you gotta be careful reading too much into songs that are about an actual person, because we all inflate the smallest of moments. That said the image she paints does seem to conjure up a rogue but on the nasty end of the word, rather than the Han Solo type.
New York Is a Woman (2007) Beauty and Crime
The title sells this song, New York is a town without pity but also one that you can’t help but adore. I’ve only ever visited the post-2000 Disney sanitised NYC. I never had the fear on the subway or a Times Square mugging, but I couldn’t help but feel the biography of the place in the old buildings. ‘Her steam and steel’ on the sidewalks leaking out and hinting at the truth behind that paint. This song sums up the history of the town and could be set in any decade from the early 1900s onward.
I did get punched in a bar near the Meatpacking district but to be fair, I was being a bellend.
Laying on of Hands (2014) Tales From The Realm of the Queen of Pentacles
This song (like the record it comes from) sounds like a plea or a fuck you. Like a kitchen sink drama with a mystical or religious underside. Either way, as with most of her songs, the narration again feels very personal; ‘I don’t know about happiness, but virtue is overrated.’ Ultimately there aren’t many who can pen a number asking you to consider that Mother Theresa spent her whole life never once getting booffed. Frankly if you can’t appreciate the song, appreciate the niche subject.
Harper Lee (2016) Lover, Beloved
It’s hard to write about authors. Have you heard Lou Reed’s Edgar Allen Poe song? It’s shit. Somehow he manages to rhyme ‘Edgar Allen Poe’ with ‘The boy next door’ I mean I love a drawl but not one that’s so phoned in that it has reversed the charges.
This whole album is about Carson McCullers (it was a stage show and currently being made into a film. If there’s one person who knows what cinema needs, it’s Suzanne). McCullers’ The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter’ is one of the best books you’ll read on isolation. At least that’s what the cover says, I haven’t read it but I have seen the film with Alan Arkin, it’s ace.
The song name checks Carson’s author rivalries and hints at her bitterness, but in a self depreciating way that does much to endure you to her. She had a proper indie haircut too.
Right then, that’s it for now. Don’t tell Suzanne but I was also engaged to Natalie Merchant so I might write something about her in the future. I feel I’m more her type as she has a bit time for hard luck cases.