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Interview:
Suzanne Vega plays "New York Songs and Stories" for The Ark, vitually: Q&A
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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Few artists -- perhaps this side of Billy Joel -- are as qualified as Suzanne Vega to present "An Evening of New York Songs and Stories."



Though born in Santa Monica, Calif., the singer-songwriter of "Luka" and "Tom's Diner" fame, moved to Manhattan when she was just two and a half years old. She was raised in Spanish Harlem and on the Upper West Side, and was educated partly at the High School of Performing Arts, aka the "Fame" school. Vega launched her career in Greenwich Village and the Cornelia Street Cafe, and she wrote a musical



That familiarity and intimacy informs "...New York Songs and Stories," her new live album capturing shows Vega and her band performed last fall at the Cafe Carlyle. Blending favorites and album tracks -- as well as "New York is My Destination" from her one-woman play "Lover, Beloved: Songs From an Evening with Carson McCullers," the 21-song set finds Vega singing in and about the town that's nearest and dearest to her heart -- and remains that way, even in quarantine...



How did "An Evening of New York Songs and Stories" come to be?



Vega: It was my second time playing at the Carlyle Cafe. It's the kind of venue that you play a two-week run at, and the first night is like an opening night, like a theater show. So I thought, "This time let's have some fun. Let's do a theme....Let's do all the songs about New York for all the tourists who stay at this hotel." It's kind of ritzy, upper-class and glamorous yet bohemian, so it seemed like a good place to sing songs about New York.



What's the allure for you of writing about the city?



Vega: Well, I live here -- that part of it. And to me, there's just no other place like it. I mean, there are things I love about other big cities as well. I love Tokyo. I love Berlin. But I live here, so I know it well and in a sense I'm always thinking about it. New York's problems are my problems.



How did you go about song selection and sequencing?



Vega: First of all there were the themes of New York. Then the other thing we think about are musical -- how to open the show, how to have songs that contracts next to each other, so you really feel like you’ve been somewhere. I wanted the audience to feel like they've been on a little journey, emotionally, not just a sort of travelogue but a kind of deepening feeling for the city itself, and maybe for a taste of my own life and what I've experienced in the city. Those were the things we were thinking of -- how to make it work, and how to make it entertaining. And I wanted a little bit of a jazzy, smoky feel to it.



You start off with a bang -- "Marlene on the Wall" and "Luka," two from the A-list. Did you at all feel like you were giving away too much too soon?



Vega: You know why I did that? I did that 'cause the Cafe Carlyle is a hotel. I knew that people who were just randomly staying at the hotel might come to the show, and it's not like they were all my fans beforehand. I wanted them to know what I had done and remind them of who I am. It worked out better than I could have imagined.



And you decided to include Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side."



Vega: (laughs) I worried "Oh, is 'Walk on the Wild Side' a little too down and dirty for the Carlyle? Are people going to be offended?" But they didn't seem offended at all. They seemed to really love it.



Are there any other applications that might work for this concept, on stage or otherwise?



Vega: I thought we would take it on the road; That was my intention, to take it on the road over the spring and summer. I was going to work in other songs -- Bob Dylan's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," I was planning to have some fun with that. It hasn't occurred to me to make an actual (stage) show out of it, but it's possible.



You're not on the road, of course. What's it like not being able to play live right now?



Vega: Well, someone asked me when was the last time I was home for this long. (laughs) I thought, "Y'know, probably when my daughter was born," and she's now 26 years old -- but even then I would take her on tour with me for two months, then I would stay home for 10 months. Let's just say I'm getting to know all the corners of my apartment and things I never had seen before.



Do you have any creative projects in motion now?



Vega: We made a film of the play ("Carson McCullers Talks About Love," with Duncan Sheik) last fall, so that's in post-production and should be finished by the end of this year. It's mostly a film of the stage work, not quite a documentary. I sort of intended it as a kind of educational film about her; If you like Carson McCullers or you're an English teacher and want to see what her life might have been like, here would be a way of learning about her. That's the main thing I've been working on.



Suzanne Vega presents "An Evening of New York Songs and Stories" virtually at 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 20 Tickets via the ark.org.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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