Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Solitude Still Standing

pre-HS costume partyI remember sitting in the ballroom at the Hampton Casino (not a casino at all) for the first time and feeling terribly fancy. The singer, not that much older than I, dressed in a school girl sort of skirt and seemed very lonely up there in the spotlight when she appeared to sing the opening a capella tune.

I remember seeing how close our seats were to the stage at the legendary Bottom Line and becoming giddy. It was not only thrilling to be near the singer but indulgent to be so close that no one else's experience of her could interfere with my own. After the show I waited in line to have her, rather brusquely, sign my book.

I remember feeling more superior and worldly when the singer came to an offbeat venue in my neighborhood. My relationship to her music seemed deeper and longer and surer than anyone else's could be (it's not). It was more important to enjoy her without the distraction of all those neighbors so I sat far away from the stage in the balcony with my feet and my wine up on the rail just breathing her in.

Last night, aided and abetted by C-ann, I saw my fourth Suzanne Vega concert. It was a 25th anniversary celebration of her Solitude Standing album and the main attraction was her singing through the whole thing in order. With the evolution of music technology it's been a long time since I've listened to a non-soundtrack or original cast recording album from start to finish, especially an album I've known so long. I cherry pick and skip for time and create playlists while some corner of my soul remains self-righteous about how no one really crafts a whole album the way a live set should be crafted any more. It's a crying shame and I'm not helping the cause at all.

For years I had only two Suzanne Vega albums, her eponymous one and Solitude Standing. I cherished the first one a little more. It has Marlene on the Wall and Small Blue Thing and, most importantly, The Queen and the Soldier. I listened to both discs constantly, though. While she sang through my second favorite last night I realized that I might have been wrong. I don't like Luka, the big money track, and every time someone adds music to Tom's Diner it makes me angry but while I remember the first album's songs as full, stand alone creations, my throat responds automatically to tracks from Solitude Standing making it very hard not to sing along full voiced even when I'm an adult sitting at a table in a fancy wine restaurant. Calypso, Gypsy, even the a capella version of Tom's Diner, these are the songs I stood inside as an 18-year-old like they were museums or churches. I knew they were gorgeous and I formed all the right words in conversation about the stained glass windows of her skill and insight but I didn't really understand them.

Untitled Forcing myself not to sing along last night I listened again both to the lyrics and her charmingly meandering anecdotes and I grasped more, not all certainly but more, of what she was getting at. I wondered, only slightly enviously, what it must be like to be singing the same song for the 25th year in a row and how she must feel about them now. When she mentioned that one song she just doesn't sing so this would be a rare performance of it I wondered if she still liked any of them. Vega graciously offered us The Queen and the Soldier as the closer of her two song encore and I hearkened back to that question again. It's a song I feel more strongly about every time I hear it, especially live, but how does it speak to her these days? Sure, I sat there picturing myself on that stage interpreting those same stories but I'd never had that opportunity. In contrast it might be an opportunity she has tried on occasion to escape.

Earlier that morning I'd summitted an enormous practical and emotional obstacle to my next musical performance. For the first time in months I could believe that I'd be on a stage again doing something I adore, something I've been actively trying to achieve for two years now. Celebrating that everyday triumph by listening to one of the women who helped to color that dream in my runaway imagination was...a melodic shot in the arm.

Thank you, Ms. Vega. You shine brighter in my estimation every time I see you.


  1. beautiful music, beautiful writing. i hope she reads it.

  2. She favorited my tweet about it so there's a chance that she did. Slim but there.

  3. I ate this up. Thank you.

  4. I had forgotten all about her. I am going now to add her to my Spotify list. Thank you. Lovely post.

  5. sometimes, you just blow me away with your writing. Glad you had a good time, and love that pic of you!

  6. Love this. Haven't listened to her in a long while, but I'll queue her up tomorrow.