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Suzanne Vega

Songs in red

Immagine articolo Fucine MuteJuly 9, 2003. One of the most refined singers in the last twenty years comes to Parma: this is the first Italian date of Vega’s World Tour 2003 — A reading-concert of Music and Poetry on her book “The Passionate Eye”, translated in Italian, in the historical location of Piazzale della Pilotta.
You can read Vega’s diary entry for this date here.
The questions from our interviewer, Ilaria Cecchini, are preceded by the initials “IC”, the questions marked by “Q” are provided by the others journalists present in the press conference.

Q: What has changed in the cultural life of New York after 9/11 and the last political events?

Suzanne Vega (SV): From the perspective of the cultural community revolving around the Village nothing changed after Bush jr. I mean, political problems are just more visible and tension is increasing inside and against cultural movements. Everybody’s finding ways to speak up (after 9/11). Anyway, N.Y. is not representative of the whole country, even if public opinion everywhere is getting suspicious about this war ad its reasons. They’re getting suspicious about mass destruction arms, and all the justifications for this conflict…

Q: Together with the Greenwich Village Songwriter’s Exchange, you have produced an album called “Vigil”. What was it about? Was it the vigil of a celebration?

Immagine articolo Fucine MuteSV: I really can’t live it as a celebration. The album was about 9/11, an event that touched directly my family, one of my brother’s friends dying that day, and being also the birthday of my recently dead brother… so, definitely not a celebration.

Ilaria Arianna Cecchini (IC): You have written lots of songs in your life, and high quality ones. Is there ever been a period, in your life, in which this creative flow has stopped and you couldn’t write anything?

SV: Yes. During the period between 1996 and 2000 I was able to write only two songs. It was probably the longest period I spent without writing. It not always depends on things, you know, that happen in your life. Sometimes it just stops. Upsetting as it seems, there isn’t much you can do, but wait. Try to concentrate on family.

IC: What has meant to you to start writing again?

SV: Well, I’ve always written, since I was 6 or 7 years old, so it was pretty neat to start writing again, to find this way of expression back in my life.

IC: Has religion had an influence on the way you look at things, or was it the way you look at things that influenced your religious beliefs?

SV: Definitely, the second possibility. Because my family has been practicing Buddhism since I was a teen, and I’ve been practicing also — I still do — and I remember having a peculiar vision of the world before that, a way of looking into things, so it was pretty natural for me to stick to that kind of religion. But it’s also true the other way round: I think that more than life inspiring, in a sort of way, your religious choice, your religion gives you a more insightful perspective on things, a way to analyze them. And your opinions on things adapt according to your beliefs. But I think definitely the second.

Q: What can you say about your creative process?

Immagine articolo Fucine MuteSV: There isn’t a standard way in which I write: but mostly I write music, before words. Lyrics accord to music spontaneously. But, again, this is not a standard. A lot of songs were written entirely, lyrics and music, about the same time.
I always bring with me a notebook or a laptop to take notes, but then I need to go back home and spend some quiet time to work on them. I try not to write in studios… because it’s too expensive!

Q: What’s the main difference between writing poetry and song lyrics? Are there any differences in your style?

SV: Mainly the rhythm. I mean, a poem is not written to be played. It is more free from metric devices: it hasn’t to rhyme, for example. I think the difference is strictly on the structure, the way you put words together. The artistic process is basically the same.
I guess I have the same style. I don’t find great difference. Maybe, because themes are recurrent and the ways I express them are personal, and they reflect this way in my style.

Q: ‘Minimum Fax’ has published this new book from you (“Solitude Standing” a partial Italian translation of “The Passionate Eye”): why did you decide to write it?

SV: People found interesting some old short stories I wrote. I began to read them again on old notebooks, with things I had written as a little girl. I didn’t think they could be of any interest, but some were strange, some other felt intense. Worth reading, by the way. Then people at the “Minimum fax” decided to collect some of this material and publish it with a translation, by Valerio (Valerio Piccolo, her Italian translator).

Immagine articolo Fucine Mute

IC: Your European tour is coming to an end soon. Did you enjoy it? Are you tired? And is there any difference between European audiences and American ones?

SV: Yes I’m tired! I think the main difference is in the size. When I play for American audiences I always get small places, such as clubs or theatres, and for not more than a few hundreds people, two hundreds or three hundreds. Here in Europe I have the possibility to exhibit in larger locations, for three thousands or five thousands people per night. And the audience is always hot and interested. It’s a very intense experience for an artist. Totally different from what usually happens in the U.S.A.
I didn’t feel any anti-American mood here in Europe, even if people had warned me about this ventually. People seem always open to art in Europe. In the U.S. things are not so easy, especially in a political engagement point of view. There’s a strange atmosphere at the moment in the U.S. It’s a difficult moment in America for art.
I wish I could have a longer tour. We are trying to have more dates next year.

Q: Will you sing “Language” this evening?

SV: No, I’m sorry we’re not playing ‘Language’ tonight, because we haven’t played it since… 1990, and it’s a very difficult song, though it may seem a simple one… it has a lot of samples and so on…

Q: My generation has grown up listening to Bob Dylan songs. Would you feel like writing something like he did on war, or on 9/11?

SV: Actually, we would have all liked to know what Dylan had to say on the matter, but he hasn’t said a word since… So, I would never write a song on 9/11 now, because too many cheap things have been written on the issue, I feel it as too important for me, not only in a political way, having touched my family, so I wouldn’t write depressing songs or being banal or rhetorical. We still live like in the shock ofwhat happened, and I need time, you know, to let it all sink in so I can write about it.
It’s a difficult moment in America for artists… There’s no money for the arts, and the times are changing in terms of the internet…

Q: Is there a change in the American attitude toward the war in Iraq now?

Immagine articolo Fucine MuteSV: Well, the media are coming out more about it, saying this war is fake, and some people do open their eyes… There are many people involved in campaigns against the war, maybe not in an organized sort of way, but there’s more and more realization about it.

Q: Do you miss the eighties?

SV: No, not at all. Definitely, not at all! (Laughing)
Even if it was such a special time in my life, and with the styles and music and everything… but I’m happy to be living now!


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