Despite the fact that this is the maddest time of the year for an English teacher like me, I just need to gush a little about the Suzanne Vega concert I had the pleasure of attending last night.
You see, I’ve been a huge fan for the longest time. I remember dancing down the street as a teen to Tom’s Diner – her massive hit helped by the DNA remix. I think that was the song that first hooked me. My late mom used to travel to see her brother (also sadly gone now) in Australia, and when I was about 17 she asked me for requests for presents as she embarked on another Aus adventure. I asked her to bring me a Suzanne Vega CD. I wasn’t specific (I wanted Solitude Standing, with the hits Luka and Tom’s Diner!) so I was a little disappointed when she brought back Days of Open Hand. But not for long.
I soon realised that I didn’t need Suzanne Vega to pump out radio hits. She is a master story-teller who sings like an angel. Her songs speak to a very deep part of me. A friend laughed at me a while back when I posted yet another Suzanne Vega lyric as my Facebook status update. I explained that so many Suzanne songs are a soundtrack to my life. And it’s true. I often feel like a Small Blue Thing. I’ve played that song for my English classes in the hope that I’ll inspire some real creativity. In most situations, you can find me Left of Centre. I’ve always battled with conformity. And I’ve got better and better and not feeling like I need to try fit in. Thanks Suzanne! And when I walked around Tuscany two years ago, every time I heard a church bell, any number of “bells in the cathedral” Suzanne songs came to me.
I’ve followed Suzanne Vega’s career over the years, buying most of her albums. Last year, when I discovered that she had published a collection of her writings, I had to get hold of it. Luckily, I have a very tenacious friend who works at a bookshop who managed to track down a copy of The Passionate Eye for me – despite the fact that it’s out of print. It’s an amazing collection of her earlier writings – journals and poems from very young days, lyrics from songs we all know and love, an amazing interview with Leonard Cohen… It’s great to see the progression from earlier ideas into current poems and songs.
I’ve had New York on my “I’m also going to” list since my last overseas adventure, and I’m pretty sure this is partly inspired by Suzanne’s descriptions of her childhood places. And the fact that she is quite obviously one of the coolest New Yorkers around. In fact, her descriptions of being a tough kid on the block who had fights with boys was very reminiscent of growing up with the ruffians on the West Rand (and being a ruffian on the West Rand) – And when they ask me, “What are you looking at?” I always answer, “Nothing much, not much!” Indeed!
So when I learnt that Suzanne Vega was coming to Joburg to play at Montecasino’s Teatro, I had to get tickets. I have mentioned that I’m a school teacher though, so my options were limited. I decided to take the risk and get the cheap seats near the stage with “restricted viewing”. I was warned that this was not a good option – that there would be a pillar in the way. I thought if I could just be in the same room as Suzanne and hear her sing, it would be okay.
As it turned out, I think we had some of the best seats in the house. Thankfully Suzanne sang from centre stage, and her fantastic guitarist, Gerry Leonard, occupied the opposite side from me. I could see everything and hear everything. And what a treat the show was!
Suzanne was in remarkable form, despite the fact that this was the last show of the whole tour. Her voice is incredible. She doesn’t need to hide behind props and dancers and special effects. Her songs are strong and beautiful. And her set was so generous. She played for a good hour and a half, a good few songs from her upcoming album interspersed with so many old favourites. Gerry Leonard was an absolute whizz on his guitars (and she plays beautifully too). Gerry is the master guitarist on the latest David Bowie album, which I love. He made magic happen. Their rendition of Tom’s Diner (during which Suzanne sported a top hat and moved a little from her otherwise fixed position at centre stage) was simply brilliant. Caramel and Blood Makes Noise were the sexiest things I’ve heard in ages, and Gypsy had me in tears. I had to call my daughters during Luka (quietly, discretely!) because that’s their favourite. My eldest thought I’d “butt called” her. Funny! My girls were so disappointed that they couldn’t come. I told them that’s what you get if you want to go to the Bieber concert. In retrospect, I should have spent the money to take them to Suzanne Vega as well.
Although my girls are 11 and 6, they are good listeners, and years of music concerts at their school and classical concerts at the Linder Auditorium have ensured that they don’t misbehave at these sorts of things. In fact, they enjoy all sorts of music concerts. My little one is usually the one stage diving or dancing around a fire at a drumming circle. I wish I had thought to take them along, because the Suzanne Vega concert was such a different experience to the Justin Bieber concert. This one was about the songs, the music. It was about a roomful of serious music lovers sitting down and listening to what the artist had to say and to play. They didn’t need to drown out the artist by singing along to all the songs they knew. They didn’t need to be wowed by dance routines and fireworks. The spectacle was that SUZANNE VEGA was on stage sharing her amazingness with us. I felt honoured to be there.
Someone had suggested that I stay after the show because in Cape Town she had signed CDs etc for everyone who asked. My friend and I hovered. Very few people were hovering. I think that strong urge to leave the monstrosity of Montecasino took hold of the masses after the show. Our patience paid off. Suzanne and Gerry Leonard signed my copy of The Passionate Eye, we had our photograph taken with Suzanne, and my friend, a guitarist, got to chat to Gerry about their common passion. I was totally starstruck and could barely blurt out more than “Thank you for the show. It was great.” to the songstress. I hope she realised just how much she touched me.
I’m not sure when I’m going to get to New York city or when I’m going to get the chance to see Suzanne Vega play live again, but last night I felt like I had been treated to an outstanding snippet of New York’s finest. Thank you, Suzanne.
Now back to my marking.