A few years ago. an introspective devotee of early Bob Dylan and Sylvia Plath would have been an unlikely candidate for success. But in the mid-80$, a generation coming to terms with its fading youth caught on to Suzanne Vega’s style. Alastair Mabbott found the singer-songwriter more
‘interactive‘ than before.
I talk with Suzanne Vega three days after the Mandela concert at Wemblcy. where so many of her contemporaries — like Tracy Chapman — and one particular hero - Lou Reed — nailed their colours to the mast ofhuman rights; an action which seems to play such a central role in an artist‘s self-image these days that it‘s hard to imagine what someone like Jim Kerr would do if the opportunity was snatched away.
At first glance. Vega might seem well-suited to such company. She has reason to be grateful to the swelling ranks of mid-30s record-buyers who stack her (.‘Ds alongside those of Chapman. Gabriel and Sting. but she has yet to be found punching the air on the campaign trail — mainly
because she disapproves of ‘making complicated issues very simple‘ and because it's not her style to hammer people over the head with her point ofview.
For the last twelve years she has been a practising Buddhist. and, although a member ofa proselytising sect. is not one who seeks to make conversions herself. Vega's songs are not indignant or particularly persuasive; instead. with sophisticated composure. they just are. It isn‘t surprising to hear her describe her songs. as she does in a Brighton hotel early on in the current tour. in terms ofsculptures. They‘re smooth. carefully worked and things to stand back from rather than immerse yourselfin.
‘You would never think of someone going up to a sculptor.‘ she comments. ‘and saying. Well. obviously that sculpture tsn 't political enough. What do you really feel? Why don 't you take a stand on this issue." Because the statue exists of its own accord. It’s not connected to that artist‘s religious beliefs or political beliefs. Obviously. ifit‘s genuine. I think you should write about whatever you want to write about. but I don't see why you have to be a spokesman in that way. I don‘t see why you have to be persuasive.‘
Brought up as a Puerto Rican on New York's Upper West Side, Vega, now entering her 30s, met her real father only three years ago. Insecurity about her true roots probably explains her admission that ‘everything I‘ve written since I was seven or eight years old had to do with solitude or defending yourself
4 The List 4 — 17 May 1990