March 8th is International Women’s Day and so, in the spirit of highlighting one of my all-time favourite female artists, we’ve dug into the archives once again to bring you another of afdpj‘s blasts from the past, this time as long ago as the year 2000 when Suzanne Vega published a collection of her writing, entitled The Passionate Eye.
(Apologies first of all for the terrible pun in the post title…)
Anybody with just a passing interest in, or knowledge of, singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega would probably not expect to find what is contained within these pages. For too long she was dismissed as some kind of folkie, wallflower, and intellectual with an air of aloofness that – so people thought – betrayed a lack of passion or humour.
Well, her 1992 album “99.9 Degrees Fahrenheit” finally laid most of those preconceptions to waste, the inherent ambiguity and mystery of her lyrics backed up with a striking musical canvas and an undercurrent of something distinctly awry. It was as though everything she had done up until that point was merely testing the waters…both of in terms of what reactions she might receive from the public, and also of her own artistry and muse.
The central section of this stylish book is taken up with a lengthy and fascinating conversation between Leonard Cohen (assuming the role of interviewer) and Vega (the interviewee). It took place at the time of 99.9F’s launch, and gives a telling insight to where she is coming from as an artist as well as the background to that album.
Elsewhere, the pages are split up into thematic sections (of sorts), with selections of song lyrics (some available on albums, and some still-unreleased), poems from her childhood and teenage years, as well as miscellaneous observations and commentaries upon the aspects of life and human nature that infuse her work and appear at regular intervals in different guises.
It’s a perfect format for bringing the best out of Vega’s writing; the grouped texts encapsulating the various themes touched upon over her recording career in such a way as to shed new perspective and light on the most familiar of songs.
Intriguingly, the book opens with a explanation of fighting techniques used during her formative years in a New York neighbourhood. Tales of scraps with classmates at school, and a glimpse into a world that – to the casual observer – would appear most un-Vega like. Perhaps that is the intention…..as an opening declaration of “this is who I am, where I come from….drop your preconceived ideas about me NOW.”
Don’t mess with the Vega: not a wallflower, actually.
Several on-stage monologues from her history of live performances are also incorporated, reaffirming the impression of a gifted storyteller. Having experienced this at first hand during the Solitude Standing tour of 1987, it comes as no surprise.
As a testament to her achievements and talents, The Passionate Eye succeeds without question, yet it is also a celebration of language that can be appreciated be anyone, even those not necessarily enamoured with the musical side of her – or indeed any other artists’ – work.
I’m with you. One of my all time fav favourites ever since I heard Marlene On The Wall back in early ’86.