Suzanne Vega performs Sunday in Beaver Creek’s Vilar Center
If You Go ...
What: Suzanne Vega, Underground Sound series.
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, Beaver Creek.
More information: To purchase tickets, go to vilarpac.org, or call the VPAC box office at 970-845-8497.
For such a soft voice, Suzanne Vega makes a big statement.
The singer-songwriter plays Sunday in Beaver Creek’s Vilar Performing Arts Center, part of the Underground Sound series.
Vega sings, dances, performs and generally delights audiences. But above all she’s a writer.
These days she’s promoting her own songbook that she’s reworking in a stripped down and intimate manner.
“If I’m lucky, the music and lyrics both come together. That’s a real gift. But all the songs come in different ways,” Vega said.
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Like most creativity, hers comes in waves and most of it stems from hard work. She writes on her phone, on envelopes and napkins — “Whatever is handy,” she said.
Take “Tom’s Diner,” a song packed with observations. Some she actually observed, some she invented. When she was done, she had made it appear like it was all happening on the same morning.
The melody for “I’ll Never Be Your Maggie Mae” stuck with her for months. The same with “Horizon.”
“I couldn’t wait to finish writing it to see how it comes out,” Vega said.
REAL PEOPLE, REAL WORLD
Vega sings in a clear vibrato-less voice that has been described as “a cool, dry near-whisper” and as “plaintive and disarmingly powerful.” She is a masterful storyteller whose songs tend to be succinct and understated, focusing on real people in the real world.
Vega was born in Santa Monica, California, but grew up in Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side of New York City. Her mother is a computer systems analyst. Her stepfather is the Puerto Rican writer Edgardo Vega Yunque.
At age 11 she picked up a guitar and as a teenager she started to write songs. She studied dance at the High School for the Performing Arts and attended Barnard College where she majored in English Literature. From both she learned to dominate a stage, “How to conduct yourself on a stage so people would watch you, even when you’re not doing anything.”
She hawked her demo tapes to every record company in this spiral arm of the universe.
But alas, record companies are much like insurance companies, in that their first response to anything is, “No, we’re not paying for that.” She was rejected by every major record company — and twice by the label that eventually signed her: A&M Records.
“I had plenty of rejections, but I’ve always felt the need to be on a stage and connect with an audience,” she said. “There was never any thought of quitting.”
By the early 1980s, she was helping lead the folk-music revival, working as a receptionist by day for a typesetting company in New York for her last real job — one of those people who’s not the boss, but it’s obvious the boss takes direction from her. She hit Greenwich Village clubs by night with her acoustic guitar.
HAPPY TO BE THERE
In 1985, she released her self-titled debut album. A&M executives figured it would sell around 30,000 copies. It sold 1 million copies.
With her music career taking off, her manager told her she needed to quit her job and go on tour. She borrowed some money from her manager and hit the road. She paid the money back in six months and quit the receptionist gig.
“I look at someone’s face and if they’re happy to see me, then I’m happy to be there,” she said.
“Marlene on the Wall” was a surprise hit in the United Kingdom and Rolling Stone eventually included the record in their 100 Greatest Recordings of the 1980s.
The 1987 follow up, “Solitude Standing,” made her a star. It hit No. 2 in the UK and No. 11 in the United States, was nominated for three Grammys including Record of the Year and went platinum. “Luka” entered our cultural vernacular; the only hit song ever written from the perspective of an abused boy.
Luka is a real person she knows, but could be anyone from anywhere.
“Luka is a universal name and it’s a universal issue. You can’t tell sex or nationality, and it turned out to be more relevant than I first imagined,” she said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.