The buzz about Vega
The woman who brought us “Luka,” “Tom’s Diner” and a host of other hits including “Caramel,” “Gypsy” and “Stockings” kicks off her summer 2002 tour with a performance at the Vilar Center for the Arts in Beaver Creek Monday evening.
Drawing comparisons to Bob Dylan (“of course that’s flattering,”) and Joni Mitchell (“eventually any woman with a guitar who writes her own songs gets compared with Joni Mitchell,”) the pop-folk diva late last year released “Songs in Red and Gray.” A return to her more acoustic, organic personality, “Songs” is another feather in Vega’s musical cap.
Recently divorced from husband and music partner/producer Mitchell Froom, a thread of romantic disillusionment runs throughout the album. Is it hard for her to be so personal in her songs?
“The things that are too personal I don’t sing,” said Vega. “A song like “Widow’s Walk,’ sure, it started with me. But enough people have gone through a divorce that there’s something universal about it.”
She’s able to deal with divorce without being sappy or tired. Instead, she matter-of-factly shares the horizon she sees. “Widow’s Walk” begins with a request: “Consider me a widow, boys/and I will tell you why./It’s not the man, but it’s the marriage/that was drowned.”
It’s personal without being confessional.
“You have to enter into a dialogue with the audience,” she said. “You have to take them somewhere other than your own life. It’s almost like a painting.”
Vega began her performing life in a leotard. Moving from ballet to modern dance, she especially admired the mythic quality of Martha Graham’s work.
“I knew I didn’t have the technique to stand out, so I gave up performing.”
She decided to study English. Little did she know the story student would become the story creator. In fact, Vega’s ability to convey a scene or character with minimal language is one of the attributes that distinguishes her from a host of other singer/songwriters. Even when she’s singing about emotional or heavy times, there’s a clarity of vision in her sparse poetry. No frills. She only gives us necessary details, while she keeps her songs open-ended. Additionally, her lyrics stand without music, too, despite the sometimes odd timing of phrases.
There’s a sense of enigmatic drifting to the lyrics on “Songs,” though Vega herself seems down-to-earth. In “Soap and Water,” she looks at the effect of divorce on her daughter: “Daddy’s a dark riddle/Mama’s a headful of bees/you are my little kite/carried away in the wayward breeze.”
In the poppy “(I’ll Never Be) Your Maggie May,” Vega responds to Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May,” a song about a young man leaving his lover, an older woman. Vega’s song is playful with an undercurrent of steel. She opens with, “I’ll never be your Maggie May/the one you loved and left behind/the face you see in light of day/and then you cast away/that isn’t me in that bed you’ll find.” She proves it over the course of the song without bitterness: “And so a woman leaves a man/and so a world turns on its end.” A dissolution of a relationship, lives turned inside out, the end; but she never feels sorry for herself.
Perhaps the cleverest song on the album is “Last Year’s Troubles,” which looks at the evils of today compared to the evils of the past. Are we dealing with bigger problems, worse enemies? She sings, “look at all the waifs of/Dickensian England/why is it their suffering is more/picturesque?/must be cause their rags are/so very Victorian/the ones here at home just don’t give it/their best.” The jubilant groove of the music belies the cerebral nature of the lyrics, an interesting juxtaposition.
When Vega decided to pursue music, she spent every Monday for a year at Open Mic Night. Describing herself as a shy girl who was uncomfortable on stage, she wrote “Gypsy,” during those early days. Flooded with well-meaning advice from a host of people – some who thought she should give up poetry – she doggedly pursued it. Now a veteran of the stage, Vega knows her game.
Vega performs in Beaver Creek at the Vilar Center Monday at 7:30 p.m. For more information visit http://www.vilarcenter.org or call 845-TIXS.
Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.