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you really need to ﬁnd whatever positive thing you can from the day, from the situation, from the moment. No matter how dark it is or how depressed youʼre feeling, you must ﬁnd a reason to get out of bed, even if itʼs just to make a cup of tea. And if you can ﬁnd pleasure in that cup of tea, thatʼs enough reason to get out of bed. So thatʼs what Iʼm always trying to ﬁnd... those moments of pleasure or joy or happiness – just some reason to keep going. And I think thatʼs really important. The other thing Iʼve learned over the years is that love is not just a personal thing between two people. When the Beatles sang about love and when people talked about love, they are really talking about a general kind of love, that you have to learn how to love your neighbour, love your family. Thereʼs a part of loving thatʼs impersonal and we donʼt really think about that much in this society; we are always speaking about romantic love and all that stuff. But thereʼs really so much more to it and getting in touch with that kind of love is as important as the romantic part of it.
As a child growing up (in Spanish Harlem) you learn to see moments of beauty where they exist and feel grateful for them. Even if I werenʼt a writer, I would still notice those things. I think everybody needs some kind of beauty in their life no matter how hard their life is or how difﬁcult. Thereʼs plenty of poverty and bad things that happen in rural places too. Those hardships donʼt only exist in the city, they exist pretty much everywhere. So I think if youʼre in one of those situations where youʼre struggling really hard, you need those moments of beauty to keep you going and so you kind of train your eye to look out for them and to notice them and to be grateful for them.
Most of the time when Iʼm singing, Iʼm not feeling relaxed or cool. In fact most of the time Iʼm singing at the top of my lungs. And itʼs always a shock to me to go back into the control room and hear my own voice. It always sounds cool, it sounds relaxed, it sounds serene or whatever. I donʼt understand why that is. I sometimes wish that it would be a little rougher so that people would understand what Iʼm actually feeling. I think what Iʼm actually feeling very often does not come through in the tone of how I sing. Itʼs all there in the words. All the turmoil and the emotion are there in the lyrics. But most people listening to me think that Iʼm just some sort of laid-back singer. But Iʼm not. Iʼm bellowing at the top of my lungs but it just doesnʼt come out that way.
On stage, Suzanne Vega stirs the heart, mind and soul with her soothing voice, poignant lyrics, and beautiful rhythmic melodies. she didnʼt believe in the penitent view of things. It was more like “make yourself well”, “make yourself healthy and go out and do Godʼs work in the world” instead of always focusing on yourself and having penitence for yourself. It was like, well, donʼt think about that, thatʼs not really the issue. And she had that clear directive within herself no matter what and wasnʼt swayed by it and wasnʼt broken by it either. You can easily imagine that sheʼd go out into the street and contract some disease but she lived to be 87 and itʼs an amazing life and she wasnʼt corrupted by the realities of the world. I think thatʼs amazing.
I thought it was a beautiful melody and there was something in the lyrics that I felt spoke to my state of mind at that time. Itʼs sort of like calling upon the saint for protection as you travel through the world.
It was one of the ﬁrst interviews that I was asked to do. I was doing the video for Marlene On the Wall and they wanted to know if I would do a little interview for Playboy. I felt very uncomfortable with it and I said no, and I got into a big ﬁght with my manager about it.
I think itʼs that those exalted moments that we would hope for happen every day. There are moments every day where you either see a child or you see something growing despite all the odds. Those are sort of exalted spiritual moments that exist every day. Itʼs not just the Sunday when you go to church or for a special time when you sit at an altar. These spiritual moments donʼt only happen when you want them to or when you force them. I think that thereʼs a value in every single day that you can ﬁnd and that you need to appreciate because youʼre not going to have it forever. So I try to startle everybody, to make you aware of the fact that youʼre alive and that itʼs temporary, that you have to appreciate it and value it while itʼs here because it really is something quite amazing.
Itʼs amazing to think that someone who had such a vivid interior life had such a big effect on the world and that those vows that she made were very personal, very interior and that someone who had that kind of life can achieve so much in the real world because that quality is not something that we think of as being valued in our society today. (In society today) itʼs all about action and numbers, and how much are you selling and how much are you doing, and big sweeping gestures. Meantime thereʼs this woman in India who went through these experiences that were something you canʼt see from the outside; these experiences that she had were internal. So Iʼve been just very impressed by that world that she lived in and how she was able to do this great work and not be corrupted by it and not be swayed. It was surprising to me how
What I try to do when Iʼm on stage is to entertain and to make people laugh a little bit or to bring things down to earth a little bit, to give a little piece of the story that makes it more real because a lot of the songs are really pretty difﬁcult. They are very dense, and they are about “weird” topics, and so a little explanation helps it and a little bit of laughter doesnʼt hurt.
I love cathedrals and to me they are very special places. I am always attracted to them. If I ever go to a city, there are certain images that repeat. Thereʼs the park, thereʼs the cathedral, and the hotels (laughs). When I was a kid I just loved the cathedral because itʼs a special place, itʼs a beautiful place. I like this idea of getting dressed up and going to a special place on Sundays. To me thereʼs something timeless about a cathedral. And I think all of those images are very much in our culture. And even a song like “Penitent”... whereas maybe in America we donʼt think about penitence that much, but certainly if you go to France, Italy or Spain, which is where I was when I was thinking of that song, it is very much everywhere... itʼs in the images, itʼs in the paintings, itʼs in the atmosphere.
Itʼs the deeper longing underneath it, what is it theyʼre really longing for underneath it. The pornographer here longs for a more spiritual experience. Itʼs a song that some people really do get and some other people donʼt get it at all. Some other people are like: “What are you talking about?”, “Itʼs not true.” But I still think it is true on some level, maybe not true for each speciﬁc person, but I think thatʼs what most people want. Most people want whatʼs good, they donʼt want whatʼs bad. They fall into having an addiction but I think ultimately what youʼre striving for is some kind of peace, or some kind of goodness and I canʼt help but believe in that. ■
I have my own setbacks and disappointments but I think that
• Continued from page 14 or love for it to be fruitful and it warns me against being mediocre or lukewarm in my ministry. I am especially grateful to Suzanne Vega for helping me perceive beauty in urban life. Being a nature lover, one of the struggles I have had as a Daughter of St. Paul whose ministry is mainly in the city is to ﬁnd and contemplate God in the grit and humdrum of city life. Place me in the midst of tranquil mountains and lakes and I easily ﬁnd myself
in contemplation of Godʼs beauty, but quite the contrary is experienced in the city full of noise, crowds, trafﬁc, asphalt and concrete. Yet I live in a city, and my apostolate is in the city, and Suzanne Vegaʼs songs have not only helped me discover the beauty in urban settings, they also have enabled me to recognize God and the beauty of the Divine working in ordinary events and in unexpected places like in the seemingly ugly, repugnant, or even obnoxious situation or person. In broadening my scope of vision beyond the material and
visible, Suzanne Vega has also led me to discover the therapeutic experience of song writing, a creative outlet of a contemplative life. Listening to Suzanne Vega can be a welcome antidote for anyone scrambling through the mad rush of modern city living. Her songs help foster mindfulness. This heightened awareness of the present moment, the self and the world around inevitably leads to the growth in contemplation. ■
Suzanne Vega and her band will be performing in Singapore at the Esplanade on Jan 19.
SUZANNE VEGA IS known as the “mother of the MP3” because her acapella rendition of “Tomʼs Diner” was the sample song used to test-improve the MP3. Last year she was the ﬁrst recording artiste to perform live in avatar form in the virtual world, Second Life. Suzanne was born on Jul 11, 1959 in Santa Monica, California, but raised in New York City. She studied dance at the High School of Performing Arts (featured in the ﬁlm “Fame”) and majored in English Literature at Barnard College. She has been playing the guitar since the age of 11 and was writing poetry even younger. She started writing songs at 14 and performing on stage at 16. Her self-titled debut album was released to critical acclaim when she was 26. Her biggest hit, the Grammy nominated Luka, based on the theme of child abuse, continues to be a song of great comfort and inspiration to victims of child abuse. In 1999 she released a collection of her writings in the book, “The Passionate Eye”. Her latest album, “Beauty and Crime”, a tribute to her native New York city which includes arrangements with lush strings (for the beauty) and electronic rock beats (for the crime), has received rave reviews worldwide. Suzanneʼs ofﬁcial website is www.suzannevega.com ■
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