Suzanne Vega does not write about ordinary things the way ordinary songwriters do. That is, she certainly writes about ordinary things. She writes, as most people do, about her interior life, about love, and about the human condition. It’s what she has to say about those things that makes her, in my mind, one of the greatest songwriters. It’s a unique poetic perspective to view solitude not as a purgatory or some kind of punishment for romantic failure, but literally as a friend who takes your hand. (It is also, like quite a few of her songs, a little bit gay.) It’s the unglamorous truth that for writers and artists, solitude very much is their best friend, more compelling and rewarding than any romance. It’s what makes creative types so unrewarding as romantic partners. But the condition of being alone isn’t usually made the subject, maybe because it’s essentially boring, maybe because exploring it would reveal the artist’s essential selfishness. I’ve come to realize that, as a lifelong fan, it’s very much what I relate to in Suzanne Vega’s writing, the way that so many of her songs are explorations of solitary experiences. The observations made sitting in a cafe or wandering around an outdoor market, the feeling of lying alone in a dark room, the cleansing ceremony of cutting one’s own hair, the act of writing itself. Those are all ordinary things, made interesting by the sensitive and inquisitive mind of a writer whose greatest subject is her own interiority.
Is there an evocation of myth to be found in those moments spent lying awake in a darkened room? Some line to be drawn from your own disoriented eyes to the forces that drive humanity? You feel very existential alone in the dark. You muse about your place in the world, the insignificance of it. You wonder if that shadow in the corner was there before. Suzanne Vega captures those feelings with grace. The intersection of the ordinary and sublime can lie anywhere and it’s the artist’s job to point that out. This is one such intersection.