When Suzanne first told me that she was that Suzanne, I didn’t believe her. And then she picked up the guitar I had lying around and started to sing “Caramel,” and in my own poetic way I thought it clever to say that the song described her voice, it always had defined her voice, this was how her voice could be said to sound. She laughed, slowly, and kept on playing. I could tell it helped her to sing more. I could tell that the wine was starting to make her play a little freer, a little looser. The night would be one that I’d never forget, but like New York, she would.
I come back to this album like coming back to a great book, or better still, visiting a coffee shop in that neighborhood where you don’t live anymore or maybe never did, yet this one place just fit. Or maybe there’s no metaphor, because any good music fan knows that here are just these albums that you can name right way when someone asks you for that list of the ones that you come back to (how come no one ever asks for that list? Why do we have so many stupid social networking spots but no spot to meet up with music fans who ask you that question?), that list of the ones you think maybe no one else remembers except in small pockets or regions. There are probably a lot of folks in Illinois who swear by Poster Children’s Junior Citizen, but out here in Portland? I’d be shocked to find anyone (other than me) who cares, and maybe that makes it even more mysterious. I wonder if the internet ruined that regionalism. I wonder if it makes any sense to bemoan that loss, if it did.
This album though, with that voice. Is it really from 1992? And how did Suzanne Vega, of all people, slip past the guards of grunge into our consciousness at all? I know that I got a tape of the album from my best friend; it’s one of those “I never knew the end to this song because the tape cut it off” albums, and I think that even though he often abandons music that isn’t the Clash, he might still have a soft spot for this one. I love the fact that the phrase is 99.9 degrees Fahrenheit but she mis-orders it so that the song works. I love that “Blood Sings” makes me consider, nineteen years later, learning how to fingerpick a guitar just so I can play it properly. I love the memories from that wonderful year when somehow she played here twice in few months, and I wrote about her for the Mercury and then successfully deduced her email from her .Mac website, and she wrote me back! She wrote me back, after the show, to ask if I’d made it. I know this all sounds like name-dropping. It’s really just that it was one of those moments when a little bit of kindness connects us, surprises us. Even more than that, it makes sense that her songs have so much humanity, because she does, too. Lucky, lucky me.