Alexandria Sightings – Suzanne Vega: Criminally beautiful


A great piece of music offers its listeners the unique ability to transcend their earthly bodies and enter into another realm, one created from within their own imagination. More than a breathtaking painting or an intense motion picture, a powerful songs rhythmic patter can alter ones emotional outlook instantly.
Dont believe me?

When was the last time you heard of a husband turning on the television in order to get his spouse in the mood?

Such is the case with Suzanne Vegas latest CD Beauty and Crime, an offering which the artist will be promoting at the Birchmere on Tuesday, Sept. 18. From the discs opening notes, the audience is transported to a smoky bar room somewhere in 1930s South America as a seductive redhead saunters in, scoping out possible suitors. By the albums fourth track, the Latin-tinged Pornographers Dream, you half expect Humphrey Bogart to pop in and explain to the woman why their love was never meant to be.

During a recent interview from her home in New York City, the 48-year-old folksinger was asked if she planned to make such a sultry album or if the finished product was just a fortunate accident? 

No, I didnt set out to do it at all. It just turned out that way Ive always like to perform the song Caramel which was on the album Nine Objects of Desire [1996]. Ive always loved Bossa Nova music, and I wanted to write at least one more song that had that flavor to it.

While Vega often goes on tour every summer when her now 13-year-old daughter Ruby is out of school, Vega has been absent from retail shelves for close to six years. Why the long layoff?

Well, for a while I didnt have a record deal. I didnt know if I wanted to start my own company, to sign with a major label, or search out a smaller one. So, I spent my time on other projects like the American Mavericks radio show [a 13 part American Public Media series covering musical innovation during the 20th Century] and my Retrospective CD [released in 2003]   Then I was approached by Blue Note Records.

Blue Note is the home of great jazz musicians such as Art Blakey and John Coltrane.

Did they want you to change your sound?

Thats what I asked would I have to make a jazz record? But, they assured me that the success of Norah Jones [who has sold close to 40 million records for Blue Note] over the last five years has made them want to open their label up to more singer-songwriters and what they call classic pop. We seem to be a good fit.

Most music fans recognize Suzanne Vega for her Top 40 successes in the late 1980s when songs like Luka and Toms Diner made her an international star. Does she try to cater to her George Bush I-era fans in a George Bush II world?

Well, that would make for an awfully short show, wouldnt it? she said with a laugh.  

But seriously, I always sing those two songs I dont go anywhere without Luka or Toms Diner, but usually leave them toward the end of the show. Whats a little frustrating is that Ive written so many songs before and after those two [that many people overlook]. I always look at it positively. Ive written a huge catalog of songs and two of them were very successful. So, why not celebrate them?

All shows at the Birchmere are at 7:30 p.m., unless otherwise noted. Tickets available at all Ticketmaster outlets, or contact The Birchmere at 703-549-7500 or visit