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NIGHT LIFE / THE CLUB SCENE

Looking Inside : Suzanne Vega will perform her songs of introspection in a Valentine's Day concert at the Ventura Theatre.

February 11, 1993|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A psychotic is a guy who's just discovered what's going on.

--William F. Burroughs

Folk singer Suzanne Vega is far from psychotic, but she knows what's going on. Many of her songs deal with the Big Issues, and her biggest hit, "Luka," from 1987 was about child abuse. Her latest, "99.9 Fahrenheit," deals with AIDS testing, transvestites and that old staple, lousy love.

Perhaps providing a ring of truth around the bathtub of life, most of Vega's songs are so serious and so sad they would make the Terminator cry until he rusted. Vega will be bringing her four-album repertoire to the Ventura Theatre Sunday for a potentially introspective Valentine's Day.

For some reason Vega brings out a whole new collection of adjectives from the critics. To say they love her is like saying the Dodgers had a bad year, a big understatement. Most of them would crawl over broken glass until 75 o'clock just to hear her sigh over a pay phone.

Her latest album has the usual slow girl-and-her-guitar weepers; but with a new producer, Mitchell Froom, plus a lot of guest musicians, Vega cranks it up a bit on a couple of the songs. "Fat Man And Dancing Girl" actually is quite the rocker. But no one's likely to die laughing at the show. Expect an audience with a lot of serious women all in black practicing their scowls and shaking their heads knowingly.

Vega spoke recently from her New York City home.

*

I was reading your bio last night, and it was so long, I missed "The Simpsons." It must weigh more than you do. Anyway, many of the writers outdid themselves when it came to making up new adjectives to describe you and your music. How do you account for that?

I don't know, but it's good that I have an effect like that.

*

What's the New York scene like, more like "Midnight Cowboy" or "Barney Miller"?

To be honest, I don't know either of those references. I don't watch much TV, just CNN and MTV plus AMC, that old movie channel. Besides that, I spend a lot of time on the road.

*

You've got AMC, and if you were a movie, which movie would you be?

I'd be like one of those Marlene Dietrich movies. There's one, maybe "A Foreign Affair," where she is killed by a firing squad at the end. Before she dies, she had to check her lipstick by looking in the reflection of a sword.

*

How has your music changed over the years?

It's become more like my life. Before, it was more subdued, and now it's more clever around the edges.

*

Can or should music change the world?

My manager and I just got into a big fight about that. He believes that music can and has changed the world. He says it ended the Vietnam War in the Seventies. I think it can change the climate to a certain extent.

*

Do you have trouble with male groupies, trying to do who knows what?

Trouble? I don't have trouble with them. Although when I'm in Italy, I get all these Italian boys who line up to get a kiss, but I won't kiss them. Sometimes, there's some girls in line, too, so you never know. I've toured Europe many times. Even though they all speak different languages, they all seem to understand the vocals. In Japan, there's always all these little gifts lined up on the edge of the stage. I don't get any gifts in the United States, although sometimes I'll get a poem or a tape.

*

What's the coolest thing about your job?

It's what I've always wanted to do, and I feel I'm successful on my own terms without having sold out. I have a lot of freedom. On the other hand, it's completely exhausting. It's a 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year job. It can be very consuming.

*

How would you describe your music?

I try not to define it; it's better to let others do it. I have a strong and clearly defined personality. I have a left-of-center personality that's not in the mainstream, but it's not completely inaccessible either.

*

Is folk music getting bigger, smaller or staying the same?

There will always be people doing folk music because it's the cheapest kind of music to play. All you need is a guitar and some songs. I think folk music is probably staying the same.

*

If not all this, then what?

Not sure. Maybe I'd work for some sort of child abuse agency. At some point, I'd like to have a family; but, you know, I've been writing poetry since I was 7.

*

What would be your dream and nightmare gig?

I'd like to be on the same bill with Leonard Cohen. A nightmare for me would be to open for someone like Guns 'N Roses.

*

What advice would you give aspiring musicians eager to escape their crummy jobs at the record store?

Disregard all advice because most of it doesn't apply anyway. Be as unique and as original as you can possibly be. Do your writing for yourself and develop a writing style all your own, then they'll come and find you.

*

On your bio, it mentioned the fact that you had a heart murmur. What's the story on that?

I did have a heart murmur. It used to really hurt when I came off stage, but now I take medication. It's one of those things that eventually heals itself.

*

So what's next?

Right now, this tour. I'm already starting to think about the next album; the ideas are percolating. I want to do one more album with Mitchell Froom.

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