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Suzanne Vega, Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Church Street, Thursday, June 14
"I don’t have a word for the kind of songs I wanted to write. I wanted to be the kind of songwriter who wrote the songs you listen to your whole life.
“I wanted to be Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan. Everybody in the pop world was more about what was going on in the moment – usually a love affair or something like that.”
Over almost 30 years in the music business, it could be argued Suzanne Vega achieved her dream to some extent, thanks in part to two songs. The first was the heart-stoppingly beautiful Luka, a tale of child abuse told from the child’s point of view, inspired by a young boy she saw playing in the street.
And there was Tom’s Diner – originally an acapella closer to her second album Solitude Standing, which became an international hit in 1990 when dance duo DNA transformed it with an atmospheric remix.
The original version of the latter song – inspired by the diner whose exterior features in cult sitcom Seinfeld – earned Vega the sobriquet of Mother Of The MP3 after it was used to test the capabilities of the computer file that has transformed the music industry.
And earlier this year it was placed at number 28 in Time Out New York’s list of the 100 best songs about the city.
But showing Vega’s continuing relevance, her 2007 meditation on the after-effects of 9/11, Anniversary, also graced the list at number 63.
In recent years the singer-songwriter has been revisiting her back catalogue to put together a four-CD set of acoustic reworkings entitled Close-Up.
“I thought the fans would like to hear versions of the songs that didn’t have the 1980s and 1990s production on them,” she says.
“I’m not with a major label any more, so I don’t own any of those recordings, although I own the songs. I felt if I could recreate them and own a physical recreation of my life’s work, it would give me something to sell at venues and sign for fans. It was easier to re-record those songs than fight and try to get those recordings back.
“My songs lend themselves to that interpretation – they work in a stripped-down setting.”
Aside from the Close Up series, things have been relatively quiet on the new music front, although Vega says she has been working on new songs.
Her main focus has been on writing and developing a play about one of her heroines, author Carson McCullers, famous for her debut novel The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. The play, Carson McCullers Talks About Love, premiered off Broadway last May with Vega in the starring role.
The music was nominated for a Drama Desk Award as best music for a play.
“I think The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is one of the best novels of the last century – and she was very young when she wrote it,” says Vega. “The way she wrote and the kind of life she had made me want to write a play about her.”
McCullers’ life was blighted by illness and emotional turmoil, having suffered several strokes which left her paralysed on her left side at the age of 31. Her love life was also a disaster, culminating in Reeves McCullers, the husband she married twice, killing himself in Paris after failing to convince her to join him in a suicide pact.
“I had read one of her short stories when I was in high school,” says Vega. “I was the kid who was always reading – I always preferred it to real life. Escaping to a fantasy world reading about people’s problems from 100 years ago was better than dealing with the realities of the neighbours I grew up with in New York.
“I still love all kinds of books and especially reading about writers. My mother says it’s like a branch of [US book store] Barnes And Noble in my house!”
She has yet to start writing her own novel, though.
“It would require a little more time than I have at the moment,” she says, admitting her album output has slowed down considerably since the birth of her daughter.
“I feel I’m learning good lessons by doing this play. It’s a different form of writing, I’m learning about structure. If I wrote a novel now it would be better. Ask me in eight years!”
Support from former Soul Coughing vocalist Mike Doughty.
* Starts 8pm, tickets from £25. Call 01273 709709