Suzanne Vega keeps it real

by Tom Lee

How does a music artist who makes a big splash early in her career survive the onslaught of sudden fame and fortune? And in the ensuing decades, how does she deal with the vicissitudes of life on the road, record sales, hungry managers and publicists, a fickle public and an industry in turmoil since the rule-breaking dawn of the file-sharing age?

Those are questions I've been pondering recently in anticipation of Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega's visit to Harvard next week. Vega will perform in concert at Sanders Theatre on Friday, November 6, presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston. On Thursday, she will preside at a workshop for Harvard undergraduates. She refers to this event as a "songwriters circle," a custom harkening back to her early days in Greenwich Village when the artist would drop in on jam sessions to share and discuss new and developing work.

Vega is not interested in talking at students, not interested in formal critiquing and coaching; rather, she wants this experience to be an equal exchange of ideas and feedback—a direct connection that she hopes will be supportive and helpful to aspiring songwriters and performers.

Certainly many younger people know her 1987 platinum-selling recording "Solitude Standing" which contains the hit song "Luka" (yes, the one about child abuse). But Vega hasn't rested on her laurels: In 2007, she released the Grammy-winning "Beauty & Crime" on Blue Note Records, influenced by the loss of her brother in the tragedy of 9/11. And a year earlier, she became the first major recording artist to perform live in avatar form within the virtual world Second Life.

Maybe this is how an artist of her stature and longevity keeps it real—by passing it on to a new generation. (Yes, Suzanne Vega keeps it real—and virtual!)

The Learning From Performers workshop with Suzanne Vega on Thursday, November 5 at 3 pm is open to Harvard undergraduates only; for more information and to RSVP, contact program manager Tom Lee , 617.495.8676.

[Caption: Singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega]