Delta Books, 1998

Marc Woodworth, Editor

A lot of my writing is not terribly civilized. Sometimes I listen to songs by very smart writers who assume that the world is a civil place with certain formalities that people follow, but I don’t see things that way. My own experience tells me that life is not like that. That’s why I write the way I do. I grew up with people in my face, pulling my hair, saying, “You’re the whitest girl I’ve ever seen.” At one point, after I cut my hair short, I was mistaken for a gay boy and got beat up for that. I couldn’t win! Although the degree of uncivilized behavior I experienced might have been in part a product of the neighborhood where I grew up, I find that the world as a whole is not particularly civilized.

I didn’t go out looking for fights as a kid, but if it was necessary, I’d fight. Fighting was a daily thing where we lived. It was more than being a white girl in a very mixed neighborhood, I was a target because I was a particular kind of girl. I was always reading and interested in books. I didn’t like the world of the street because I wasn’t well adapted to it. I was better suited to the worlds I read about, so I developed a fantasy life. But I also knew that if I didn’t fight, I’d get picked on even more. Fighting was necessary to maintaining my own self-respect.

My family lived in East Harlem for five years before moving to the Upper West Side. Right after my mother’s first marriage ended, she met my stepfather in Los Angeles, they fell in love, and he took her back to New York, to East Harlem, where my stepfather’s mother had a house. My mother had never been to New York-she grew up in the Midwest-so “Harlem” didn’t mean anything to her. She didn’t know what she was getting into. When I asked her recently what she thought when we moved in, she told me she was just happy we were living in a three-story house instead of an apartment. We lived there because there wasn’t any other place to go.

I’d fall down our narrow red linoleum-covered stairs all the time because I was off in my fantasy world instead of paying attention to what was in front of me. I remember coming face-to-face with the little nails sticking up out of the linoleum on many occasions. I liked to play in the front yard, which was a plain concrete patch enclosed by an iron fence topped with little spikes, but I really adored playing in the backyard with its weed tree. It was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn kind of tree, a tree with no name, that would drop little seeds that I loved to play with. There were caterpillars on the branches that I’d get to walk up my arm. Beyond the tree was a part of the yard that was dirt. Because we were in a courtyard, whatever people would throw out their windows landed there. My mother didn’t allow me to go to that part of the yard, but every so often I would do it anyway, travel all the way across our lot to the place where most of the stuff was. I was fascinated by all this junk. I loved finding little fuses back there. You could clear away the dirt from a fuse’s window and see a little blue thing inside. I’m still a bit of a packrat. I collect stuff and keep it with me. Some of what I collect now is intellectual-ideas or facts that I keep in my notebooks-but some is still physical-little things that I hold on to.

I was the oldest child, and both my parents worked, so I had a great deal of responsibility from a very young age. We occasionally had baby-sitters, but they weren’t always available. After we moved out of East Harlem when I was a bit older, I would take care of my brothers and sister for hours. That was the way things were. Even though I was dealing with the daily realities of life, like taking care of my siblings, I was always in my own dreamworld as well. I’d baby-sit by putting on puppet shows for my brothers and sister. I was always inventing characters and making up stories.

I had some fears as a kid, but I was also relatively fearless. Maybe that’s a result of living half the time in reality and the other half in fantasy. I found it frightening when my parents would argue, which they did constantly. My stepfather had a very explosive temper. That’s the one thing I feared above everything else. The rest of the world was fine compared to that. I wasn’t afraid of going places or doing new things. I would do just about anything or go anywhere. I’d get a notion in my mind and just follow it.

When I was eight, I decided I’d had enough of living at home. I was going to live in the park. I thought I could live on grass and certain weeds that grew there. So I walked uptown to the park by myself, eight years old, through Harlem from 102nd and Broadway, where we were living by that time. When I got to the park, a black boy of twelve or so came over and asked me what I was doing. He said he was looking for a girlfriend. I told him I couldn’t think of anybody. At one point he kissed me on the lips, just a little, gentle kiss, but I started to cry and began to think that maybe I didn’t want to run away after all. That scary feeling of being out in the world by myself and seeing gangs of men hanging around on the street has stayed with me. It was frightening, but I kept going anyway.

Once I got to the park, I realized it wasn’t going to be quite the picnic I thought it was. Still, I stayed for several hours instead of going back home right away. By that age I’d already taught myself not to feel fear and pain by stripping down what I felt so I could put a line around those feelings. If I gave fear a shape and texture, I could “handle” it. I could describe the sensations I felt to myself and, by putting a name on them, make them less overwhelming. The problem with using this technique is that you find yourself doing the same thing with joy and happiness as well. You limit the pleasure from good things because the minute you feel something you say, “This is what it is,” and squash it with a name. My intellect has always been more responsible than my emotions for how I respond to the world. Emotion is something I’ve become gradually more familiar with, but as a kid I wasn’t really sure what my feelings were. I felt safe in the world of ideas and imagination, and that’s where I continue to feel safe most of the time although as I’ve grown older, I’ve begun to feel more.

Both of my parents were political, and their politics came out of the neighborhood. It was a politically charged time. I remember the Kennedy campaign coming through East Harlem. The booklet about Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty included a picture of my sister looking out the window. We couldn’t get away from politics. They were everywhere. So I grew up in a very politically active and aware household. My stepfather was always trying to teach us what lay behind advertising, for instance. He had a real hatred for America’s corporate mentality. No Walt Disney. No Barbie. My mother was interested in feminism, and she and my stepfather wanted to make us aware of the roles men and women assumed in society. My mother wanted me to understand that as a woman I could do pretty much whatever I wanted to, that I didn’t have to use sex or sexuality to define myself. For example, she encouraged me to play ice hockey when I was twelve. Why not? But the organizers of the team wanted me off the ice. They said, “What if she gets a scar? Who’s want to marry a girl with a scar?” Who cares if a girl has a scar? This was twenty-five years ago, well before sports were as integrated as they are now. That’s just one example of how my parents tried to let me know that being a woman shouldn’t turn you into a stereotype. I took those lessons seriously growing up because they were such a big part of the atmosphere at home.

My stepfather felt that being an artist was the only sane thing to do in this society. My stepfather was and is a writer-novels, short stories. He wrote constantly. When he wasn’t writing fiction, he’d make up songs for us. Although I remember standing on a box in the backyard and singing “I love you, yeah, yeah, yeah” (the wrong words) to “She Loves You,” the first song I really responded to deeply was one my stepfather wrote for my brother Matthew. It was loosely based on Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”-“Where have you been my blue-eyed son?,” that format. It was in a minor key, and I thought it was so beautiful and very serious. He put me in the song too, which made me feel really special. I remember the verse: “‘Who will you marry my handsome young man? / Who will you marry my dear?’ / ‘I’ll marry my sister, her name is Suzanne. / She has a butterfly fan.'” I felt celebrated; he’d written about me. Every so often he’d go off to teach or take a job of some kind, but he would realize pretty quickly that he couldn’t stand to be hemmed in and come back to writing full-time. He’d write all night and sleep during the day. I had a great respect for his work and the life he led as an artist.

He loved it when I started writing poems at six or seven and encouraged me to keep at it. When I was seven, he saw me with a book and asked if I had been reading the stories he’d given me. I said, “No, I don’t like those kind of books.” He asked me what kind of books I liked, and I brought him the unabridged edition of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. He didn’t believe I was really reading it, so he asked me to read two pages out loud. After I answered his questions about the meaning of what I’d read, he called my mother over to tell her that I was actually reading and comprehending Huckleberry Finn. They thought it was a little odd for me to be reading like that at seven, but they were proud that I could and encouraged me.

Given the artistic environment at home, it wasn’t surprising that I went to the High School for the Performing Arts. I loved it there even though I was something of an outsider. It was very disciplined and gave me a real structure, which I liked because my family life often had none. There was always a bit of pandemonium at home, so I really responded positively to the strict routine at school. I focused on dance. I loved the atmosphere of the dance studios-the wooden floors, the big mirrors, everyone dressed in pink or black tights, the musicians accompanying us-and the feeling of ritual the classes had. You were considered a serious artist at that school. When classes ended, I went to a private studio on scholarship, so on a normal day I danced for seven hours. That helped me learn about the discipline art requires. I took dancing very seriously and was very ambitious. I was considered aloof. In my junior year other students grumbled because they thought I was acting like a prima ballerina. They’d call me Prima because I sat in front, off to the side always, but in front. I was extremely competitive and in my own world.

Even though I graduated with eight academic awards and was in the top five of my class, I was disappointed because my prospects as a dancer weren’t as promising as I wanted them to be. I knew my technique would never be as good as that of the best dancers. At eighteen you’re mature enough to know whether you’re going to reach that level and I realized I couldn’t. In my disappointment I gave up performing as a dancer. My teachers encouraged me to do more academic work and not to have all my hopes in dancing.

Besides dancing at school and the studios, I’d written all these songs and had begun to play them at auditions. I felt I’d have a chance to shine more if I focused on writing instead of dancing. One of the pianists for my dance classes knew I wrote songs and told me that I wouldn’t do well in the world of commercial music because I was so shy and the music business was so horrible. He suggested that I buy the Village Voice to find where the little coffeehouses were and then go audition at them. He said it was a very gentle scene that I’d be comfortable with. So I read the Voice and went to one coffeehouse in a church basement on Eighty-sixth Street. There was a woman there named Mary Grace in a long white dress playing an autoharp and singing “Wild Mountain Thyme.” I said to myself, Okay, I can do this. Mary liked my songs, and she gave me a booking seven months from the date of that audition-the following year-January 2, 1976. So that was my first gig.

Once I started auditioning at music clubs in the Village at eighteen, I realized that I was surrounded by men who were mostly in their thirties. In that world I was very young and precocious whereas in the dance world I was already considered mature, nearly too old to get where I wanted to go. I felt happy playing and hanging around at folk clubs in the Village. I’d heard that the way to break into the scene was to try the Bitter End first, then graduate to Folk City, and, finally, if you’re really good, play at the Bottom Line. I took this advice as strict gospel. So I went to the Bitter End and tried to get a gig there for two years. I’d go down once a month or so, sing my songs, get rejected, come home, and prepare for next month. I’d come back with new songs or a different outfit-the most ridiculous costumes-and the same guy, Stefan, would be there. He’d say, “Oh, hi,” then listen to me and say, “Well, no.”

Finally after two years of this it occurred to me that I could try Folk City, just forget the path my friends had told me about and jump ahead to the next club. I found the idea of playing at Folk City really daunting because of its association with Bob Dylan, but to my surprise, I found a great group of people there I really liked and who liked me. We could talk about songwriting together, which I found to be really exciting. I loved the group of people at Folk City. For the first time in my life, I felt that I’d found a tribe I could belong to.

Even though I wasn’t a typical folksinger, nobody really cared. It was the Village, and everybody was into poetry anyway. I was never considered a folkie in that scene; I wasn’t asked to play the big folk festivals because I wasn’t well known enough and my style was considered very idiosyncratic. That’s why it was shocking to me when I got the record deal and found myself being touted as a traditional folkie. I wrote “Cracking,” for instance, in 1980, when that kind of song was considered anomalous and more than a little strange in the folk world.

During those years I was also in college. Out of everything I was doing, I was least passionate about studying. I faked my way through a lot of assignments. I bluffed my way through my first philosophy test and, to my surprise, got an A, so I thought I could fake it all the time. It worked until my adviser pulled me out of my junior colloquium and told me that writing stream of consciousness wouldn’t do. She asked me to drop the course and take it again when I felt like reading the books. She kicked my butt. She was right to. I wasn’t doing any of the work. Instead I was hanging around the theater and performing music whenever I could get a gig. There were also boys. I was always attracted to someone new. I was completely infatuated by people. I’m still that way a little; I fall in love easily. I have a reputation for being aloof, but I really become very infatuated-with bands, people, characters-and then let an infatuation take over for a while before I return to my neutral corner.

When I graduated from college, I worked at a publishing company. I didn’t give up my day job until about ten months before I actually signed a record contract. Even then I gave it up with a lot of hesitation. I felt that it was stupid to quit a good job for some pipe dream. I wasn’t convinced I would get a deal, but my manager finally insisted that I give up the job and play more regularly. There was also a moment when I had to choose between starting a family or signing a record deal. I chose the record deal and gave up that particular relationship-along with the possibility of having a family. That decision stayed with me for a long time, but now I have a family, a husband and a daughter, so I didn’t have to give up that part of life in the end. Even though I gave up the chance back then, I have a different version of it now. Other than that, I couldn’t say what I’ve sacrificed in order to do what I do. Perhaps I could tell you twenty-five years from now. It’s something that I wanted to do so much that I put everything aside for that one thing.

I still feel conflicted because I don’t always get to spend as much time with my daughter as I’d like, given my work. It’s not always easy to balance time with my family and working on the writing and singing. Music comes as second nature. I’ve been a performer for twenty-five years. Being a mother and being a wife is more difficult for me. I’ve been a mother for two years and a wife for one year, and I find that there are some things involved with those roles that I’m just not trained for. It takes as much discipline to be a mother and a wife as it does to do anything else. It takes all your imagination, all your involvement, so much more energy than you’d ever dream. But then you have a nearly perfect day that makes it all worthwhile. Maybe it’s a Sunday, like one we had a few months ago, when the three of us are actually home together with no pressing issues, commitments, or illnesses. Everything’s peaceful. All three of us are happy. We get to spend a lot of time with Ruby, who eats right on schedule, then takes a nap. Those are great days.

Being pregnant really changed my sense of myself as a woman. I was really big. I know some women who stay small even when they’re pregnant. If they’re very thin beforehand, they stay thin throughout the pregnancy and then go back to how they were. I assumed I’d be like that. I wasn’t. I was much bigger than I expected to be. When you’re pregnant-especially the way I was pregnant, which was huge-you can’t hide it. I had a sense of myself as a very big person in the world. When I walked down the street, people would move out of the way. In the past I might have been anxious about how big I was, but in this case I felt great. I started to wonder how big I could possibly get. It occurs to you that you’ll lose control completely and keep expanding until you’re inconceivably enormous-out to there. I felt like one of those sexy Italian women you see in pictures. That was a lot of fun for me. I felt comfortable and womanly.

You can’t pretend to be androgynous in that state. In the beginning I thought it would be cute if I could dress like a potbellied man. I’d see one and feel a kinship for the silhouette. I could wear my suspender pants, the really big baggy ones, with an undershirt and look like a paunchy man of fifty, but by the eighth month you’re not interested in looking like a potbellied man. All you want to do is get dressed and go eat something. Your breasts are too big, your rear end’s too big to pretend you’re a guy. It’s not useful. It’s not necessary. I was biggest in June, and I found I was more comfortable in dresses and sandals. That wasn’t my style before.

So you eat, you sleep, and then this wonderful child comes out, but you don’t feel like you have any control over that process, over her, over her character and who she is. It seems to me she was born fully formed. When you’re writing a song, you can manipulate things a bit more or throw out what you don’t like. Ruby, on the other hand, is her own creation. Maybe it’s just that she ahs an unusually strong personality. I’ve seen children who were more subject to the editing process than she is. With her, I have a very strong sense of negotiating with a person whose will is as strong as mine. To see so much of myself in her was kind of shocking when she was only three days old. You figure, She’s a baby; of course she’s going to be cooperative; of course she’s going to breast-feed, but then you find you’re facing this really strong-willed person saying, “No, I won’t.” She’d go thirteen hours without eating rather than give in. Songs don’t normally resist that strongly. She has her own coded ways of dealing with the world. She’ll arrange her dwarfs in perfect symmetry; if I mess the pattern up, I’m in trouble. I can never tell when she’s in one of those moods when things have to stay just as they are. Her code is not the same as mine, so I have the sense of working at a puzzle. Ruby’s a big mystery to me.

The fact that Nine Objects of Desire is more sensual than some of my other records is directly related to my pregnancy. The new sensuality made me feel really weird at first. I wasn’t prepared for it. When I was pregnant, I felt filled with life, and I felt really happy. I ate well, and I slept well. I felt much more useful than I’d ever felt before. That was the climate this album was conceived in, and my feelings at the time are reflected in the work. For example, “Birth-day,” which is about giving birth, is a song that had to be written by a woman.

That said, I’ve never thought the fact that I’m a woman was important to my work. I’ve written songs that men could sing. I’ve written songs that women don’t necessarily identify with. I’ve had men come up to me and say they completely identify with “Small Blue Thing” while some women tell me they don’t feel any connection to that song at all. A song like “Cracking” could have been written by a man or a woman. But then there’s “Birth-day.” I think that I can go either way. I don’t think gender is aesthetically defining for me.

That’s not to say that being a woman isn’t an important part of my identity. I still consider myself a feminist. I don’t go to demonstrations as often as I might, but I still feel strongly about the movement that first affected me a lot when I was twelve or thirteen. Books like Sisterhood Is Powerful have stayed with me. I’m not sure why feminism is such a reviled thing in so many quarters today. Perhaps it’s because of the stereotypes associated with it. To me, a feminist belongs in the same category as a humanist or an advocate for human rights. I don’t see why someone who’s a feminist should be thought of differently. The humanist umbrella covers all of those things whether you’re working for children’s rights, women’s rights, or social justice. Gloria Steinem is still as vital a presence as she has ever been. She’s been consistent as a good leader, a good speaker and writer. She’s reasoned and balanced. There’s nothing hysterical or shrill about her work. She’s not any of those things people would have her be. When it comes to feminism, what people are responding to negatively is the caricature of someone who’s militant or doesn’t shave-that kind of thing. It’s only the caricature that’s outdated as far as I’m concerned.

I wouldn’t characterize my work, however, as directly political. I’m not trying to make a point as a feminist, for instance, when I write a song. I write most often about things that are very personal to me. When I’m writing, I’m dealing with what’s in front of my face. Of course, sometimes when you write personally, you are also writing about society, obliquely reflecting topical issues, but not in a way that people would expect you to or in the way that someone trying to make a point would. I don’t care about making a point.

So it was a big surprise to write a song like “Luka” that became so popular in part because it was written from the perspective of a boy being abused by his parents. I suppose you could see certain songs I’ve written as products of more than a purely aesthetic impulse. You could say that “Cracking” is about mental health, “Fifty-Fifty Chance” is about attempted suicide, or “Men in a War” is about posttraumatic stress syndrome. I don’t know why “Luka” should take off, and not those songs. Maybe at that moment it touched a nerve in society that the other songs didn’t, at least not in such a widespread way. I got a lot of letters from people in child abuse agencies complaining to me about “Luka,” saying that I’d written it “incorrectly” and that the correct thing to do is empower the child rather than make him feel bad. I didn’t follow that way of thinking about the issue. Because they made me so angry, I kept those letters for a while before throwing them away. My correspondents wanted me for a cause and felt I hadn’t expressed myself according to their rules.

There are other songwriters who have written about child abuse in the “correct” way by taking the point of view of the neighbor, for instance, and describing the situation in a civilized way. As I said before, I don’t think being civil as a writer is always adequate to the reality. There are moments onstage when I cringe at the prospect of having to sing my own words. They’re not always pretty, but they reflect something I’ve seen or understood, however unseemly it is. I do write about horrible things, but not exclusively, and when I do, there’s another level there as well. Yesterday, for example, I was being interviewed by a very young girl on television who asked me, “Why do you write about suicide and amputation, things like that?” I tried to explain to her that I was not writing so much about literal amputation in “Men in a War” as I was using amputation as a metaphor. I’m writing more about a psychic state than a man with no leg. But trying to explain that in the heat of the moment when the microphone is in your face and the camera’s rolling can be sort of daunting.

I don’t think my writing’s limited to “those kinds of things,” as my interviewer dubbed them. I do write about a wide range of topics. Not everything’s about the painful side of life. I write about romance at least as much as I write about, say, psychic amputees. But I never want to get to the point where I write a safe song or one that represents my sense of a subject in order to appear civilized. There has to be some kind of urgency there. What I like best in other writers’ work are the lines or passages where the urgency behind the words makes the language really sing itself.

When I was preparing to write a song for the Dead Man Walking sound track, I read the book by Sister Helen Prejean on which the film is based. There were a few pages where you could really feel her fear and anxiety in the words. She describes what she sees, how she feels-all her physical sensations-when she went to the jail to meet the killer for the first time. In those descriptions the words begin rhyming, seemingly of their own accord.

There’s really beautiful alliteration that sparkles on the page. I knew those descriptions were where I needed to go in order to write the song. Because the rhymes were already there, it was just a question of pulling them out and putting them together. The experience of making a song from that heightened, urgent passage was much more powerful than if I’d chosen some other moment. If I don’t feel that something really needs to be written, I’d rather not write it.

When I was pregnant, I was having a great time, so there was no reason to report back to the notebook that I felt happy. It was enough to feel good, to eat breakfast or-and I found great pleasure in this-eat two breakfasts. What was I going to write, “I had sausage today”? That’s not something for the notebook. It was probably the mostŠcontented is not the right word because it makes you sound like a big cow in the middle of a field eating grassŠlet me say instead it was the most joyful I’d ever felt. I just didn’t feel like writing anything. The urgency wasn’t there, so I let it go.

That doesn’t mean that what I feel compelled to write about is always directly about what I’m doing at any given time. Writing is always personal in some way but not always in a direct way. Writing dramatic monologues, which is exactly what I’m doing in many of my songs, allows me to put on a different face. Every single song that I’ve written from a character’s point of view mirrors something that was going on in my life but not always in an obvious way. In “Casper Hauser’s Song,” for example, I’m telling the truth about Casper Hauser, and I’m also telling the truth about myself. What I make the character say about himself has to be true to that character and at the same time reveal something about my own life. I’ll work it both ways by using a line like “I want to be a rider like my father,” which Casper Hauser actually said while he was playing with a toy horse. In my life I want to be a writer like my stepfather. In that line it’s a play on words-“rider” and “writer”-that creates the connection for me. I love the doubleness of words. Certain kinds of jargon, the language of physics, for example, take on a double meaning when you use them in a song or poem. There are certain words that sing to you out of these other disciplines. They leak, in a sense; a phrase that means something very specific in one world becomes poetry when it enters another world. It’s like creating a secret code.

There are some songs that work exactly like that and others where the double meaning is more about experience than wordplay. When I wrote “Calypso,” I didn’t take on the voice simply to be a figure from Homer. There was someone I was involved with who was constantly leaving at the crucial moment. So by writing from Calypso’s perspective about losing Odysseus, I was also expressing my own point of view. Almost all my songs have that double quality. I’ve been inventing voices like that since I was a kid putting on puppet shows. You could have different characters talking to one another, but of coursed each character was also in your own voice. Writing this way allows me to step out of myself. It takes me away from my own ego and leaves room for listeners to put themselves into a song. Writing in other voices is almost Japanese in the sense that there’s a certain formality there which allows me to sidestep the embarrassment of directly expressing to complete strangers the most intimate details of my life. It allows me a neutral place to put the stuff about myself so that someone can talk to me about Luka or Casper Hauser without my completely revealing myself.

This distance creates a form of politeness or discretion that acknowledges the fact that we’re not all intimate. We can be friendly, we can be pleasant to one another while we talk, but we’re not intimate. In society today I find myself puzzled sometimes by having to look at the body of someone in an ad or a movie, for example, who’s not my lover or child. Why should I have to look at her breasts? Do I know her? No. For some reason, the climate in our society right now is one of premature intimacy with everyone wanting to get to know one another quickly, right away, with all the details. Ultimately that kind of knowledge doesn’t mean much. It makes life like having a stranger sit down next to you on a bus and tell you all about the most intimate details of her love life, leaving the bus right away and being replaced by the next person, who does the same thing. That’s not a relationship. It’s not even very human, really.

It’s striking how commercially viable that impulse for instant intimacy is right now, especially in songs and writing. Just spill your guts and you’re on. I love my niece and think she’s a wonderful girl, one who’s very passionate and eloquent about her feelings, so I’m interested as a close relative in her emotional life, but if I were a stranger and she were a performer, I wouldn’t pay twenty-five dollars to see her throw a fit. I don’t want to pay to see a stranger purge herself. Writing in other voices other than your own allows you to organize yourself and arrange an experience in words that have a form. I favor T. S. Eliot’s aesthetic of impersonality. He doesn’t have to blurt out his intimate feelings to make the Four Quartets, for example, deeply moving. I prefer to arrange a song in a way that has order and beauty.

There are other things I need to work on as a writer. How do you write about those moments when you are fulfilled or feeling completed? Maybe you need to write more anthemic songs, like U2, to do that. I haven’t found a way to write about falling in love with my husband, Mitchell. How do you match that feeling of almost operatic passion? We weren’t able to fling ourselves together in the way that we might have were we younger or in different circumstances. He was married. I didn’t want to be involved with someone who was married. Plus we were working together in a professional situation, so we stayed apart. There was that odd feeling of being apart but feeling this thing growing that neither of us was talking about. If I could have walked away from the relationship, I would have. It should have been the easiest thing to do because he was everything I didn’t want in a person: a producer and a keyboard player who was married with a child. No way! At the same time there was this amazing sense of inevitability, a feeling that this was something that had to happen. It took six or seven months before we were finally able to work everything through. All of a sudden I started to understand the feelings in operas where people are singing to one another across the stage. That made sense in a way it never had before. Some of the emotion was because of the restraint we had to exercise. There was also a great feeling of risk. How do I write about that? I don’t know. How do I write about those six months when I was feeling things I never felt before? I don’t know yet. That’s the job. The older I get, the longer it takes to filter experiences so they can become songs. “Tired of Sleeping” took eight years; “Stockings” took ten; other songs take fifteen. By the time I’m seventy-five I should have it all worked out pretty well.

Copyright © Suzanne Vega. All rights reserved.

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