Given mandates of mask-wearing, social distancing and hand sanitizing triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, the thought of packed-club concerts may seem outmoded. But at 61, diehard New York neo-folkie Suzanne Vega refuses to give up on it. “Live music has been going on since the troubadour era, so you can’t tell me that this is its end days. It’s going to rise again. We’re going to have live theater, live music once more, possibly in the spring of next year, but just not now. It’s important to keep that perspective.” In the meantime, she’s live streaming gigs this week from the Blue Note Jazz Club in Greenwich Village to promote the Cafe Carlyle-recorded album “An Evening of New York Songs and Stories,” which intersperses catalog classics like “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” with surprise covers like “Walk on the Wild Side” by her late friend Lou Reed and laconic humorous tales behind the songs.
How is your daughter Ruby doing in this strange time?
Ruby’s great. She’s actually on her honeymoon, camping across the United States with her husband. She was out in Yellowstone Park over the last few days, so I checked in with her because I know that there are parts of Wyoming that were hard-hit by the fires you’ve been experiencing out there. And those fires remind me of 9/11 here in New York, when everything was covered in ash, and there were dust clouds of debris. So that’s what Ruby is doing now, but she’s also getting her PHD in biology, and her area of interest is infectious diseases. When she started it two years ago, it seemed so random. But now it just seems like the most sensible thing in the world.
What do you miss most in New York, post-lockdown?
I wish we had the venues back in New York. I couldn’t believe it when Folk City closed (in 1986)— we were supposedly having a folk boom — “Luka” was on the radio, Tracy Chapman followed shortly after that, and Michelle Shocked had a record deal. And then suddenly, there were no venues for it in town. I thought that was crazy. So I miss the venues. But as for the community, I just performed as the headliner for the Greenwich Village Folk Festival in August, and it was great. And I saw all of the old guys and we had a little after party, and ended up going out into the public, so the folk community is still there. But in terms of the pandemic, I miss eating in restaurants, and I miss traveling and doing live shows.
You recently said that you really missed going to museums, too.
That’s true. And now they’re starting to open a little bit, but I don’t know if I’m ready yet. I’m not one of those people who’s going to run out and stand in some long line to get in. So instead, I’ve just found this becoming an interesting time for writing, playing music by myself, and just creating what I want to hear. And now that I’ve been locked inside for six months, I’m starting to be like, “Oh, maybe I’ll write a whole bunch of songs and make a new album! That would be cool!” So you can make art until you can go out and see it in a museum again. It may not be Picasso, but it can be a big part of your day.
You started out in your teens writing short stories and plays. Is there any new action on those fronts?
I’ve written one play, but I’ve written it several times, over and over again. It’s my play about Carson McCullers, and now it’s actually a film, so I think that’s going to be its final iteration. It’s now called “Lover, Beloved,” directed by Michael Tully; we made the film last fall. That was a really wild experience. It was like doing a video, but several days long and much more intense.
Songwriters are by nature observational — so what happens when you can’t get out and observe things?
I find I do plenty of that on certain apps. There are two apps that I find myself on constantly. One is the Next Door app….Now I find that I recognize people through it, like, “Oh, there’s that lady that always ate at the same restaurant that I did!” And the other app that I use is called Citizen, and it has all the crime that’s going on. Any time anybody calls the police or 911 in your neighborhood, it gets reported on Citizen, and then everybody chimes in with their opinion, and most of them skew political. But I don’t post anything. I just want to know what’s going on. So this is what I’m doing instead of sitting on the bus.
What have you learned from Citizen?
Well, the crime has gone up from what it was. It’s not as bad as it was in the ‘90s, but it’s still gone up. But when I walk around, I don’t feel the polarization that one might imagine. I don’t feel anyone judging me on whether I’m a have or a have-not. In the beginning of the pandemic, there was this weirdly giddy feeling after lockdown — one guy would go out walking with his top hat, and I saw somebody else carrying a sword. Then all that wackiness stopped. And now you mostly just see people minding their own business, standing in line at Trader Joe’s. And everyone’s looking out for each other, not at each other.
IF YOU WATCH
An Evening of New York Songs and Stories with Suzanne Vega
Where: Live-stream from Blue Note Jazz Club in New York
When: 6 p.m. Oct. 7, noon Oct. 8 (Pacific Daylight Time)