So, Madonna is the pure image of grace and spirituality, the Beastie Boys are the latest embodiment of the power of rock 'n' roll, while Suzanne Vega is merely cold, boorish and passionless (Robert Hilburn's Aug. 3 review of Vega's concert).
Now hold on! I agree with Hilburn that Vega's lyrics are inferior and amateurish--they're just so literal : They're clumsy, they're not poetic, they don't work magic the way Bob Dylan's or Elvis Costello's songs do. Purely as a matter of printed poetry, her lyrics are a failure.
But this alone shouldn't be grounds for such swift dismissal, even on Hilburn's own terms. Has he listened closely to Bono Hewson's lyrics lately? I like U2, but the words to the songs he's admired most on their new album are unbelievably hackneyed and trite:
I want to run
I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls
That hold me inside . . .
Our love turns to rust
We are beaten and blown by the wind . . .
I can't live
With or without you . . .
I still haven't found what I'm looking for . . .
( All repeated ad almost infinitum. )
No poetry here, Bob! (And the same holds true, in spades, of your dearest Bruce.)
But despite these strictly poetic deficiencies, there is power and grace and passion in Bono's voice and in U2's music; this is what keeps us (me) listening. And the same is true of Vega's music.
As a vocalist, she is a gifted artist: Her voice and music express true feeling. Hilburn may not like the feelings; but this, of course (and pardon me here for my own triteness), may say more about him than about Vega's music.
Despite the inadequate poetry of her verse, Vega sings thrillingly and compellingly about feelings that traditional rock 'n' roll has found little room for. Her words touch our lives, and this is why we listen.
Hilburn's turned me on to a lot of great music and for this I am grateful. But his emotional sensibilities may be more than a bit dated; and in his line of work, this is no minor hardship.
May I suggest the name of a good therapist?