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Suzanne Vega collects folksongs for 9/11

By Karen Matthews, The Associated Press
Saturday May 11, 2002

NEW YORK — Folk singer Suzanne Vega lived near the World Trade Center for 10 years and has long been part of a loose group of local artists — the Greenwich Village Songwriter’s Exchange — who meet weekly to share music. 

So her latest project is a very personal one: collecting folk songs written by members of the group in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, and issuing them as a CD, “Vigil.” 

“These were my neighbors. This was my back yard,” says Vega, 42, best known for the songs “Luka” and “Tom’s Diner” from her 1987 album “Solitude Standing.” 

Members of the exchange — including its leader, Jack Hardy, who lost a brother at the World Trade Center — began writing songs about the attack soon after Sept. 11. About the same time, Vega was giving interviews to promote “Songs in Red and Gray,” her first studio release in five years. 

“So I was aware of these songs being written and at the same time talking to a lot of journalists who were asking me about what was happening in New York,” she said. “And so I thought, well, the natural thing to do is to compile the songs into a collection.” 

Just as she was beginning to promote “Vigil,” Vega suffered a personal loss when her brother Tim died on April 29. Tim Vega, a 36-year-old artist, worked at the World Trade Center but called in sick on Sept. 11 — only to die in his sleep from causes his sister declined to specify. 

“There’s a lot of irony in the whole situation,” she said, speaking by telephone from her apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. 

“Vigil” includes 20 works by 15 artists, and is the first release of a new label, Conscious Music, started by Vega’s manager, Nancy Jeffries. 

It includes one song by Vega, “It Hit Home”; the other artists are not as well-known. 

Vega chose songs that represented a range of responses to the attacks. 

“The Firehouse,” by Christine Lavin, captures the city’s mood in those first weeks when photos of the missing were posted everywhere. 

“Maybe next year the pain won’t be as sharp/ as it is today,” Lavin writes, “though it will never completely go away/ and we will talk in terms of/ ’before’ and ’after’ the attack/ and wish more than anything/ we could bring those brave men back.” 

In “Spoonfed,” Andy Germak adopts the point of view of people in Afghanistan when the U.S. government dropped both bombs and food on their country. 

“I didn’t ask to be dependent,” he writes. “I didn’t ask to be a hungry baby. I didn’t ask to be spoonfed.” 

Other songs evoke the terrible sight of bodies falling from the twin towers, and the incongruity of terrorists using boxcutters to attack a superpower. 

Production is minimal; mostly just voice and acoustic guitar. Some songs were recorded in the artists’ apartments. 

“It’s about as indie as you can possibly be,” Vega said. 

“Vigil” is available only on “Eventually, maybe if someone picks it up and distributes it, maybe it will be in stores, but at this point that hasn’t happened,” Vega said. 

“I didn’t want to go to a record company and have to negotiate a deal with them and argue with them about how to present the songs or whether it was a good idea. We just wanted to put it out and put it out quickly and so we decided to do it this way.” 

Proceeds will be donated to Windows of Hope, a charity that benefits the families of restaurant workers who died at the trade center.