(Credits: Far Out / Alamy)
Folk superstar Suzanne Vega is a genuine leading light of the genre. With a lengthy career spanning over 40 years, the singer takes the lyrically dense style pioneered by Bob Dylan and runs with it, bringing it into the modern era.
Her music often features a delicate balance of acoustic instrumentation and poetic lyrics that tell stories or evoke vivid imagery, often utilising the guitar as a primary instrument, giving her music an intimate and warm quality to combine with an experimental and diverse genre melding.
A folk leader of the 1980s, Vega’s early singles like ‘Luka’ and ‘Cheap Thrills’ shot her to notoriety. Entering the charts as she brought folk back to the mainstream, the singer takes clear inspiration from legends like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and Dylan.
One Dylan song in particular stands out as profoundly influential to her work. Choosing her favourite Dylan track for Stereogum, Vega loves ‘It’s alright ma, I’m only bleeding’. The song, taken from the 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home, is a shining example of Dylan’s political work. The lyrics dissect the society he found himself in, considering war, disillusionment and religion.
It’s the decision to have the song narrated by a young person talking to their mother that hooked Vega in. “A great song. The mystery of course — why is it to his Ma?” she said, continuing, “The narrator: someone young enough to be calling home and checking in. Or being checked in on. And yet so world weary.”
The song’s youthful tone stands out, as Vega calls it a “song of recent experience, written by a young person in their twenties, not someone with the wisdom of maturity, but with the outrage of youth.”
According to Vega, the song is a masterpiece as she says it is “such an interesting framework for such a cynical song about society at large and all of its failings”.
Not only is it a great track to listen to, standing out as one of Dylan’s lyrical high points, but Vega says it’s also great to perform live. She calls the track “a very bitterly satisfying song to sing”, adding that it’s “a careening journey through Bob Dylan’s mind as he catalogues the hypocrisies we take for granted when we get older.”
Her conclusion on the song is simple: singing Dylan’s praises, and she says plainly, “I love it”.