Suzanne and Carson
Thirty-five years and 13 albums after singer/songwriter Suzanne Vega began performing her own songs in Greenwich Village clubs, the neo-folk musical icon, whose Tom’s Diner and Luka have entered the lexicon of indelible songs and whose overall body of work has made her “widely regarded as one of the most brilliant songwriters of her generation” (Biography Magazine), claims a rebellious, outspoken kindred spirit in a Southern writer who burst onto the literary scene four decades earlier. Vega discovered the works of Carson McCullers (1917-1967) as a teenager, and the rich language and passionate characterizations of misfits and outcasts resonated with her. McCullers’ The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Reflections in a Golden Eye, The Member of the Wedding and The Ballad of the Sad Café inspired Vega in her own artistic pursuits, and she utilized McCullers’ stories for adaptation into songs for her undergraduate thesis. Vega told Library of America online interviewer Rick Kelley: “The things I find compelling about Carson McCullers are: First, her character. Brilliant, funny, droll, compassionate, bitchy, needy, but never pathetic. Second, her work itself. Her social vision – so unusual in a girl her age when she wrote The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter – beautifully and humanely rendered in language and imagery. And yet odd and unique at the same time. Her details resonate with me.” That resonance led to her creation of the 2011 off-Broadway musical play Carson McCullers Talks About Love, in collaboration with Tony® award-winning composer Duncan Shiek (Spring Awakening, American Psycho: The Musical), in which she portrayed the author and performed songs inspired by characters and incidents in her life. McCullers suffered a debilitating stroke at age 30, but still remained feisty and active. Vega recalled: “The most difficult thing was implying her disabilities and her pain without actually impersonating them. I was a trained dancer for years, so I first approached her character from the outside in, by looking at her photographs and mimicking her body language. I watched films of her and got a sense of her animation. And I listened to tapes of her speaking. She is a very idiosyncratic speaker with long pauses and a distinctive vocal sound. I found most of her character easy to slip into.” Five years later, Vega continues to reshape the play, now renamed Lover, Beloved: An Evening with Carson McCullers, and was recently in Los Angeles to do four sold-out workshop performances when she made the time to record her insights on an Audio Commentary for Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray of director Fred Zinnemann’s film of The Member of the Wedding (1952). Joined in conversation by film historians David Del Valle and Derek Botelho, Vega offers a wellspring of information about the author’s background and connections to the characters, details and events in the film, itself adapted from the 1949 play McCullers crafted from her 1946 novel. Indeed, with another Audio Commentary by McCullers biographer Virginia Spencer Carr and Featurettes about McCullers and the stage-to-screen translation process, TT’s disc will prove an invaluable primer on one of America’s most distinctive and eloquent literary voices. With Vega’s participation, the “we of me” guarantees a bountiful viewing and listening experience. Produced by Stanley Kramer and starring Julie Harris, Ethel Waters and Brandon de Wilde, The Member of the Wedding debuts June 14. Preorders open June 1.