In the class the other day, one of my students commented that she is learning a lot about herself on this trip. I find this to be true for me, too. (Who knew one could keep learning even at 35?:)) I also find myself re-learning old lessons that, by now, I should have remembered and held fast to. For instance, letting go of expectations. Living in the moment. All that Zen jazz. And tonight it worked.
I’ve been attempting to see music in this city since I got here, and so far, it’s been an epic fail. As a music lover in a city full of opportunities for listening, this is unacceptable. There were two shows I came here very excited about: The Felice Brothers at the Brooklyn Bowl and the Alabama Shakes at Central Park. I enjoyed the 45 minutes of the Felice Brothers that I saw. But they came on at 11 p.m., I hadn’t had any coffee since 10 a.m., and I admit that I might just be too old for late shows. I tried again with the Alabama Shakes, but for a 3 p.m. show, I found myself waiting, alone, in the heat, for nearly 2 hours before the first band (of three) came on. I now admit that I might be too impatient for trendy shows. So, today, when a free Gabriel Kahane/Suzanne Vega concert (in conjunction with a Poet’s House reading) popped up, I was interested but skeptical. My expectations were low, in fact so low that I thought about not going at all. But because Kahane and Vega have both written musicals starring Carson, I felt that it was my duty.
Thank goodness I let my job lead me in all the right directions. The setting was beautiful—at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park, right on the water as the sun went down. I got there a bit late for Gabriel Kahane’s set, but I enjoyed every minute that I saw. I appreciated his comment to the crowd that he was sharing a stage with another musician who had written about Carson. There’s something unassuming and seemingly honest about Kahane and his music, and I left with quite a crush. Then, two young poets read from their work, which I found comforting, maybe because I hadn’t seen a reading in a month or two. Because we host so many readings at the McCullers Center, it feels like a regular part of life. I didn’t realize that I missed it until this evening.
But here’s what I wasn’t expecting, here’s what I came unprepared for: Suzanne Vega was amazing, and her cult of fans was enthused, happily drinking wine on the lawn, dancing with their kids. It was some sort of New York music miracle. She sang mostly older songs, but she also threw in two songs from the musical Carson McCullers Talks About Love. I had seen her preview this musical in Columbus for the Carson McCullers Conference held there two years ago, and I didn’t know quite what to think. Tonight, I absolutely fell in love with the songs. There was something transcendent about hearing her give the intro to “New York is My Destination”—hearing Suzanne Vega mention Columbus, Georgia—a place that I am connected to almost as intimately as Carson—to a crowd at Battery Park, a crowd of which I was, at that moment, a part.
But it didn’t stop there: I was moved even beyond Carson and Columbus. After her nod to Carson, she sang “Left of Circle,” a sweet love song that brought back my childhood in the 1980s. “Left of Circle” is featured on the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, which remains one of my favorite movies of all time. She closed with her hits, including “Luka.” Surprisingly, this brought me back to my youth again, even though I was never a big Suzanne Vega fan. (But she was on the radio and MTV, and I was a radio/MTV kid.) All of Vega’s songs held some certain nostalgia for the crowd. Even the songs I didn’t know recalled a freer time—dare I say it, a time with no expectations. Finally, after staring at the lights across the river and leaning into the railing that separated the park from the Hudson, I started my trek back to real life, with Vega’s live rendition of “Tom’s Diner” sounding in the background. I left not only with a renewed love for Suzanne Vega but also with a renewed remembrance to simply let things go and, as cliche as it may sound, be in the moment.