On Sunday, I attended a Times Talk featuring St. Vincent – a favourite singer/songwriter/performer of mine. She’s a wonderful human being with a truckload of talent. The talk was part of Luminato, an annual arts festival held in Toronto. When I saw she would be speaking, I had to grab a ticket, regardless of whether I found someone to go with or not.
I ended up not being able to find an accomplice, but I went anyway. The talk was good – the interviewer, a pop culture critic for New York Times seemed a bit nervous around her (or perhaps he was just a squirmy guy). Anywho, she spoke in a very deliberate and careful manner and it was so interesting to see her use metaphors and words that regular people just don’t take the time to dig up. In fact, her vocabulary made her talk so much more colourful, equating winning a grammy to a “feather in her cap” and calling her own lyrics “abortion-y”. She really took the time, too, to answer questions – her eyes would drift to the ceiling at the other end of the room as she’d try to recall the right words and paint the right picture for what she’d want to convey to the audience.
Truly an artist.
During her talk the interviewer mentioned that he found many of her tunes very deliberate – all her notes were carefully punched out, and transcending sounds were not a frequent occurrence in her songs. I agreed for the most part, in a nod to Regret, Birth in Reverse, Digital Witness… (though Strange Mercy had more of this). She responded by saying her thoughts and how she composed music was very layered – as soon as she found a PC with music-making programs, she ceased the whole “acoustic guitar by the fire” songwriting set; strumming had been replaced for the most part by dashes on the computer screen.
During Q&A (most of the people with questions were between 16 and 29), I noticed that she took each question very seriously and did her best to give them a full answer, regardless of whether they were teenage kids, writers, or moms with kids in feminist rock camps. She saw and met everyone equally.
After the talk I wandered around David Pecaut Square, taking in the arts and airs of the acclaimed Luminato festival. Towards the rear of the site, a handful of people had agglomerated near the fences and I saw over their heads the blazer-clad, sunglasses-donning St Vincent herself in all her glory. The crowd cast frequent looks over – their sides facing her, without trying to look too desperate – trying to get a reading of whether she was willing to sign their vinyl records and festival itineraries. She did so much more – with each person she held candid and genuine conversations and took her time to engage her fans. I went in line and edged closer and closer as fans left fulfilled.
I trooped through thoughts of “what am I going to say to her? I’ve seen her in person, I should just leave” and when it was finally my turn, we talked about NXNE briefly (which she played for free at Dundas Square last year) and when I told her my name, she tried to recall a writer by the same name as she signed my festival itinerary. Here’s the picture we took:
I was really nervous as unnecessary thoughts of “she has much better things to do; there’s a whole lineup, stop wasting time” flooded my head. I quickly thanked her and as I turned she said “bye Fabienne”. I felt dreadful that she had bothered to retain my name while it seemed like all I wanted was a photo…
She wasn’t just patient and genuine for a grammy-award winning artist, she was patient and genuine for a human being! I felt like I came off as being less patient than a celebrity. Needless to say, I walked off a little bit shakey and in disbelief that I had just met her and she was as down to earth as anyone could hope (not that celebrities should be excused from this). She was an absolute delight and my admiration for her art and for her as a human being has only grown.
Thank you St. Vincent for the sincerity in our brief conversation.