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Bittersweet Memories of 'Ludlow Street'

Suzanne Vega draws inspiration from the sights and sounds of New York City.
Suzanne Vega draws inspiration from the sights and sounds of New York City.

Everyone knows what it's like when an old haunt — a neighborhood, a block, a building, a bistro — unexpectedly unleashes memories both sweet and bittersweet. It may bring to mind an event, a person or a fun night out, but it also serves as an instant reminder that those days will never return.

For Suzanne Vega, a trip to Ludlow Street on New York's Lower East Side served as that trigger. Her brother Tim, whose struggle with alcoholism ended with his death five years ago, lived there; his memory haunts her whenever she walks by the street and finds that "each stoop and doorway's incomplete without you there."

Built around her crisp acoustic guitar and clear-eyed, observant delivery, "Ludlow Street" — one of the standout tracks on Vega's new, New York-themed Beauty & Crime — brings to mind the graceful flow of her early work. And much like "Marlene on the Wall," "Rosemary" and "World Before Columbus," Vega again makes the personal universal; it's not necessary to have suffered a loss in the family to connect to its sense of longing. Thanks to a string section that glides in during the chorus and almost swamps her voice, Vega's line, "This time when I go back to Ludlow Street" almost sounds like, "We'll all go back to Ludlow Street." For once in a pop song, though, it's a mishearing that makes an equal amount of sense.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

This segment originally appeared on July 31, 2007.

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David Browne
David Browne is a contributing editor of Rolling Stone and the author of Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth and Dream Brother: The Lives and Music of Jeff and Tim Buckley. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, Spin and other outlets.