NPR logo Bittersweet Memories of 'Ludlow Street'

Bittersweet Memories of 'Ludlow Street'

Ludlow Street

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

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Tuesday's Pick

  • Song: "Ludlow Street"
  • Artist: Suzanne Vega
  • CD: Beauty & Crime
  • Genre: Folk-Rock

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.

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This segment originally appeared on July 31, 2007.

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