Renee’s Still Walking Away, 40 Years On* (With corrected lyrics!)**

My mp3 player, which can hold about 1400 tracks, now has three versions of “Walk Away Renee”: The 1966 original by the Left Banke, the epic 1968 version by the Four Tops, and a new, delicately respectful version by Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy that is mentioned prominently in every review of their new, Cajun-folk duet album, Adieu False Heart.

A little research shows that I could add versions by Latin jazz percussionist and Cal Tjader sideman Willie Bobo; British protest singer Billy Bragg (he mumbles recollections of lost love while he plays the song almost absent-mindedly on acoustic guitar); and the indie rocker Angie Heaton (who sounds like a female Neil Young from the “Everybody Knows This is Nowhere” era), among about a dozen other covers. I also have a version by Marshall Crenshaw from his live acoustic album, “I’ve Suffered for My Art, Now It’s Your Turn.”


*(Update: A clip of the Left Banke lip-syncing “Walk Away Renee” on the show “Where the Action Is” is at the end of this post.)

Quite a journey for a song written by a 16-year-old lovesick kid; and for that kid’s unrequited teenage crush, Renee Fladen, who also inspired the Left Banke’s other hit, “Pretty Ballerina.” According to this nicely-written piece by rock and roll fan Tom Simon:

Violinist Harry Lookofsky owned a small storefront recording studio in New York City that he called World United Studios. In 1965, he gave a set of keys to his 16-year-old son, Mike Brown [real name: Mike Lookofsky], who helped out by cleaning up and occasionally sitting in as a session pianist. Mike began bringing in his teenage friends who tinkered with drums, guitars, amplifiers, the Steinway piano, and anything else they might find. Except for Mike, who had a background in classical piano, none of them were top musicians. But they could sing, especially one guy named Steve Martin.

By 1966 they started to call themselves the Left Banke. In addition to Mike and Steve, they included Rick Brand on lead guitar, Tom Finn on bass, and drummer George Cameron. Finn brought his girlfriend to the studio one day when the group had assembled for a practice session. She was a 5′ 6″ teenager with platinum blond hair. Mike Brown was infatuated with her the instant he saw her. Her name was Renee Fladen.

The group had begun recording songs, and Harry was particularly impressed with Steve Martin’s voice. Mike wrote a song about Renee. Although there was never anything between the two, Mike was fascinated by her and pictured himself standing at the corner of Hampton and Falmouth Avenues in Brooklyn with Renee, beneath the “One Way” sign. In his fantasy, he was telling her to walk away.

Harry played all the string parts on the Left Banke record Walk Away Renee. With Mike on the harpsichord and Steve Martin’s strong vocal performance, the song was a good one with a different type of sound to it. It came to be known as baroque rock, a style of music that included songs such as the Yardbirds’ For Your Love.

Harry took the song to ten different record companies before Smash Records picked it up. It entered the pop charts in the Fall of 1966 and remained there for ten weeks, peaking at number five. Early the next year the Left Banke followed up with another song written by Mike Brown called Pretty Ballerina, and it reached number fifteen.


As for Renee, she moved to Boston with her family shortly after the Left Banke recorded Walk Away Renee, and no one in the group ever saw her again.

Dawn Eden, who is described on Amazon as “a Jewish-born rock journalist turned salty Christian blog queen,” claimed credit on her blog, The Dawn Patrol, for unearthing Renee’s whereabouts, at least as of the time of her posting the information in 2003. Renee Fladen-Kamm is a classical singer and vocal teacher in the Bay Area, who was a member of a medieval English music ensemble, The Sherwood Consort, although does not appear to be a member now. I can find no photo of Renee anywhere on the Internet; not on one of the numerous obsessed Left Banke fan sites, nor on any sites devoted to her own music. Perhaps that’s understandable, and prescient on her part to stay away from cameras. The real-life models for other popular works of art — I’m thinking of Alice Liddell of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland — often wished their genius idolaters had never met them.

As for Michael Brown, nee Michael Lookofsky, he was described on this fanzine as

both brilliant and aware of his talent, but extremely nervous and very difficult to deal with -a clear evidence of this were his attempts to form different groups after The Left Banke, which he kept deserting due to differences with the other members or when he realised he wouldn’t be able to work comfortably. I tried to contact him but it was impossible; he’s currently living with his sister, who sees to it that no one reaches the musician.

I’ve loved “Walk Away Renee” since the first time I heard it 40 years ago on WABC. It came out during an outrageously fertile time for pop music. In the top ten during the same month were memorable hits like the Four Tops’ “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love,” the Association’s “Cherish,” Neil Diamond’s “Cherry Cherry,” the Monkees’ “Last Train to Clarksville,” plus some wacky one-hit wonders like “Psychotic Reaction” and “96 Tears.” What made a great pop hit in those days was the purity of emotion, and nothing was more affecting than this minor-key lament:

**(lyrics corrected…by the lyricist!)







As  I write, I have a music-obsessed 16-year-old son of my own. Every chance he gets, he sneaks onto his grandmother’s Mac to compose his own music on Garage Band, and otherwise contents himself with figuring out chords and melodies on a little electric keyboard, and multi-tracking his vocal harmonies on his own disappointingly Windows-based computer. Sometimes he’s inspired by girls, sometimes he’s inspired by the music that inspires him — these days it’s Broadway composers like Stephen Sondheim, but I still hear some Danny Elfman in there too. If he fantasizes about being famous, or writing a song that famous performers will sing 40 years from now, he’s never told me so. He writes music like he does everything else; because he feels like it and can’t stop himself. It’s not a job.

That’s what I imagine Michael Brown was like, too. He just had to write those songs about Renee, and when she was gone from his life, essentially he was done.


Owen Wilson Comes Out of Hiding

Steely Dan’s PR gambit grows another leg:

Owen Wilson has denied any connection between his new movie, “You, Me and Dupree,” and ’70s supergroup Steely Dan, a spokesman for the actor said Friday.

The band recently posted a letter on their Web site claiming that Wilson’s Dupree character was based on their Grammy-winning song, “Cousin Dupree,” about a couch-hopping houseguest.

In a statement released by his spokeswoman, Ina Treciokas, Wilson said: “I have never heard the song `Cousin Dupree’ and I don’t even know who this gentleman, Mr. Steely Dan, is. I hope this helps to clear things up and I can get back to concentrating on my new movie, `HEY 19.'”

How to Turn a Cruddy Movie Into a PR Opportunity, the Steely Dan Way

steelydan.jpgWendy McCaw, Mayor Villaraigosa, you may now bow down to your PR masters: The venerable bards of Henry Mancini-esque rock, Steely Dan. All morning, I’ve been trying to get on the Steely Dan website to read the now-famous “Open Letter to the Great Comic Actor, Luke Wilson,” and couldn’t get through for all the traffic. This goof has gotten the Dan more mainstream publicity than anything they’ve done since the band’s inception in 1972.

Perfect timing: Steely Dan is on a summer tour with Michael McDonald, and without a new CD to generate reviews and other clips.

The letter’s conceit is that Luke’s brother Owen Wilson has “gotten himself mixed up with some pretty bad Hollywood schlockmeisters,” who, they say, stole the idea for the flop “You, Me and Dupree” from Steely Dan’s song about a lustful loser, “Cousin Dupree,” “and then,” according to the letter, “when it came time to change the character’s name or whatever so people wouldn’t know what a rip the whole thing was, THEY DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER TO THINK UP A NEW FUCKING NAME FOR THE GUY.”

The letter is hard to quote because it’s a graphic object that you can’t copy and paste from (which will force everyone to go onto the group’s website and read about the tour, another good PR maneuver!). What makes it priceless is how they adopt the shambling, stoned blather that Owen Wilson has foisted upon the American public through innumerable talk-show appearances, and that writers for Owen Wilson’s movies have now learned to ape.

But underneath the sunny, “it’s all good” patter lurks the trademark Steely Dan menace their fans have grown to know and love through songs like “Daddy Don’t Live in That New York City No More,” and “Gaslighting Abbie”:

Anyway, they got your little brother on the hook for this summer stinkbomb of a movie — I mean, check the reviews — and he’s using all his heaviest Owen C. licks to try and get this pathetic way-unfunny debacle off the ground and, in the end, no matter what he does or what happens at the box office, in the short run, he’s gonna go down hard for selling out like this and for trashing the work of some pretty heavy artists like us in the process. You know yourself, man, that what goes around comes around — that’s like the first fucking thing you learn, right? Instant karma is a fact, Jack. So your spaced-out little bro is generating some MAJOR harsh-ass karma for himself by fucking us over like this — I mean, we’re like totally out in the cold on this one — no ASCAP, no soundtrack, no consultant gig…. No phone call, no muffin basket, no flowers, nothing.

luke-and-owen.jpgThe threats mount until finally they offer Luke an opportunity to help Owen avoid tangling with “this guy who works for us sometimes…you know what a Navy Seal is, right? Well, this dude’s like that, only he’s Russian”: Send him to appear at Steely Dan’s Irvine concert to apologize, “and then he can get back to his life and his family and his beautiful moviestar-style pad or whatever, none the worse for wear….” Oh, they’ll throw in some Steely Dan “merch” and “if he wants to sit in” he can “bring his bongos.”

Hilarious, and it did the job. America now knows that Steely Dan is on tour. The Irvine show was actually last week, and I didn’t hear whether Owen Wilson showed up or not. In fact, I haven’t heard much of anything from the Owe-ster in a couple weeks…

How Not To Handle a Mildly Embarassing Story: The Mayor’s Rock Star Memo

fish-supper.jpgI would love it, frankly, if I had a staff of people who showed up everywhere I was going 30 minutes in advance to make sure I would be served lean chicken or fish, no starches or sweets, and green tea (hold the four packages of Splenda, thanks), who made sure my breath smelled minty, secured me a parking spot and a place to sit and always, always remained in my line of sight in case I wanted to shoot them a meaningful look, a look that says, “I need you. I want you. Bring a Sharpie.”

Apparently Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa feels just the same way I do. So much so that he had someone memorialize his wish list in a memo. Good idea. Since it’s so easily available on the web, I just might copy it for my own use. In case I get a staff, so I’ll be all set.

What I wouldn’t do, if I were the mayor, is tell my staff to deny what anyone can see with their own two eyes.

Deputy Communications Director Joe Ramallo downplayed the significance of the instructions, calling them “suggested guidelines” that carried over from the mayor’s two years on the City Council.

“Give me a break,” Ramallo said. “This is a mayor who is more engaged and active around the city than any other in L.A.’s history. By the standards of most officeholders who have much larger staffs, he is not tightly choreographed. You’ve seen him in action.”

Villaraigosa’s exacting attention to detail can include impatience at those who foul him up. He grew visibly frustrated last week when a translation system failed to work adequately during a town hall meeting in South Los Angeles. “Fix it,” he barked.

Not only are the mayor’s specifications spelled out in the kind of detail usually reserved for Martha Stewart’s recipes or plans to build a stealth bomber, but the reporter provides examples of Villaraigosa losing his temper if his needs aren’t met. The outbursts happened right in front of him.

So why, why, would Ramallo try to sell the idea that the mayor’s instructions are just “suggested guidelines?”

He wasn’t going to stop the story. It was too good to pass up, and if Times reporter Duke Helfand didn’t run with it, someone else would. As he wrote, the memo was reminiscent of those icky memos from rock stars that show up on websites like The Smoking Gun:

Some date the current wave of celebrity pampering to a mischievous act by a hard-rock band.

The group Van Halen once placed a clause in its contract requiring bowls of M&M candy, with the brown ones plucked out. The Rolling Stones responded a year later by demanding candy bowls filled only with brown M&Ms. From there, the practice took hold — Britney Spears, for one, demanded full-length mirrors and Pop Tarts in her dressing room — and has eventually crept into politics as well.

Vice President Dick Cheney asks that his hotel room TVs be tuned to Fox News, while Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) crafted similarly picayune requests of hosts during his presidential campaign — right down to his preference for noncarbonated bottled water.

Hey, it could have been worse. He could have compared Villaraigosa’s list to Jennifer Lopez’ demand that her extra-large trailer be filled with white flowers, white candles and white sofas.

listerine-paks-strips.jpgSo why is Ramallo so defensive? What is the point of denying what is plainly true? The mayor is particular. He’s busy, and he’s on the move all day. He doesn’t like surprises. He needs a certain comfort level in order to govern the second biggest, second most-complicated city in America. The city is paying his staff to take care of details so he can do his job, which doesn’t include tracking down Sharpies. What would be so damaging about just saying that?

You make any story worse, from a PR perspective, if you act like the truth is Kryptonite. You’re better off explaining the truth in ways people will understand. Villaraigosa is not the part-time mayor of a small township in Rhode Island. But by trying to re-cast his staffing specs as “guidelines,” Ramallo is telling us, via subtext, that the mayor wants to be seen as something he’s not. That ends up leaving a more troubling impression than the mayor’s passion for Listerine strips.

Santa Barbara News-Press: How Not to Handle a PR Crisis

Wendy McCaw, controversial owner of the Santa Barbara News-Press, parted company with San Francisco PR man Sam Singer about a week ago, and her new spokesperson is Agnes Huff of LA. But there is no discernable change in McCaw’s public relations strategy yet as today’s missive, reported by Kevin Roderick in LA Observed, demonstrates.

Now, the basic job of a PR advisor when a client is having a crisis is to help the client overcome his or her natural reticence to own up to problems, admit mistakes or even wrongdoing, and explain to the public what will be done to correct the problem. The reason a course of action like this is considered “good PR” is that it shifts the focus of the story to the future — what you’re going to do to fix things — while ending the cycles of revelation, denial and admission concerning the past. The client who takes that advice henceforward owns up to the events of the past, takes whatever heat derives from that and, to use the cliche, “moves on.”

Wendy McCaw does not seem ready to “move on,” and thus, her critics also will not move on. Here are some of the things she says, with comments:

First and foremost, this is not a freedom of the press issue. I completely support the rights of a free press. I always have and I always will. It is one of the reasons I bought the paper. I support and understand the need for separation between the editorial, news and advertising pages. There is no place for personal opinion or agendas in news coverage.

She supports separation in principle, but she does not deny or even reference the fact that editorial decisions on two sensitive matters — Rob Lowe’s planning commission fight, and Travis Armstrong’s DUI conviction — were taken away from the editors by McCaw. Does she now think this was a mistake? Or is she challenging the truth of these widely-reported facts?

Violations of our paper’s policies and standards are what brought on this conflict. As owner and co-publisher, it was my responsibility to step in and handle this internal matter.

This appears to be an allusion to the alleged policy that would have prevented publication of Rob Lowe’s address, even though Lowe’s address appears on public documents and was stated repeatedly during cable TV coverage of the planning meeting. Reporters who were disciplined for publishing his address claim no such policy previously existed, which means it wasn’t a “policy” at all, but an ad hoc reaction to a phone call from Rob Lowe.  To be disciplined for violating a non-existent policy strikes most people as unfair.

If the facts are otherwise, McCaw could simply produce a piece of paper in which the “no-addresses” policy was outlined for the editorial staff. She has not done so.  Alternately, she could admit there was no policy, and reverse the disciplinary actions.  Thus far, however, McCaw has admitted no mistakes whatsoever.

Let me take a moment to clear the air about the cease and desist letters that were sent out by the paper. One letter went to three former employees and the other to the Santa Barbara Independent. The letter to the employees was based on the company’s confidentiality policy, something almost all organizations have in place. That policy clearly states that proprietary and confidential information concerning the internal operations of the paper and internal matters may not be disclosed to our competitors or publicly, even after resigning. All employees are aware of this policy and have respected it to our knowledge, with the exception of those who resigned. In the case of the Independent, there was no question that they published material that belonged to the News-Press without permission in direct violation of copyright law. When we raised this, their attorneys quickly agreed to remove all News-Press copyrighted material.

Fair enough and true enough, but this misses the point, doesn’t it? Assuming Ms. McCaw was within her legal rights to issue cease-and-desist letters, the question remains, was this the appropriate way for the publisher of the city’s only daily newspaper to conduct business at this time? The effect of the letters was to supress news coverage of what was happening at the newspaper. The reference to the copyrighted material is especially rich. She’s trying to make this an intellectual property issue? Don’t give George W. Bush any ideas — he might sue the New York Times for leaking “copyrighted” material from the NSA.

One of the basic tenets of good reporting is that there are always two sides to every story. Up to now, most of you have only heard the attacks being hurled at the News-Press by those with other agendas besides journalism. That’s over now.

Good plan. But the problem is, McCaw and her deputies have been striving to supress coverage of this story, and have failed to document any of the counter-assertions they have made throughout this controversy. If she means she will begin acting in a more transparent manner from now on, this will be applauded. If.

I would like to personally thank all of our loyal advertisers and readers for staying with us through this difficult time. I am gratified that in July, our new subscriptions exceeded cancellations, resulting in a net subscription increase of 406. While the vocal minority has tried to make a lot of noise, the quiet majority are showing their support.

Transparency, please. Yes, this information is proprietary, and under normal circumstances, none of our business. But these are not normal times. It is easy to say the advertisers and subscribers are sticking by the News-Press. At this point, she probably needs to prove it. She won’t be given the benefit of the doubt.

Many years ago I accepted the fact that the difficult decisions I must make as owner and co-publisher do not make me popular. I am not running a popularity contest. I am running a newspaper. I will always do what I think is best for the News-Press and our community.

Fair enough and true enough. But the perception is, McCaw caved into pressure from a wealthy celebrity, which is inconsistent with the stance depicted here of a brave publisher doing what is best for the newspaper and the community. She has yet to explain the reasons behind any of her “difficult decisions,” other than various innuendo that she has yet to either clarify or apologize for.

If McCaw thinks this letter resolves her painful, damaging PR problems, she’s mistaken. She’s prolonging them. I doubt this letter is consistent with any professional PR advice she’s been getting. If I’m right, she should start listening to the counsel of the people she’s paying, or else this battle will be endless.  She’ll still own the paper, so in that sense, McCaw wins no matter what.  But neither she, nor the News-Press, will be trusted, and that will have a corrosive effect on every aspect of the business.

“End Times”: Imagine a World With No Lollipops

It’s hot, I’m slow, I only got to this story this morning, but I was not exactly charmed by it:shock.jpg

STEAL a toddler’s lollipop and he’s bound to start bawling, was photographer Jill Greenberg’s thinking. So that’s just what Greenberg did to elicit tears from the 27 or so 2- and 3-year-olds featured in her latest exhibition, “End Times,” recently at the Paul Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles. The children’s cherubic faces, illuminated against a blue-white studio backdrop, suggest abject betrayal far beyond the loss of a Tootsie Pop; sometimes tears spill onto naked shoulders and bellies.

The work depicts how children would feel if they knew the state of the world they’re set to inherit, explained Greenberg, whose own daughter is featured in the show. “Our government is so corrupt, with all the cronyism and corporate lobbyists,” she said. “I just feel that our world is being ruined. And the environment — when I was pregnant, I kept thinking that I’d love to have a tuna fish sandwich, but I couldn’t because we’ve ruined our oceans.”

What nonsense! Jill Greenberg is living in the lap of the lap of luxury, and she thinks it’s “end times.” What a gassy title for her exhibit — claiming for herself the final word before the curtain comes down.

Oh, how I wish there was a time machine, so I could take Greenberg back to, say, New York in the so-called Gilded Age, or London in the 1830s, or really almost anytime in history prior to her own cozy lifespan. Mozart had six siblings; he was one of two to survive infancy, and that was a common ratio, even among relatively comfortable families like his, until only about 100 years ago. If a stolen lollipop is Greenberg’s metaphor for the cruelties that our society will visit upon the next generation of children, she is completely ignorant of history.

The future’s so bright for our society’s kids, on the whole, they won’t even notice the lollipop is missing. There is plenty to worry about, of course, and any parent worries for their child’s fate. 9/11 will happen again. Wars won’t stop, and the weapons of mass destruction loom as a threat. And then, as Kurt Vonnegut put it, there’s “plain old death,” dogging all our steps. But as a society, we are heading into a period of unimaginable prosperity, when many festering problems will find sustainable solutions.

Before you get the vapors, be assured: I’m no denier of global warming. We have a lot of environmental problems, serious ones. And fortunately, we have serious people investing their lives in addressing them. On this blog, I honor the scientists who are working to understand, characterize and hopefully reverse global warming. But I have less respect for people like Jill Greenberg, who prefer to wallow in the apocalypse.

In terms of human impact, the environmental conditions that Jill Greenberg or her toddler are likely to encounter anytime in their lives will be enviable compared with what most people in the history of the world have faced. The bleakest environments are in the poorest countries, there is no scenario in which her child will face those conditions unless she volunteers to do so. There is such hubris in her saying “we’ve ruined our oceans.” Sure, the oceans are polluted. But be grateful that your child is growing up at a time when scientists are able to monitor environmental conditions, and people can organize globally for change. Greenberg acts like she’s just discovered this problem — epiphanies of a tunafish sandwich — and nothing’s being done. Which is partly true. She, herself, is doing nothing. She’s taking pictures and trying to depress people. What good does that do?

jp-morgan.jpgLikewise the incantations of “corrupt…cronyism…corporate lobbyists..,” like that’s something new and unique to our era. Is she serious? Is she saying this in a national publication like the LA Times? Let me throw a few names at her: Boss Tweed. Mark Hanna. J.P. Morgan. Albert Fall. Billy Sol Estes. Bobby Baker. Richard Nixon. Spiro Agnew. Thomas Keating. All of these names and many more are in Wikipedia if she wants to look them up.

Just to pick a juicy one: Is she familiar with Sam Giancana? One president, Eisenhower, used the murderous Mafia chieftain in an attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro. Another future president’s father, Joseph Kennedy, got Giancana to help him wrangle labor votes for John Kennedy’s successful 1960 election. When Giancana was found years later with a bullet in his head, the CIA chief actually had to deny having anything to do with it. If there is a political scandal today that rivals two presidents trucking with a Mafia capo, I want to know about it.

Anywhere in the vicinity of money or power, Ms. Greenberg, you will find corruption, and that’s been true for 3,000 years. And yet, somehow, we keep making babies, and most of them grow up to enjoy the blessings of this rare and unusual planet.

Okay, but the story’s absurdity doesn’t stop there. It seems like the Internet has gotten ahold of Greenberg long before I did. The complaint? That she’s hopelessly naive? That she’s spoiled by prosperity? That’s she a doom-porn addict? No. They’re mad at her because she took the lollipops away from the kids before she photographed them in order to make them cry.

Bloggers such as Andrew Peterson called Greenberg’s lollipop technique abusive and exploitative, while Greenberg, her husband, Robert Green, and gallery owner Paul Kopeikin defended the work, the process and one another. The conversation, cycling between rational and hyperbolic, says as much about Net communication as about the art in question.

“Jill Greenberg is a Sick Woman Who Should Be Arrested and Charged With Child Abuse,” Peterson wrote under his pseudonym Thomas Hawk at, a blog that focuses on new media and technology. For Peterson, Greenberg’s technique was “evil.”

At this point, I change sides, and become Jill Greenberg’s defender. Child abuse? Is this man insane? When you pollute the English language by relating something as benign as a photographer’s trick to the hideous violence and cruelty visited upon children all over the world by abusive parents and other authority figures, you dishonor the real victims.

ball_clock.jpgBut the vortex of stupidity didn’t stop there. Greenberg’s husband, Robert Green was so offended by the comments on that he searched until he found the real identity of the previously anonymous blogger, and outed him. As if the idiocy of his comments wasn’t enough to hang him! He had to be cyber-stalked?

We’re in a bad stretch in the politicized culture of America. It might not be the “end times,” but I still wish I had my lollipop.