Monday, December 8, 2003

UPDATED'Left' Behind

"And when I see the sign that points 'One Way'..."

Roy Currlin, my nemesis in all things Abercrombie & Fitch, has done an immeasurably good deed for mankind—or at least those readers of this blog who love the Left Banke.

He has made a pilgrimage to Falmouth Street and Hampton Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, to photograph the corner immortalized by 16-year-old genius Michael Brown in the Left Banke's 1966 classic "Walk Away Renee." As Brown revealed for the first time in a 1986 interview with me, that was the corner he had in mind when he wrote his poptastic depiction of unrequited love. The "lot [he] used to pass by every day" was there, a place where he had childhood memories of playing with praying mantises that would land right in his hand. When you think about it, the song was preternaturally mature for a writer who was, at 16, barely out of childhood himself.

(Co-writer Bob Calilli, who was a little older than Brown, also claims credit for the "One Way" symbol. He told me for Mojo's "100 Greatest Songs" issue that he was trying to encapsulate a feeling of unregainable innocence; how the one-way streets of his childhood had gone two-way, and the flagstone streets changed to cement.)

So here, then—across the street at the same intersection—is Roy in the place of Brown, letting Renee walk away, without following her back home. (At least, she won't see him do so.) As you can see, the empty sidewalk on his block is not the same. Blame Canada.

UPDATE: It turns out the photo above has more "Renee" significance than I'd realized. Roy writes: "'The lot we used to pass by' was on the southeast corner of Falmouth and Hampton, a corner I didnt photograph because there's no street sign there. You can see it in the background of the photo of me and the street sign. Several houses now sit on the lot."

And if You Believe That, I've Got a 'Bridge' to Sell You...

It's a double dose of pop on The Dawn Patrol today, as my search for my "Walk Away Renee" writings led me to an interview I did with Art Garfunkel by telephone for Mojo's "100 Greatest Singles" issue, about Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." I have done so many interviews that sometimes I forget how mindblowing some of them were for me, having the experience of asking my most treasured artists how they created records that are indelibly imprinted on my psyche. Here's how Garfunkel described the making of the single:

"Paul showed me this two-verse song. He accommodated some high notes by using his falsetto, which I always thought was flutey and nice. So I said, 'Brilliant song, Paul, a great chance to show off your falsetto. He said, 'No, Artie, I wrote it for you.' I said, 'Cool!'

"Spector's production of the Righteous Brothers' 'Ol' Man River' was actually our model. Bill Medley sings the first 98 percent with just a piano; only on the last line do the other instruments come in. We were crazy about that notion. That's why, when we were recording 'Bridge,' it suddenly occurred to me, this is not a two-verse song. This is a Phil Spector thing that opens up in the third verse.

"So first came low strings, then a bass, then Hal Blaine's drums. Then Paul and me, going into two-part harmony, we double our voices—'Sail on, silver girl'—and everything's like a rocket taking off.

"We thought it an album cut. But Columbia president Clive Davis said, 'No, it's bigger than that. It's the title of your album, it's your first single.'"