In short order, you’ll be seeing my Random Roles with Michael McKean – who can currently be seen within the cast of Christopher Guest’s new HBO series, Family Tree, but when the piece pops up on the AV Club, it’ll be without the brief segment that you’re about to read.
Sometimes I just can’t resist asking a question that has no place in the piece I’m talking to someone about, and in this instance, I really wanted to know the truth about his connection the the ’60s baroque-pop band The Left Banke. There’s been a persistent rumor that McKean was in the line-up of the band for a very brief period, but it’s one of those odd little footnotes that I’d never actually heard or read him comment on, so I figured, what the hell, now’s my chance to get the truth straight from the horse’s mouth.
Me: Due to the recurring tendency of semi-truths to find their way onto Wikipedia and be claimed as fact, I was wondering if you could set the record straight on exactly what your connection was to the Left Banke. Were you actually a member of the band?
Michael McKean: No, but…okay, here’s what happened. The Left Banke put out a couple of singles. “Walk Away Renee” didn’t do anything, and then…I think “I Haven’t Got the Nerve,” maybe? I’m not sure what the second one was. But they did nothing. Then they made an album, “Pretty Ballerina” was on it, and… [Hesitates.] I’m not really sure of the way this shaped up, but, anyway, what happened was that the Left Banke’s first two singles didn’t do anything, but then all of a sudden “Walk Away Renee” did become a hit, and their career kind of started, and they put this album out, which had some really cool songs on it. But after that, everybody split it up. It was just a disaster. I don’t know what happened there.
But Mike Brown, who was the main composer and kind of the guy – he was something like 18 at the time and was a real prodigy – he put together a new version of the Left Banke, and it was me, Warren David on drums, and a guy named Bert Sommer on bass and mainly on lead vocals, because he had a voice that was kind of high-pitched like Steve Martin, who was the original lead singer, except that Bert had a much better voice. So we rehearsed for three months, we had our pictures taken as the New Left Banke, they recorded a single while I was there, but I did not play on it because I wasn’t very good. [Laughs.] I was 19 years old, I wasn’t much of a guitar player, so they got good studio guys to do it. I don’t even think Warren, my friend the drummer who got me into the band, even played on it. It was called “Ivy, Ivy.” So I was with the band and yet not with the band. “Ivy, Ivy” was released, and it was a complete dud. Nobody cared. It’s not a bad record, but it just didn’t happen. And then there were some squabbles.
Mike’s manager, our manager, was also Mike’s dad: Harry Lookofsky, a famous New York session man, string arranger, string leader, and violinist. He also went by the name of Hash Brown, as in Hash Brown and his Orchestra. But, anyway, that’s what happened: they had this big fight, party time was over, and they pulled the plug. And I grabbed as many instruments as I could, and the fancy new clothes that they got us, and I headed downtown and went back to school at NYU. [Laughs.]
So here’s the song that, despite what you may have read on Wikipedia, does not feature Michael McKean, followed by its B-side, “And Suddenly.” McKean’s right, it isn’t a bad record. And neither is its B-side, for that matter. But, y’know, this is coming from someone who can’t begin to tell you how many times he’s spun There’s Gonna Be a Storm: The Complete Recordings 1966–1969, so you’ll want to take my opinion with a grain of salt, I reckon.