Portrait of the Muse as a Young Woman

Not many women can hear a song on the radio and credibly say, "That's MY song! It was written about ME!" The young lady in the picture, however, can do so about not just one song, but at least three. And thereby hangs a tale.

Let me start at the beginning. One of my favorite musical groups is the Bangles, especially Susanna Hoffs. Last summer, I learned that she had done a new CD of duets with Matthew Sweet, a collection of fifteen classic rock and pop tunes from the 1960s titled Under the Covers, Vol. 1. I ordered it from Amazon.com and it quickly became one of my favorite CDs. Some of the songs were familiar, some obscure for anyone who wasn't in touch with the music scene during the 1960s. One of the songs, which quickly became the top-rated song on my iPod, was "She May Call You Up Tonight," which was originally done by The Left Banke.

Now, I was unfamiliar with The Left Banke, but fortunately Wikipedia had an article about them. Their biggest hit was "Walk Away Renee," which peaked at #5 on the pop charts in the fall of 1966. Wikipedia explains:
"Walk Away Renée" is a song made popular by the band The Left Banke in 1966 (single release: July 1966, Smash Records), composed by the group's keyboard player Michael Brown (real name Michael Lookofsky). The song was also a chart hit for The Four Tops in 1968.

The song is one of a number Brown wrote about Renee Fladen-Kamm, girlfriend of The Left Banke's bassist Tom Finn and object of Brown's affection. Other songs written about her include the band's second hit "Pretty Ballerina" and "She May Call You Up Tonight". After decades of obscurity, she was identified in 2001 as a noted singer, vocal teacher and artist on the West Coast.
I did some more searching and found Tom Simon's Walk Away Renee page. He expanded on the story:

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.

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.
Then I found this post from John Stodder's blog back in July: Renee's Still Walking Away, 40 Years On (Be sure to click on this link if you'd like to watch the video of "Walk Away Renee" at the bottom of his post!) He notes:
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.
I was a bit disappointed that there were no pictures of her. I was curious about what the muse looked like, the girl who inspired those songs of unrequited love. And I thought that was the end of it, that my curiosity would go unsatisfied.

Until, by chance, I went back to that blog post a couple of days ago and there was a new comment from December from a man named Phil Garrou. He has a web page dedicated to the members of his junior high school class, and during the search to find some of them, he learned that one had gone on to work with The Left Banke. Mr. Garrou got in touch with the Yahoo! Left Banke fan group and was able to locate his classmate in Florida. He noted in his comment that he had a picture of then 16-year-old Renee Fladen on his web site, which he had obtained from the Left Banke fan group. It was difficult to find it on his site, but after some searching, I found the picture you see at the top of this post. Sort of like finding a picture of Helen of Troy, only in this case, it was the face that launched a thousand turntables.

I guess the best way to put it is to borrow a line from Jerry Garcia: What a long, strange trip it's been! You never knew where an internet search is going to take you.