Perhaps because I was an unusual kid, there are few phrases I find more distressing than “former prodigy.” Most obviously, it carries the notion of an already passed expiry date. As Harlan Ellison has observed in “The Cheese Stands Alone”, we probably shouldn’t know when the single greatest moment in our lives occurs or occurred — no one wants to find out that their finest instant was in a backyard baseball game at the age of eight.
Nonetheless, it’s a term I’ve heard applied to Michael Brown (ne Lookofsky), who met a garage band called The Left Banke when he was 16. The band’s demos failed to attract interest, but when their vocals were added to a track Brown had written about the bassist’s girlfriend, the result (released on Smash Records) lived up to the label’s name.
The band had a follow-up hit with Brown’s “Pretty Ballerina”, but the complicated arrangements (marketed as “baroque and roll”) were difficult to reproduce on the road, and Brown wasn’t that interested in touring anyway, preferring a Brian Wilson-style writing/recording existence. As a consequence, he departed from the band during the making of their second album, and really, both he and the band drifted into separate lanes of obscurity.
Mr. Brown died yesterday. He was 65.
I’d like to take a few minutes here to add two of my favorite compositions by Brown. The first is a Left Banke tune that occasionally gets played on Little Steven’s Underground Garage:
The other was from an East Coast group called Montage, with which Brown hooked up soon after departing The Left Banke. This track is a haunting mixture of twentieth-century dissonance and poignant lyrics, and although it has been compared to “Eleanor Rigby,” I think it may be significantly more adventurous.
Goodbye, Mr. Brown. Thanks for the songs.