Look at them – just look at them. They’re so sweet looking, what girl in her right mind wouldn’t want to date The Left Banke? With their mix of baroque pop and garagey rawness, their cute hairdos and stylish clothes, they seem so ideal.
But, hang on a minute… if you listen a little closer, the music that sounds so lovely (which I adore) is coupled with lyrics that reveal just why The Left Banke would make bad boyfriends. Don’t believe me? Look at this:
1) Walk Away Renée – You feel sorry for the lovelorn guy who wrote these words – this Renée doesn’t seem to care that he’s heartbroken and pining for her. But maybe that’s because Renée already has a boyfriend (Tom Finn) and this guy (Michael Brown) knows it. Kind of creepy, then, to hear that line, “…You won’t see me follow you back home.” He was probably standing outside her window peering in with his hungry eyes – eek! He’s even written Renée’s name and his in a heart upon the wall, as if they’re dating. That’s very scary indeed!
This is a photo of the actual Renée
2) I Haven’t Got The Nerve – Okay, granted Mr Left Banke seems to be saying that he thinks his girlfriend never loved him anyway but in this song he’s also saying he hasn’t got the nerve to tell her the relationship is over and that he doesn’t love her anymore. I wonder if he’s saying “It won’t hurt to see me gone” to excuse himself for the fact that he wants out because he “can’t take much more”. It doesn’t sound like a healthy approach to relationships, does it? If it’s not working out, either work on it or finish it, no need to hem and haw over it – and don’t be a coward about it!
3) Pretty Ballerina – There’s nothing worse than boys who have these ideals of women – you know you’re never going to match their ideals and they’ll be disappointed with you for that reason. The most annoying thing about it all is their ideal woman just doesn’t exist – even if a woman meets the physical ideal, there’s bound to be something wrong with her personality that means she doesn’t quite conform to the image of perfection. In this case the Pretty Ballerina is Mr Left Banke’s ideal woman “with hair so brilliant that it hurt [his eyes]”. Either the Pretty Ballerina exists or she doesn’t exist, I can’t make my mind up on this point. Mr Left Banke says he had a date with her and danced with her, but in the final verse he seems to be closing his eyes so he can summon up this idealised image of a woman. I’m thinking maybe she’s like Renée – someone Mr Left Banke has seen in real life, but not necessarily someone he has actually engaged with; he just dreams about dating her. A bit like in René Clair’s film Les Belles de Nuit. Before long he’ll just be wanting to go to bed so he can summon her up again and he won’t actually be living at all, except in his dreams. Forget the Pretty Ballerina and get a real girlfriend, I say!
4) Let Go of You Girl – Again, Mr Left Banke’s not happy with his girlfriend – that’s fine in itself but it’s just the way he puts his views across about the relationship: I’ve got to make you see / You’re not the girl for me / And I will prove it to you / So that you will see / I will let go of you girl. How exactly does he propose to make this girl see that she’s not the girl for him? It all sounds a bit harsh to me, showing her “that things are really bad / The things that you have said / The words that make me mad”. It’s all her fault, isn’t it? And I suppose he’s going to relentlessly tell her all the things she has done wrong before he dumps her. The worst thing about it all is he knows she is going to be upset about it and seems to revel in telling her “You’re gonna cry” – to the extent that he repeats it 18 times during the song. He’s really definite on that point, then. Ouch!
5) What Do You Know – And when the boot’s on the other foot, Mr Left Banke doesn’t seem to like it one bit… This time he’s been dumped and it would seem with good reason, given the attitude he’s taking: How can you say that I’m to blame / You’re the one that isn’t quite the same / Think on it girl, think on it girl / What do you know? Um, she knows that she doesn’t want to date him anymore, that’s what she knows. Saying things like “I feel as though, I’d like to know, What did I do? …I ask you, how can you tell me that we’re through? I’ve seen the world more than you. How can you tell me to my face, You’ve found someone else to take my place?” does not strengthen his case for reconsideration. Claiming you don’t know what you’ve done is not a point in your favour; it just shows that you’re insensitive. Having seen more of the world than someone else does not make you wiser or more of a catch either. Clearly. And, yes, I can understand the shock that she’s made the decision to dump him for someone else, but that’s only because Mr Left Banke either “hasn’t got the nerve” to do any dumping himself or because when he does dump a girl, he decides to stick the knife in and make her cry. This girl just decided to be honest with him and finish it, that’s all.
It’s interesting what you find when you deconstruct stuff – but with The Left Banke’s songs, you can put the pieces back together and they are still perfect after they’ve been reconstructed. They are one of my favourite bands ever and the first Left Banke album, Walk Away Renée / Pretty Ballerina, from which all of the above songs come, is one of my all-time favourites so don’t think I am disrespecting The Left Banke – I love them.
The best Left Banke item in my collection is my Pretty Ballerina / Lazy Day 7” with a picture cover. Some idiot drew a big line on the cover with felt tip and it was quite expensive but it’s so rare to see the singles with picture covers that I couldn’t resist buying it anyway.
The Left Banke have been doing some gigs over the last couple of years and there’s currently a campaign online to get them to come over to London to play here – I really hope they do come over so I can finally see them. Go to this webpage and click yes if you want The Left Banke to do a UK gig: http://stevomusicman.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/the-left-banke-london/ As StevoMusicMan says, “dreams can come true!”
Aside from the picture of my Left Banke 7″, the rest of the photographs are taken from Shindig! magazine (Quarterly No 3, 2011) , which includes an extensive article about the band with loads of rare photographs. If you’ve not read the article yet I’d recommend tracking down a copy of this magazine as it’s very informative and makes excellent reading.