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An aspiring singer-songwriter gets a leg 'Up'

By Jen Chaney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009 12:00 AM

Kevin Renick is unemployed. He also happens to be one of the luckiest guys in the world. And he knows it.

Last year, Renick -- a 52-year-old who has dreamed his entire life of becoming a singer-songwriter -- was unexpectedly laid off from his day job as a proofreader at a St. Louis marketing firm. Still trying to find solid footing during the aftershock, he did what came naturally to him: he wrote a song about his sense of loss and uncertainty. And he called it "Up in the Air."

Only later did he realize that filmmaker Jason Reitman also was making a movie called "Up in the Air," that would be shot, in part, in Renick's hometown of St. Louis and would address, in part, job loss. Once he learned that -- and after he heard that Reitman was scheduled to speak at Webster University in that same city -- he knew he had only one option: get that guy a cassette tape.

"When I found out about that [speaking engagement] I thought I should really do a personal challenge here," Renick says. "So I sat up the night before his lecture and put down a couple of takes on a cassette recorder."

On that evening last February, he managed to connect with Reitman and deliver said tape to the "Juno" director.

"This guy walked up to me and said 'I wrote a song for your movie,' " Reitman remembers. "And he handed me an envelope. And I felt the size of the envelope. And I recognized it immediately. I said, 'Is this a cassette tape?' And he goes, 'Yeah.' I said, 'I don't know where I'm going to listen to this.'"

Fortunately, Reitman found a friend with a car that was old enough to house a cassette deck. There, he listened to Renick's song, which was preceded by a quick introduction that explained why he wrote it.

"What followed was not the most beautiful song ever written but it spoke in an authentic way about the idea of searching for purpose on a daily basis," Reitman says. "I thought it echoed the character [Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney] very nicely. Yeah, I knew immediately I was going to use it in the movie."

Now Renick finds himself with a song that plays during the closing credits of one of the most buzzed-about films of the year, and that appears on the soundtrack alongside, among other artists, his idols Neil Young and Crosby, Stills and Nash. He's also prepararing to release his own CD in January entitled "Close to Something Beautiful," and he is even picking up a few gigs here and there.

"Jason Reitman has really helped in that regard," he says. "He's opened some doors that would not have even been partially opened before ... I owe him a lot."

Of course, not everything in Renick's life revolves around dreams realized and Hollywood moments. His mother died earlier this year, a loss that remains extremely painful for him. And he's still without a full-time job.

"It's a very tricky thing," he says. "On one hand I can stand back and be so grateful to be part of a film like this, but the day-to-day reality of my life is something I still have to pay enough attention to. There are days when I still have to struggle to have gas in my car."

For now, though, Renick is trying to look up. He likes to think that with dedication and hard work, he could make some semblance of a living as a singer-songwriter. And no matter what, he knows he always has his "Up in the Air" moment to savor.

Of his musical good fortunate, Renick says with a laugh: "People say it's cosmic and your mom must've been pulling strings from the great beyond. Which is a nice thought."

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