I was stunned to find out tonight that Michael Been died a few months ago. He hadn’t been making music (at least for public consumption) in quite a few years, but it is safe to say that no other artist captured my attention as much as Michael Been did from the early eighties until he stopped recording with his band, The Call in the mid-nineties. Tonight, as the iPod shuffled, the Call album Modern Romans started playing. It stands up, still. I thought I’d check and see if the Call might have decided to record some new music and saw Been’s memorial page. Of all my friends–music lovers, many of them–I think I was the only one to ever love the Call. I don’t know why. I can’t understand why they never made it at least a little larger than they did. Perhaps it was because Been wrote fiery songs about injustice and faith and doubt and political inequity and didn’t shy away from asking the listener tough questions. He was a religious man and many of his songs would probably be well recieved by Christian listeners, but his was not an easy, hands-off belief. He had Bob Dylan’s righteous Christian anger and Bono’s rousing call-to-arms and he was mystical and hopeful and ornery and he did it all why playing the hell out of a fretless bass and leading a band that would blow your socks off.
Once, in 1986, they came to DC and played the Bijou. I couldn’t get anyone to go up there with me so I went by myself. I drove my mother’s big red Ford and parked down under the expressway and went into the club. At most, there were twenty people there to see the Call. But they played like it was a full house. Michael Been owned that stage. It lives as one of my favorite concerts. I was disappointed that I couldn’t convince my friends to see them with me, but in some ways, I’m glad it was just me. I know they had loyal and loving fans, but they always seemed like my band, my secret, and I could listen to Into the Woods or Scene Beyond Dreams or Red Moon or Reconciled or Let the Day Begin and feel like I was the only one in the world who knew how good the music was. Silly, I know, but an honest silliness. I’m very sad to hear of Been’s passing, and grateful for the soundtrack he provided me for huge chunks of my life. Here are some samples of his/The Call’s music: