The Call had pretty much everything a rock’n’roll band would want: a taut and original sound, support from masters (the Band’s Garth Hudson, who you’ll see in the first video clip below, was a de facto member of the band in the early ’80s), and, in Michael Been, a distinctive and original songwriter and singer who could take on matters of the heart and politics with similar authority and surprise (vocal similarities to David Byrne didn’t hurt, either). What the Call didn’t have, unfortunately, was hit records, although that didn’t stop Been from having a long and diverse career, including a small but important role in The Last Temptation of Christ and having one of his songs (see second video clip below) made the theme song of Al Gore’s 2000 campaign. (I worked briefly with Been in ’91 when I wrote the liner notes and helped compile a set of the band’s best work for Mercury.) Been died on Friday, of a heart attack, at a rock festival in Belgium, where he was serving as the sound man for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, a group that features his son Robert.
Been has fascinated me for years: for the quality of his work, for his ability to continue doing engaging work even after it was clear that he was not going to be the rock star he deserved to be, for his kindness and openness when we worked together, and for his ability to unite, in a fashion, his personal and professional worlds by working with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. He seemed, from a distance (we spoke maybe three times in the past decade), a full man despite his being a credible rock’n’roller, something none of us see all that often.
“The Walls Came Down”
“Let the Day Begin”