Michael Been, lead singer of The Call, Dies at 60
Michael Been, the founder and lead singer of The Call, died of a heart attack yesterday in Hasselt, Belgium, where he had been providing technical assistance for his son Robert Levon Been’s band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. He was 60.
The Call was the most amazing band to emerge from Tulsa in the 1980s — both Been and drummer Scott Musick hailed from there — and as a kid growing up there when “Modern Romans” came out in 1983, I remember the rock station supporting the hell out of “The Walls Came Down,” but not really talking about the band’s local roots that much. The video was all over MTV, with Garth Hudson of the Band playing the organ in the background, and it was a rare song of substance on the radio at a time when extreme superficiality was being celebrated. Remember that this was at a time when the Cold War and the prospects of a nuclear winter were an ever-present concern for weird kids who watched the news, but while there were songs addressing that possibility on MTV and radio (Principally Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes”), Been was going deeper, exploring the Eisenhower “military industrial complex” through a wild-eyed sing-speak: “I don’t know if there are any Russians/ And there ain’t no Yanks/ Just corporate criminals playing with tanks.”
One metal chick on my school bus dismissed the song as “bubblegum,” mainly because it didn’t have power chords and it had that insistent, insane “na-na-na-na, na-na-na” coda, but most great political songs get over that way. Been brilliantly coated his rant in candy, and so it got heard. A lot. I loved that song and so many that followed, and 1986′s “Reconciled” was even stronger, featuring three superb songs, “Everywhere I Go,” “I Still Believe (Great Design)” and “Oklahoma,” which inspired the Oklahoma History Center’s exhibit, “Another Hot Oklahoma Night.” The Call’s excellence continued with “Let the Day Begin” and “Red Moon.”
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