Monday, August 23, 2010

Michael Been of The Call Died Recently

Well they blew the horns/
And the walls came down/
They'd all been warned/
And the walls came down...

This is, sadly, another tragic reminder that we are all mortal.  And yeah, it sounds petty, but The Call was a band I knew and liked.  So this is a death that hits closer to home than most other celebrity passings...

The Call was one of the early 80s New Wave bands out of California (although two of the bandmates, Been especially, hailed from Oklahoma).  They had some decent success but nothing that was chart-topping, more of a cult fave among the hip kids among the Gen-X crowd, and among their fellow rock artists they'd impressed.  You'd probably remember them from this video:

Pretty much their best-known song, although Everywhere I Go, I Still Believe, and Let The Day Begin were well-known minor hits.

From The Walls Came Down video, you'd think The Call were just another Protest Band from the dying days of the L.A. Punk scene.  Not really.  Most of their songs tend to be spiritual, almost Christian in lyrical tone.  But it wasn't the hard evangelical Christianity they evoked: what they sang came out as moral outrage against corruption of power and the forces of darkness:

Sanctuary fades, congregation splits/
Nightly military raids, the congregation splits/
It's a song of assassins, ringin' in your ears/
We got terrorists thinking, playing on fears...

Finding an article online about The Call's Christian stylings wasn't hard:
Unlike much of "contemporary Christian music," The Call uses no religious rhetoric and attempts no proselytizing. Their style is at once driving, confrontational, rhythm-oriented, vulnerable and self-deprecating... Their records show not a trace of the self-righteous theologizing and Bible-quoting that ruins so much "Christian music."  Instead, the band has consciously chosen to use gripping and gritty images of conflict, cataclysm and deliverance, giving their music a genuinely provocative sense of the suffering, struggle and vision of their spiritual adventure. Been and keyboardist Jim Goodwin say this complexity reflects their belief that life contains extremes that cannot be addressed with a pat approach. Almost every one of their songs describes battles with the weapons of love and reconciliation, passing through death to life again in the span of a song. Been says his songwriting hammers away at the spiritual indifference in his own life, and his search for spiritual answers. Sounding a little like a voice crying in the wilderness, he said, "I just keep writing the same song over and over..."

I don't think there are any Russians/
And there ain't no Yanks/
Just corporate criminals/
Playin' with tanks...

This is the closing stanza from The Walls Came Down: moral outrage at the hypocrisy of global politics in four simple lines.  Me and my brothers whenever we'd hear this song would shout out the last two lines, easily remembered and easily repeated.  But those just weren't cool words of protest to chant, like we were screaming "Fuck 'em all" during any other godawful 80s Punk song.  The Call, and Michael Been, were trying to preach to us, letting us know who the enemy is.  Not the Russians.  Not us Yanks.  Just the Corporate Criminals.

If only the Teabagger Crowd grokked that and started railing against Wall Street instead of Pennsylvania Ave.

Safe journey for your soul into the Afterlife, Michael Been.  Say hey to Emperor Norton for me.

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