One of my favorite musicians died yesterday. Michael Been had been the vocalist/bassist for The Call, a Bay Area band that went from spiky New Wave to rootsy Americana, while maintaining a spiritual edge throughout their careers.
I discovered The Call when I was in high school, thanks to alt-radio hit “The Walls Came Down.” Later, they would get attention for Reconciled, the 1986 album (yes, we had albums back then) that had what is probably their best known song, “I Still Believe (Great Design),” which was also covered in The Lost Boys. They were one of the few bands from whom I would anticipate releases, and I took Mrs. Mondo to see them on one of our early dates.
A few years later, I spent about 90 minutes interviewing Michael for an alternaweekly in Cincinnati. He was affable, thoughtful, and gracious, with a laid-back attitude that belied his onstage intensity and lyrical passion, and a drawl that hinted at his Oklahoma roots, even after years in Chicago and California. When I saw him a few weeks later at the Cincinnati concert, he was equally pleasant, taking plenty of time to talk to me, my wife and my friends. He was an absolute gentleman.
He was also a fine musician, wringing emotion out of an old Ampeg bass with an ease that caused a bassist I worked with to say “That guy plays bass more naturally than most people talk.” All the while, he maintained a deep spirituality, which moved from the anger of the band’s early albums to the optimism and family connections of his later work. He also found time to explore other paths, including playing the Apostle John in Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ.
After The Call ran its course, he worked with his son Robert’s band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, running sound, handling merch, and generally making things easier for the band. He was apparently doing that when he had a heart attack yesterday at a BRMC show. Reports differ as to his age, which was between 53 and 60. I’ll miss him, and even if you never heard of him, so will you.
Here’s to you, my little love
With blessings from above
Let the day begin, let the day begin,
Let the day start.