Michael Been 1950-2010
It’s old news now, but I’m just finding out.
A little over a month ago, Michel Been died.
Michael Been was the lead singer, bass player and songwriter for The Call, a very well-respected and critically acclaimed rock group who found success primarily in the 1980s. Their most famous song was probably “Let the Day Begin,” from their album of the same name, released in 1989.
Michael was a brilliant, emotive, bold and thoughtful artist. His writing was always deeply honest and his vocals deeply felt. If you’ve ever heard him sing, you’ll always know his voice.
“Well, I know I’m gonna end in laughter,
said I know I’m gonna end in joy!”
I first heard The Call when I bought the aforementioned album, Let the Day Begin, about ten or so years ago. I had been reading Martin Scorsese: A Journey by Mary Pat Kelly, particularly focusing on the section about The Last Temptation of Christ. Michael was interviewed in the book because he played the Apostle John in the film. His sincere, gentle performance is one of my favourite things about that picture.
The book made mention of the band and a song Michael had written about his experience making the film called “For Love.” Immediately intrigued, I decided I would go out that day and find the album containing that song. It was an old album by a less than huge group, so I thought it would probably take some hunting. I went to one store.
The first record I picked up by The Call was Let the Day Begin. I flipped the CD over and saw the song title, “For Love.” It was one of those experiences I sometimes have where I feel almost Divinely guided to an album. I knew I would find the record that day – just knew it. And now I’d found it without hardly trying – an album whose name I hadn’t known by a band I’d only vaguely heard of.
I’d just moved out of my parents’ house and was living in a small, 600-square-foot loft. I hadn’t moved my CDs yet and decided not to for a while. So, Let the Day Begin became the only record I had for some time. I listened to it daily, letting Been’s rich, smooth baritone and The Call’s jangly guitars and synth – a sound moving somewhere between straightforward rock & roll and atmospheric, progressive rock – fill the tiny space. I was swept up utterly and completely by that album, moved by its blend of Americana and spirituality.
“You know, time don’t mean nothing but a burden to me,
so I’m free to be lifted on wings.”
Been’s lyrics were at once grounded and direct, while also expressing a poetic symbolism that made him sound equal parts American rocker and Native American mystic. While recounting his experience making The Last Temptation of Christ in the song “For Love,” Been blurs the lines between the natural and the spiritual, the real and the symbolic, the film’s Christ and the real Jesus. It’s among his greatest work. You can listen as you read.
The Call hasn’t played together in years. Even when they did, it was something of a reunion. Michael spent most of his time recently as the sound engineer for his son’s band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. In fact, it was backstage at one of the band’s shows that he died of a heart attack.
“Consumed with the fire of love’s fearless power,
I long for Your face in that great final hour!”
It’s a sad, awful loss, but at least it’s good to know that the man who sang of “walking in the Spirit, singing with the Heavenly choir,” is now doing just that.
As conveyed in his music, Michael’s faith was sometimes a struggling, tortured, even lonely thing. But ultimately, his hope was always sure. His joy was at least as potent as his sorrow. He wrote and sang of encounters with the Divine, of an enveloping presence at the core of all things. This was not just something ephemeral that held the universe together. This was a Person, with whom he longed for ever deeper intimacy. His longing was contagious.
His was a yearning, sensitive, quiet, contemplative, raucous, joyous, anguished, loving soul. Though I’d long hoped to, I never met him. Nonetheless, I will surely miss him.
In the song “When,” Michael wrote, presumably in the voice of Jesus, “I’ll meet you on the stormy sea/And I’ll hold the winds at bay/We’ll pull the oars inside the boat/And gently drift away.”
Drift away, Michael. Drift away.
“I’ll return to the heart of the Love Eternal, waiting there for me.”
Songs Quoted and Referenced:
“Let the Day Begin” – The Call – Let the Day Begin
“Surrender” – The Call – Let the Day Begin
“Worried” – Michael Been – On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough
“For Love” – The Call – Let the Day Begin
“When” – The Call – Let the Day Begin
“Uncovered” – The Call – Let the Day Begin
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