Friday, August 20, 2010

SPAZ pays tribute to MICHAEL BEEN (1950-2010)


Like most of the bands that I loved from the '80s, I stumbled across The Call by chance.  Beginning in the late '70s (and escalating in 1980), I would spend every bit of my paycheck on records. On paydays, my friends and I would head up to Aaron's Records, Rene's All Ears and whatever other L.A. record shops would suit our fancy at the time.  I would go through all the used record bins and snap up any album be a band that had a name that began with 'The'.  

So, yes, I owned hundreds and hundreds of albums and singles by bands like The Knack, The Records, The Last, The Clash, The Jam, etc.  I even went out on a limb and started buying records because of who produced it or which label it was released on. So, that's why bands like Bram Tchaikovsky, Any Trouble and other oddly named bands started filling up my records crates as well.  Yeah, music geek me.

So, in 1982, I picked up the freshly released self-titled debut album by The Call.  Expecting them to be another hook-laden Power Pop band, I was initially taken aback.  The Call were NOT a free-spirited, fun New Wave outfit: they were slightly darker (not Gothic, though, God forbid!), more introspective and played music with passion and conviction. The songs that lead vocalist Michael Been had written were a combination of Roots, Rock and Pop, but with a very unique and distinct style and sound. While I was not immediately blown away, the album had enough potential to be set aside for a few days until I could get back to it.  When I did go in for a second listen, the album clicked.  "There's A Heart Here" was the song that did it for me, although the album was filled with thought-provoking songs that literally attached themselves to the inside of my brain.  I knew that I'd follow this band for as long as they existed!  

The following year, the band released Modern Romans, an album that was not only better then their debut, it  kicked it's ass.  I remember buying it the week it came out and immediately falling in love with it.  When I made mixtapes for friends, "The Walls Came Down" was always present and accounted for.  When  we'd go out shopping, I'd always encourage them to pick up a copy (not one of them was disappointed, by the way).   Unsurprisingly, KROQ and other stations picked up on "The Walls Came Down" and it became an L.A. radio smash.  I was pleased as pie about that, to be honest.  It always feels good when a band that you have been supporting finally gets the credit they deserve.  

From then on out, I followed the band and picked up each new album as it was released.  While they didn't become as popular as they should have been, the band did have their fair share of hits including the Reconciled album (which included two of their most popular tracks, "Everywhere I Go" and "I Still Believe (Great Design)") and "Let The Day Begin", which was used as Al Gore's campaign song during the 2000 Presidential Election. 

While The Call were not an overtly political or religious band, Michael Been was a Christian and he was embraced by the CCM community. Anyone who is scared of overt religious messages in their music didn't have to worry with The Call.  Been's lyrics were down to earth and personal, yet never preachy.  He spoke from his heart, addressing issues that regular people dealt with everyday.  If you wanted to find a Christian message in The Call's music, it was there. If you weren't looking for it, the lyrics were still meaningful and moving.

When I heard that Michael Been had passed away of a heart attack on August 19th, 2010, it stopped me in my tracks.  I just went through the loss of my own mother (from cardiac arrest) six weeks earlier and I know how devastated his friends and loved ones are at this time.  My thoughts and prayers go out to them at this very difficult time.

But Michael Been lives on in his music and they way that his music touched peoples' lives.  Although I never met the man (nor did I ever see The Call live), I am one of those people. 

Thank you, Michael!

Your pal,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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