Rock & Roll, Christian Rock and Spiritual Honesty: Remembering The Call’s Michael Been

He was school friends with Jon Belushi and he won against Belushi in a comedy competition. His band toured with Peter Gabriel, who called the band “the future of American music.” His collaborators included not just Gabriel, but also Robbie Robertson, Bono, and Jim Kerr of Simple Minds. Despite being a Christian who wrote insightful songs about faith, he was an outsider (somewhat by choice) in the Christian rock scene. He would work with other outsiders like Bruce Cockburn and Mark Heard. I am of course referring to Michael Been, front man and songwriter for The Call.

A lot about has been written about The Call should have been a big success (the words “America’s U2” get bandied around a lot in descriptions of their work), and the business factors that kept that success from happening. A lot less has been said about Been’s faith, which left room for doubt and struggle as he kept figuring out what he believed. To remedy that, I wrote an article on Been for Christianity.com, focusing on his interesting views about faith and his never-quite-perfect relationship to Christian rock. Given that you could argue The Call was a forerunner to bands like Switchfoot who have navigated the space between mainstream and Christian rock, it seemed like a story worth telling.

https://www.christianity.com/wiki/people/michael-been-most-underrated-rocker-of-the-80s.html

Unlike earlier articles I’ve written about Rich Mullins and Mark Heard, I had to do a lot of heavy lifting to make this article possible. Heard and Mullins fans have generated dozens of websites collecting images, articles, and surprising historical nuggets about their work and religious views. Nothing like that exists for Been – and no biography, authorized or otherwise. So, I spent a lot of time combing Google Books for any reference I could find to The Call or to Been individually, searching eBay for old CCM Magazine and Christian Century issues, and crafting my article as best I could from the disparate pieces I located.

In the interest of making it easier for anyone else trying to research Been, here are the resources I’ve been able to find. They are a wild collection of journalism articles, music reviews, obituaries that appeared the week after Been’s death, and tributes by various writers. A few of them discuss associated figures like Russ Taff (whose biggest hit was a cover of a Michael Been song) and Harry Dean Stanton (who appeared alongside Been in The Last Temptation of Christ and went on to play several gigs with The Call). Of course, there are some articles about his son Robert Levon Been, front man of the rock band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. These resources are arranged chronologically by publication date.

Articles about Michael Been and The Call

“Thank You Michael Been: Fans of The Call,” RateYourMusic.com.

The Call radio interview with Rock Scope, 1983, Pt. 1.

The Call radio interview with Rock Scope, 1983, Pt. 2.

Michael Zakes’ interview with Michael Been and Tom Ferrier, Rice University Radio, June 22, 1983.

“Performer/Writer Been Gets the Call to Direct,” Billboard, Apr 12, 1986.

“An Interview with Michael Been, 1987, reposted on The-Call-Band.com.

“Divine Harmonies : Harry Dean Stanton and Michael Been First Teamed Up on Set of Movie ‘The Last Temptation of Christ,'” The Los Angeles Times, Chris Willman September 24, 1988.

Michael Been interview, 1989, reposted on The-Call-Band.com

Announcement that The Call Would Play Greenbelt Art Festival, Cross Rhythms, July 1 1990.

“The Call’s Cry in the Wilderness,” Brent Short, The Christian Century, September 19-26, 1990.

“The Call” by Rick Clark, It’s Hip!, December 1990.

“More Insight into Michael Been,” 1991, reposted on The-Call-Band.com.

“Still Waiting for the Call,” Joel Selvin, San Francisco Chronicle, 1992.

“The Gospel Lectern” by Bob Darden, Billboard, Nov 28, 1992.

Michael Been Interview with John J. Thompson, True Tones, 1994.

Announcement about Michael Been’s solo album On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough, Cross Rhythms, June 1, 1994.

“The Call to a Solo Career,” Brent Short, Sojourners, March-April 1995.

“Michael Been/The Call – 1997 Promotional Video,” interview with Kevin Max, 1997

(note: if this video disappears from YouTube, the interview is included as a CD-ROM bonus track on a 1997 CD issued by the now defunct 7ball Magazine. The CD, 7ball Gas Collection 2, can be purchased online)

Tony Cummings’ profile of Robert Levon’s band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Cross Rhythms, May 15, 2002

“Michael Been and Scott Music from The Call Interview,” Project OKPOP, 2008.

“Black Rebel Motorcycle Club ride on indie style…” Doug Van Pelt, HM Magazine, November 30, 2009.

The Call’s Reconciled listed in “Top 100 Christian Rock Albums of all time,” David Staff, HM Magazine, July 14, 2010

“True rock hero – Michael Been – passes away,” Doug Van Pelt, HM Magazine, August 10, 2010.

“Michael Been Remembered,” GreatestChristianAlbums.Wordpress.com, August 18, 2010.

“Michael Been, singer for the Call, dies at 60,” Aidin Vaziri, San Francisco Chronicle, August 22, 2010.

“The Call’s Michael Been Dies at 60,” RodneyOlsen.net, August 22, 2010.

“Old Interview: Michael Been of The Call, November 1992,” Listening Is Everything, August 22, 2010.

“Michael Been of The Call Passes On,” Terence Howles Canote, A Shroud of Thoughts, August 24, 2010.

“Here’s to You Michael Been,” Sean McCarthy, PopMatters, August 25, 2010.

“Michael Been & The Call: The pioneers of stadium rock bow out,” Tony Cummings, Cross Rhythms, September 12, 2010.

“Michael Been obituary,” Rob Hughes, The Guardian, October 13, 2010.

“Resurrection Rock? (Faith & hope in the music of Michael Been & The Call),” Kingdom Ready, February 26, 2011.

“Heaven and Heart: The Tense Past of Michael Been,” Thomas Conner, This Land Press, August 16, 2011.

“Interview: BRMC’s Robert Levon Been joins his father’s bandmates to bring back The Call,” Roman Gokham, The Bay Bridged, March 15, 2013.

Derek Walker’s Review of A Tribute to Michael Been, The Phantom Tollbooth, November 9, 2014

“Jim Kerr Interviewed About The Simple Minds Album Big Music,” Bob Gourley, Chaos Control Magazine, December 6, 2014.

“We still think of and honor The Call everywhere we go,” Kevin Wuench, Tampa Bay Times, September 14, 2015.

“Vinyl Confessions: Heeding The Call,” Ira Kantor, Elmore Magazine, November 4, 2016.

Simple Minds’ front Jim Kerr reflecting on recording background vocals with Michael Been for Peter Gabriel’s song “In Your Eyes,” Simple Minds Facebook, July 14, 2017.

Review of Russ Taff documentary I Still Believe, The Phantom Tollbooth, November 7 2018.

"I wish Christian musicians wrote more about their life experiences instead of being so ‘on the nose’ with spiritual language. It doesn’t give people room to be who they are at the stage they’re at in life." Michael Been interview 1997 CCM Magazine

Book References to Michael Been and The Call

Reference to The Call’s song “Floating Back” in The Integrated Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Environmentalism by S. Steiner-Aeschliman, 1999.

Page 128-129 in The Billboard Guide to Contemporary Christian Music by Barry Alfonso, 2002.

Pg. 101-103 in Raised by Wolves by John J. Thompson, 2002.

Pg. 175-176 in All Music Guide to Rock edited Vladimir Bogdanov, 2002.

Pg. 37-38 in The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music by Don Cusic, 2010.

Recalling the Call: The 80s Most Underrated Rock Band! by Knoel C. Honn, 2020.

Database Profiles on Michael Been and The Call

“The Call” profile in CMnexus.

“Michael Been” profile in CMnexus.

Note for Researchers: I have found CMnexus to be a good resource, but not infallible. For example, CMnexus incorrectly reports that The Call wrote a song called “The Call” that won the 1996 Dove Award for Contemporary Gospel Song. A song titled “The Call” did win that award that year, but footage from the ceremony shows it was recorded by a band called Anointed.

Cover Photo: YouTube

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One thought on “Rock & Roll, Christian Rock and Spiritual Honesty: Remembering The Call’s Michael Been

  1. Pingback: George Lucas, Apocalypse Now, and Early Films – G. Connor Salter

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