Just a few minutes ago I was checking out the latest news when I discovered that The Call front man Michael Been died a couple of days ago, aged 60.
The bassist, singer and songwriter passed away after suffering a heart attack on August 19 – he was at Belgium’s Pukkelpop festival working as soundman for his son Robert Levon Been’s band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. – NME
The Call were one of my very favourite bands and so hearing of Been’s passing is very sad for me. Although The Call were never megastars, you might remember some of their songs such as The Walls Came Down or Let the Day Begin. They never classed themselves as a ‘Christian’ band but their music causes has always caused me to stop and think. It still causes me to re-evaluate my relationship with God and to feel deeply about stuff in a way that most ‘Christian’ music can’t. Here’s a snippet from an article run in Contemporary Christian Music Magazine quite some years ago.
Though the Call is marginally connected with Christian music, Been’s not given to aligning himself with it. In fact, he says he never even heard of the Cornerstone Festival before The Call’s slot on the fest’s Encore stage in July.
“I’m not even aware of that world, really,” Been explains. “I found the Christian market to be a whole different culture, and I didn’t care for it very much. It hasn’t been very exciting or interesting or innovative, although I love Over the Rhine, Bruce Cockburn and Mark Heard. I just find it sad that we make distinctions with music – to me it’s depressing that there’s even black music and white music.
“I [wish] Christian musicians wrote more about their life experiences instead of trying to be 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. I like to write with the feel of parables, not in strict language. I’m attracted to people who tell me a story, and then I see what it stirs up in my own life. But putting Psalms to music? Taking 30 lines from the Bible for a song? That’s why I like religious books, for instance, rather than books on religion.”
Unfortunately, at least one recent development has further soured Been to Christian music. “Of the 10 major Christian market radio stations, six have refused to play the Best of The Call because of my involvement in The Last Temptation of Christ,” says Been, who played the role of John the Baptist in the film. “I never thought the movie was blasphemous. We were trying to do something important. Of course, if I publicly denounce and regret my involvement in it….
“It just doesn’t feel good, these rules and regulations and laws. There’s a whole lot of language you have to be hip to. I’m always asked, ‘Have you accepted the Lord?’ ‘Are you saved?’ All these codes and passwords. Well, you know, there was a different question asked many years ago in Ireland or Scotland, and it’s more to the point: ‘Do you believe in the blood?’ My answer? ‘Yes. I believe in the blood.’ I’m not quite sure what that other stuff means, but hopefully we won’t go ‘I got it! I got it!’ during our lives because once you say that, you’ve just proven that you haven’t got it.”
Michael Been’s music has spoken deeply to me and so I’m deeply saddened by his death. Thankfully, though, I know that he fought the good fight and that he encouraged and challenged others to do the same. His life touched the lives of many others and I’m sure that his music will continue to call people to examine themselves and to strive to find their own true calling.
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One of my college friends posted a link to his obit on my wall… I ran across The Call on a Christian music station in the 80’s (and actually purchased my cassette copy of “Reconciled” at a Christian bookstore). The song “I Still Believe” always spoke to me… and I’m taken with a desire to spend most of the day tomorrow listening to my old The Call CDs. 🙂
I agree with a lot of what Michael Been says about Christian music, to be honest. I love Over the Rhine and Mark Heard… and one of my current favorite Christian musicians is Tyrone Wells. Those who insist on going into the CCM arena or recording only explicitly Christian music are fine, but there is a place for Christians who view music as their career, or their passion, and not their MINISTRY. 🙂