Michael Been, the singer/songwriter who heads up the Call, used to count comedian John Belushi as his best friend. In fact, they met as young rivals in Chicago, competing for different high schools doing stand-up routines in the city's ongoing performance competitions. In the crowning contest, Been took first place, leaving Belushi to settle for second.
Been's proclivity for comedy may come as a surprise to those who think of the singer--who leads the Call into concert battle tonight at the Palace and Aug. 8 at Magic Mountain--as some sort of humorless crank railing grimly against the evils of mankind. And after all, the group's most popular song until recently, "The Walls Came Down," was an apocalyptic Cold War anthem that dismissed both major world powers as mere "corporate criminals playing with tanks."
Now along comes the band's fourth album with the equally dire "Blood Red (America)," an impassioned response to a TV show in which Jerry Falwell preached against the evils of the Soviets and said, according to Been, that "we're all God-loving people and we'll all as Americans be able to walk through the pearly gates with our heads held high."
The reaction of Been, in song: "Man, you must be joking / Our hands are covered blood red."
Not exactly a barrel of laughs, Been will admit, but he doesn't want to be pigeonholed as the tirelessly condemnatory type either. Not when he's willing to confess that, for all his finger-pointing at the man's right-wing convictions, he might be a junior Jerry Falwell in his own right.
"I'm not a million miles away from the guy," said the bearded, stocky singer in his Hollywood hotel room this week, shortly before taking the stage for a fiery show at Bogart's rock club in Long Beach. "I can be bigoted and close-minded and intolerant and greedy and power-crazy; I can be a tyrant in my house with my family. The things I don't like about Falwell or Reagan are the things I don't like in me--they just come out in different ways.
"I don't want to be so hard on those guys because, as children growing up, they must have had bad teachers. Someone told them lies and they never were able to challenge the validity of all the things they were taught.
"If I was in their boat I'd probably be the same. I'm more like those guys than I am like a fish or a duck. They're my kind--they're humans--and even though I don't like what they do, I can't pass judgment on them."
Given the Call's disdain for the Falwellian world view, it's ironic that the two album-rock radio hits off the recent "Reconciled" record--the quartet's most urgent-sounding yet perhaps least angry album--have been out-and-out spirituals.
But "Everywhere I Go" and "I Still Believe" are spirituals of a vaguely dissatisfied and yearning--albeit hopeful--bent, and it's no surprise that Been is reticent to risk throwing himself back into the Falwell/Reagan camp by labeling that bent as Christian, cultural strings attached.
"I don't know what the word means in 1986," he says. "The term is darned near useless, from what I can tell. I don't think it has to do with what you call yourself--it's not what you say you are, but what you are .
"I tend to steer away from using those traditional terms. They're still rich in content, but the meaning is nothing now. I can't use something like 'born again,' because for the most part I remain the same guy really--still cowardly and mean and hateful and vengeful and everything I ever was. So in that way it says too much.
"At the same time, it doesn't say enough, because things have happened to me in my life that a little phrase like 'born again' just belittles. It says too little, doesn't say anything compared to what's happened, many times."