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Michael Been dies at 60; singer was a founding member of rock band the Call

Been died Thursday of a heart attack at a music festival in Belgium. The Call formed in Northern California in the early '80s and was known its socially conscious, spiritually aware lyrics.

August 22, 2010|By Claire Noland, Los Angeles Times
  • Michael Been, left, formed the Call in the early ‘80s. The other members were Tom Ferrier, second from left, Jim Goodwin and Scott Musick. The band was known for socially conscious lyrics.
Michael Been, left, formed the Call in the early ‘80s. The other members… (Elektra )

Michael Been, a singer, songwriter, guitarist and founding member of the Northern California modern rock band the Call, which broke out with the 1983 MTV hit "The Walls Came Down," has died. He was 60.

Been (pronounced Bean) died Thursday after suffering a heart attack at the Pukkelpop festival in Hasselt, Belgium, where he had been serving as a sound engineer for his son Robert's band Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. His death was announced in a statement from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's publicist, Juliana Plotkin.

Formed in Santa Cruz as the '80s were dawning, the Call gained a reputation for epic anthems showcasing a ringing guitar sound and socially conscious, spiritually aware lyrics written by Been and sung in his earnest, emotive style.

The band, based in the Bay Area, featured Been on lead vocals and at various times guitar and bass, Scott Musick on drums, Tom Ferrier on guitar and Greg Freeman on bass (replaced later by Jim Goodwin on keyboards). The Call's self-titled debut album in 1982 was followed a year later by "Modern Romans," which yielded the hit song "The Walls Came Down."

Critics gave the band generally positive reviews, and the quartet released a series of albums: "Scene Beyond Dreams," "Reconciled," "Into the Woods," "Let the Day Begin" and "Red Moon."

Been and the Call had famous fans in both the rock world — Peter Gabriel once labeled the band the "future of American music" — as well as in the realm of movies — director Martin Scorsese cast Been as the apostle John in his 1988 film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel "The Last Temptation of Christ."

Then Al Gore chose the band's 1989 anthem "Let the Day Begin" as a theme song for his 2000 presidential campaign, closing the Democratic National Convention at Staples Center with the rousing, optimistic celebration of working-class citizens.

"Here's to the babies in the brand new world,

"Here's to the beauty of the stars,

"Here's to the travelers on the open road,

"Here's to dreamers in the bars … "

Although the band wasn't consulted in advance about the selection — Been found out when he returned home late to find congratulatory messages on his answering machine. He was philosophical about it.

"It might be one of those things where you just have to donate it to the country," Been said at the time.

A native of Oklahoma City, Been was born March 17, 1950, and began playing guitar as a boy.

"I took guitar lessons and sang in church, but then I saw Elvis Presley on 'The Ed Sullivan Show.' ... I was never the same," Been told the Daily Oklahoman in 1989.

By age 7 he was performing at fairgrounds and on a TV variety show called "Big Red Shindig." He moved with his family to Chicago as an adolescent, then after a year of college moved to California to pursue a music career.

Been began making music and touring in the late '80s with actor Harry Dean Stanton, whom he met on the set of "The Last Temptation of Christ"; released a solo album, "On the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough" (1994); then put out the Call's last studio album, "Heaven and Back" (1997). In recent years he had worked in a support role with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

Been, who had been living in the Los Angeles area, is survived by his son, Robert Levon Been, and a sister, Linda Southwell.

claire.noland@latimes.com

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