|Day 120: The Call (I Still Believe)
August 24, 2020
I am sure every parent hopes that their kid inherits passion. I see it with Lincoln, even if that passion is countered by cynicism and angst probably inherent to his DNA, but exacerbated by the pandemic. I've thought a lot about that dynamic between fathers and sons in music since The Call released A Tribute To Michael Been, a live DVD/CD in honor of the band's deceased lead singer featuring his son, Robert Levon Been, in his place.
It is a beautifully shot concert film, Robert Levon Been replicating his father's rich, passionate voice hauntingly so. Michael Been had died of a massive heart attack while working the soundboard for Robert Levon's band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and I had to wonder if this tribute concert allowed Robert Levon and the remaining band members to reconcile what might have felt like unfinished business.
Reconciled is the album that turned me onto The Call, a band as every bit as political, catchy and worthy of fame as the U2's and others of their era. With Reconciled in 1986, they seemed on the edge of stardom, especially in the realm of hook-driven anthems of social passion. Their songs, written by Michael Been, sparkled with biting social criticism:
"He says, 'we'll walk in the front door and proudly raise our heads'/I say, 'man, you must be joking, our hands are covered in blood red.'" -- "Blood Red (America)"
"I wanna run, I wanna shout, I wanna make thunder/I wanna know what kind of spell I've fallen under." -- "The Morning"
"They stood up on the balcony, they watched the city burn/is there nothing to be gained from this/is there nothing to be learned." -- "Tore The Old Place Down"
However, as this series has shown, it doesn't always work out that way. College radio embraced two released singles, "Everywhere I Go" and "I Still Believe (Great Design)," but college radio doesn't get you out of the clubs of the Bloomingtons (Indiana, Illinois, or Minnesota) and into the arenas of Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles. How does a band persevere when four, five, six releases still don't even get you to cult status?
"I Still Believe," driven by a pulsating bass and jangling guitar riff, seemed to best articulate what a band like The Call must embrace to see their dreams through. Been's vocals alternate between a melodic, yet monotonous litany of the things that could take his beliefs and the obsessed sermon-fueled "I still believe," his passion further carried along by Jim Gordon's inspiring synthesizer strains.
"I still believe/
Through the pain and the grief/
Through the lies, through the storms/
Through the cries, and through the wars/
I still believe."
The bridge sees him go completely unfettered:
"I'll march this road/
I'll climb this hill/
Upon my knees if I have to/
I will take my place/
Up on this stage/
I'll wait 'til the end of time/
For you like everybody else."
There's even a lovely brief angelic choir that comes in for a second between the instrumental closure of the bridge and the final verse, where the choir, which may or may not be singers or Goodwin's synthesizer, seems to keep hovering. It will render shivers.
That subtitle, "Great Design," seems to provide hope, but design for human life is limited, and as I push 60, those thoughts of mortality creep in more and more. I can't help thinking of the sobering second verse of "I Still Believe":
"I'm tossed and turned upon the waves/
When the darkness comes I feel the grave."
What was reconciled for Been in 1986? How literally should we have taken the album title? Been clearly was a very spiritual man, with direct references to God infrequent but not absent from his songwriting. Reconciliation can be positive, as with reconciled friendships, reconciled ledger accounts, and reconciled beliefs, but there is the one negative connotation: the acceptance of a hardship.
The cover of Reconciled features an innocent-looking baby sitting in a briefcase, replete with the sepia tone associated with old photographs. At the time I figured it was the embodiment of reconciling the future of our children with the business of our country. Many years later, as I learned about his son Robert Levon (perhaps named after Bob Dylan and Levon Helm, which would be soooo cool), I wondered if that image was as much about Been reconciling fatherhood and work (Robert Levon would have been 6 when Reconciled was released). For that amazing 2013 concert, I do believe son and bandmates were reconciling a negative: bringing some closure to that time when darkness came.
"I Still Believe." The Call. Reconciled. Elektra. 1986. Link here.
Day 119: Don McLean "American Pie."
Day 121: Steve Miller Band "Take The Money And Run."->
See full unfinished list here.