Waxing Nostalgic: The Call, “Oklahoma”

Published on July 25th, 2014 in: Music, Waxing Nostalgic |

By Jeffery X Martin


The Call was one of those Eighties bands that almost made it. They had a decently large fanbase, but they just never quite caught on. Most people know their biggest hit, “I Still Believe,” better from that scene in The Lost Boys, where it is performed by saxophonist/body-builder Tim Cappello. [That fuckin’ guy. All greased up and shiny in the firelight, like a Rob Liefeld comic come to veiny life.]

I always liked The Call. I became a fan back in 1984 when they released the single, “The Walls Came Down.” I enjoyed the way they approached both political and spiritual subjects without coming off pompous, like U2, or overly inspirational, like The Alarm. Lead singer Michael Been’s voice had a warm, rumbly tone. Imagine listening to a giant animated bear tell you, in a reasonable, friendly fashion, the story of the Walls of Jericho from the Bible. It was that voice that drew me into Call fandom.

Michael Been sounded like what you want your father to sound like.

That’s what makes the song, “Oklahoma,” which is buried near the end of their album, Reconciled, so disturbing and haunting.

The song sounds like a childhood memory, a terrible one, fractured in the retelling as an adult. There’s trauma here, and it is disjointed and vivid. This song is about the thing that makes you question everything else in your life. In a bluntly visceral way, “Oklahoma” is a stunner.

The lyrics are sharply evocative, to the point of being elemental. A hot Oklahoma night. A tent revival. A preacher proclaiming apocalypse now, the dead rising from their graves. A tornado descending from the sky to rip and tear everything asunder. Lives, families, belief systems, all crushed and bleeding in the aftermath.

This song is vicious. Been’s open-E bassline hurtling the listener through the scenes of destruction as surely as high winds can drive a playing card through a telephone pole. And when the verse winds into the chorus, there’s a palpable ramp-up in the energy, ending in a final impact that really ends nothing, simply leads back into more pain and futility.

“Oklahoma” is filled with questions that never get answered, vague recollections of great horrors survived. The final devastation comes when Been sings, “And my heart rips open and all I could do was pray.” His voice, straining for the high notes, cracks and falls away. It’s a powerful moment. It’s like hearing your father cry for the first time, sensing that pain in his voice and knowing that all you can do is wait for that wound to heal itself.

You may remember Michael Been from Martin Scorsese’s film, The Last Temptation of Christ. He played the Apostle John. It makes sense within the context of most of The Call’s music and what we know of Been in general. Been’s spiritual side was always evident in his songwriting. His human side never shone so brightly as it did in “Oklahoma.”

He passed away in 2010 while acting as roadie and sound engineer for his son’s band, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. It’s easy to pick up on the musical influence The Call had on BRMC. If you’re a fan of BRMC, go back and listen to The Call albums Reconciled and Red Moon.

If nothing else, go to the Waxing Nostalgic Playlist on Spotify and listen to “Oklahoma,” if for no other reason than to hear what it was like when the man who wrote “I Still Believe” stopped for a moment, looked around himself, and despaired.

One Response to “Waxing Nostalgic: The Call, “Oklahoma””

  1. James McNally:
    July 26th, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Loved this band, too. The ’80s and ’90s were a time when I was quite spiritual and I respected Been’s honesty. Also loved the title of their 1983 album, Modern Romans. The Walls Came Down was on that one. Didn’t know he had died, but if you have to die, doing it helping your son’s band isn’t the worst way to go.

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