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Friday, August 20, 2010

Michael "Papa" Been

I have several other posts waiting in the queue, but there are times when life - or death - takes over and makes other things far more important.  

If you know me personally and not just blog-wise, you know that I live and breathe two bands pretty much all day long: Interpol and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  Their styles are quite different, especially when it comes to live performances, but both bands' music has touched something in me that few bands have been able to do.  In the case of BRMC, however, the experience involves much more than just the music.  As with Better Than Ezra, another one of my favorite bands to follow, I've fallen in love not just with the music, but with the whole band and crew.  Peter (singer/guitarist), Robert (singer/bassist), and Leah (drummer) are some of the most down-to-Earth, genuinely friendly rockstars you will ever have the pleasure of meeting.  They're  happy to spend real time with their fans before or after a show, and don't have the pretentious attitude that some musicians have.  The band's crew is just as awesome: tireless, hardworking and funny, and a couple of the guys have become good friends throughout the years.

But yesterday, the band - and the music world in general - lost the most important person in that crew - or the fourth member of the band, depending on who you asked.  Such was the important role he played in the band.  Michael Been, who some of you may remember as the front man for the 80's band, The Call, died of a heart attack yesterday in Belgium.  He was only 60.

Now, I'm not going to write about his amazing career or the specifics surrounding his untimely passing; you can find write-ups aplenty online right now.  I want to share what Michael - or "Papa", as a lot of us who devotedly follow BRMC call him - meant to me as a person, for he was truly a wonderful human being.

I met Papa Been sometime in 2006 or 2007, during the height of my concert-going days (oh, how I miss those days... can't wait to bring those back again!).  Part of the fun of following BRMC is being able to chat with the guys after the show, which is usually the time when the crew is busy breaking down the band's equipment and loading it back up before heading out to the next stop on the tour.  Papa Been, who was the sound engineer for BRMC, was always out there too, helping out just as much as the next guy.  If he was taking a short break, he didn't mind if you approached him for a quick chat or a congrats on how good the show was, and it didn't matter if he'd never met you before - he always had a ready smile and "thank you" for you.  Once he'd gotten to know you a bit after seeing you at several shows, that smile also came along with a hearty handshake or a big hug.  And in the case of my BRMC friends and me, those giant hugs could also come with a big ol' kiss on the cheek, and a "How are you, sweetie?"

"Sweetie".  We were all his "sweeties", his "girls"....

You could talk to Papa Been about anything, and that made him a pretty popular attraction after the show.  From how the band sounded that night ("They're so fucking awesome... just amazing," or, "That place made them sound like shit... it's a crap venue...") to what he thought of other bands out there, to what you were doing with your own life, Papa Been was just that in my eyes: a dad.  Not just to Rob and the rest of the band & crew, but for all his "sweeties" and other fans.  He even looked like the perfect dad, with his snowy white hair and beard, and those twinkling eyes.  And let's not forget about that wicked sense of humor or his inability to mince words - 9 times out of 10 he would usually have me rolling with laughter, he was so friggin' hilarious!

I had - and will always have - a HUGE dad-crush on Papa Been for all of these reasons.  But especially because he really gave a damn about who he was talking to.  He might not have remembered your name and occupation right off the bat (unless you're my dear friend, Jodi), but he knew you were "doing something cool"  and was genuinely interested in what you had to say.  I remember the last time I saw him here in Sacramento this past February: it was the first time I'd seen the band in well over a year, so they weren't aware of PGEW and all its minor successes.  I told Papa Been about what I'd been doing and the plans I had to write a book based on the blog, and I will never forget the pride and encouragement in his voice when he told me, "Good for you, sweetie!  That is excellent!"

He didn't have to do that.  It's not like we were BFFs who texted everyday.  But that was what was so cool about Michael Been: he would make anyone feel like part of his extended band family with his warmth and openness.


I know it may be weird to those outside of this special BRMC family that I should care so much about someone who is seemingly unattached to the rest of my life.  But the reality is that he was a part of some special moments that I miss and cherish.  Music to me is like water, like the air that I must breathe everyday - I have to have it.  Live music is no exception.  Going to shows regularly was a sort of release and a recharge all at once, and Papa Been was part of some of the greatest times I've spent surrounded by incredible music and friends.  Someday when things are better for me, I will start going to shows again, and I will like it.  But it will be hard not to have Michael Been around to make every part of the show just that much better.

Rest in peace, Papa Been.  It hurts not to have you with us anymore, but your spirit will live on forever through your own music and your son's.  I'll miss you.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. I'm so glad I have friends whose words are so much better at expressing what I feel but can't say.

My love to you, Papa.

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Kimberly A. Morales
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