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I was introduced to The Call in 1983 when they opened for Peter Gabriel in Worcester, Massachusetts. I had no idea who they were before that, and they were an opening act that really blew holes in your eardrums. They were loud. They were brain-piercing loud, not thumping bass rumble loud. I tend to think it was by design. This was a band that wrote songs that cut to the core of social malaise. They didn't mince words, and that was probably why they never really became all that big.

In 1983 The Call released an album called Modern Romans that remains one of my favorite albums of all times, but not one you can really put on at a birthday party or family picnic. You listen to it, and you listen to it at full volume, because there is something going on in their words. Michael Been was an angry, lyrical master who knew how to make the music carry a message. The entire album, Modern Romans, was about the decay of the American Empire. It was a comparison to the dying days of Rome. These days the songs from that album seem even more poignant.

Well they blew the horns
And the walls came down
They'd all been warned
And the walls came down
They just stood there laughing
They're not laughing anymore
The walls came down

There is an old proverb that says the only persons worthy of being leaders and of having power are those who do not desire it. Power consumes, corrupts and blinds. Once you have power you gain a feeling akin to invincibility. You believe you must use this power to make things "right" otherwise this power will go to waste. To lead is to lead by example. To lead by force and by demanding that others copy your formula for success and embrace your codes and laws is not an example. Setting the example is leadership. Even a rich, well-dressed playground bully with nice manners is still a playground bully.

Sanctuary fades
Congregation splits
Nightly military raids
The congregation splits
It's a song of assassins
Ringin' in your ears
We got terrorist thinking
Playing on fears

America as a modern Roman Empire? They both utilized arms of influence stretching out to every corner of the known world. They both demand that other nations and people embrace the form of government and social structure that they hold holy. They both failed to realize that not everyone thinks the same way and believes in the same things. And yet, both believed there was one true path that all lesser states needed to accept or be consigned to oblivion. They both played on the fears of their people to control and manipulate them. Or perhaps the comparison is silly. Rome didn't have any planes.

Well they blew the horns
And the walls came down
They'd all been warned
But the walls came down
I don't think there are any Russians
And there ain't no Yanks
Just corporate criminals
playin' with tanks

Who really fires the first shot? Who really gives the first order? No one really knows. These things are closely guarded secrets, especially when you are sitting tight in front of your television cheerleading your country as if it were a football team fighting its way through the playoffs.


from the album
As recorded by The Call
1983 Mercury Records
written by Michael Been
published by Neeb/Tarka Music
All rights reserved

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