It was the kind of perfect moment that is normally reserved for fiction. Some friends and I were drinking at the Heorot, Muncie’s finest bar, and listening to The Common as they wrapped up their closing set. Last call rang out like Gabriel’s trumpet, and we all scrambled to pay our final respects to Bob the Bartender. As I got back to our Guinness-soaked table (the tables at the Heorot are actually constructed from a sturdy combination of Guinness-foam and cigarette ash) it happened. Mike Hayes, The Common’s lead guitarist, and Ryan Roberts, their drummer, struck up an a cappella version of Elvis Costello’s “Allison.” The assembled drinkers lent their ragged voices to the song one by one; until, by the end, all were proclaiming that their aim was true. I may have wept; but, thankfully, I don’t remember. It was like that scene in Casablanca where the patrons of Rick’s Cafe break out into the “Marseillaise” to drown out the Nazi anthem. Except that there weren’t any Nazis there. At least not that I know of.
The four members of The Common have been friends since high school, which is obvious by the casual way that they ruthlessly insult each other and the mystifying inside jokes that send them into fits of laughter. They formed the band in 1994, and they credit their relative longevity (6 years are the equivalent of 42 human years) to the fact that, as lead singer and rhythm guitarist Jim Sizemore says, “Our friendship is more important than the band.” This refreshing attitude comes across well in their shows, which are definitely not the ennui-inducing Prozac advertisements that pass for performance among so many current bands. It also doesn’t hurt that The Common’s long acquaintance has made them tighter than a Republican’s wallet.
Their average show consists mostly of original songs, which the band writes in a collaborative way, but not too collaborative. “We tried sitting in a room and writing songs together,” says Mike, “But it just didn’t work.” Instead, a member of the band usually comes to the table, or garage floor, with a partially developed song, and the rest of the band falls on it like a pack of starving jackals, ripping it apart until it eventually emerges reconstituted as a pure pop masterpiece. Or something like that. Who can know the twisted, seedy back-allies of the creative process?
The finished product of all this brutal refinement sounds, according to Steve Hayes, The Common’s bass player, “like the Beatles on amphetamines if they’d heard punk rock.” They have also been compared, in that annoying way that all rock journalist’s have, to the Clash, R.E.M., the Police, the Jam, and X. But perhaps the best, and least confusing, description is Jim’s, who says, “We’re not like anything that ends in -core. We’re a good, old-fashioned rock n’ roll band.” This simple statement means a lot in an age of bubble-gum pop that long ago lost its flavor and soundtrack ballads that should have been left on the cutting-room floor.
The Common perform covers of everyone from Hank Williams (the real one, the one that’s dead) to Marvin Gaye, and this eclectic taste is evident when listening to their original songs. On their latest self-produced album, A Liar’s Dozen, they span American and British music like a big, spanning thing. “We sound like a band that figured out what they want, ” says Jim, referring to the new record. Apparently, what they want is a mix of punk, 80’s college rock, 60’s Brit-rock, heavy metal, blues, and a partridge in a pear tree. And apparently it’s want I want as well, since A Liar’s Dozen seems to have taken up permanent residence in my CD player. Where’s Janet Reno when you need her?
Like all self-respecting musicians, The Common dream of someday giving up their day jobs and dedicating themselves full-time to the hedonism and debauchery of rock n’ roll. It is with this in mind that, according to Ryan, they recently hooked-up with a management company that pledges to land them a record contract within the next 18 months. They went to visit their prospective sugar-daddies not long afterwards at their headquarters in Nashville. As they were standing in the halls of power, Jim began to nervously hum a new tune that he was working on. Steve quickly clipped the wings of Jim’s muse by saying, “Not too loud. We’ll end up on the next Garth Brooks record.” A harmless joke, probably, but stranger things have happened. Just ask Chris Gaines.
Aside from avoiding the CMA’s and waiting for their ship to come in, The Common’s immediate plans include a tour in August, hopefully to places they’ve never been before. “We could play cruise ships,” says Steve, in a tone that could be sarcastic or threatening depending on you opinion of Kathie Lee Gifford. They may also hitch their wagon to the star that is Rod Carpenter, East Central Indiana’s finest Elvis impersonator, also known as The Affordable Elvis, for a few undoubtedly memorable gigs. Let’s all keep our diamond-studded fingers crossed. Whatever the future may bring, one thing is certain: The Common will remain. “We have to stay together,” says Steve, “because we stay in debt. Visa’s like our record company.” Pause for a beat, and then Ryan says, “A record company is just a glorified credit card.” Profound words, indeed. I believe it was Plato who first said, “Never underestimate the drummer.”