Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
John Common makes sure that he leaves nothing unturned when he writes. He makes naked people. Or, he turns them naked. He disrobes them. It's as if he's pinched the end of a thread between forefinger and thumb and he's set the person standing before him spinning, the garment coming slowly undone, but completely, until you can't recognize what had been worn and you see the person with embarrassed eyes. He does it to himself as well, though the spinning and the unraveling is a bit more of a challenging thing. He needs help with that one, often finding that it's most effective to find someone else to hold the thread, an accomplice that will be blamed later if it all goes to hell. The layers of people are pulled off until there's nothing but skin and patchy hair to look at and judge. You watch as the pimples on the arms start popping up like crops and the shivering sets in. the Denver, Colorado-based songwriter highlights the coldest parts of a cold universe and he makes us feel like we're mostly luckless and sinking. He gives us the reasons to believe that there are a lot of us out here dealing with our own particular and peculiarly important battles. The other day, Joy Williams of the Nashville band the Civil Wars, made a comment in a question and answer piece in the New York Times about her band's name, something that should be rote and boring. Instead, she quotes a great philosopher by saying, "There is a great quote that I believe is Plato, who said, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." As I was thinking about the music we make, that sense of battle seemed applicable. That sense of yin and yang, of male and female, of our differing backgrounds, all that seemed to allude to the battles that we all face with faith or addictions or jobs or relationships. Every single person walking down the street is fighting a great battle, whether or not you can see it." It's the same sort of thing that Common tackles, albeit in a more self-destructive way. It's either the man or the woman, but someone's no good for the other and there's been great effort made to be that person to the other. It's not an aggressive act of cruelty of insensitivity, but it is one of selfishness that's more just a survival of the fittest sort of thing. It's looking out for good old No. 1, and most of us have a hard time arguing with that mentality, most of the time. You know, that's not fair, but it is okay to admit that we're not good enough for another person - they could do better or vice versa. It's a situation like this that leads to Common singing, "I don't want to be the handcuff on your wrist/I just want to be your man," where there's a chance that it could be the former that actually comes true and everyone knows it. He goes on, "If God is a magician, we could use another spell/Girl, you love a criminal who wants to go to hell/That's right/Go to hell/Go to hell with me/They're reserving a table, I guarantee." At least they'll be together. His characters are laid out, falling where they may.