Timing is the essence of luck. Without the former you don’t have the latter. If the poet Robert Graves knew anything, he understood that the muse can be cruel and indifferent, building her nest from the entrails of poets. And such is the marketplace.
30 years ago, in 1988, the rock band Rhythm Corps released a seminal album of that decade, Common Ground. Today it is almost completely forgotten. This is unfortunate because it is a true gem. I remember discovering the group watching their video for the single, “Common Ground” on MTV’s program, 120 Minutes. Though I had no money at all, I scraped together $7.99 in change, went out and purchased the cassette. It was well worth the mining. In fact, Common Ground the album is one of the most solid recordings of the last 30 years. Not only are there no filler tracks, but every song is a masterpiece. It is also an album full of “Faith and Muscle” (the title of a track on side two).
Topic-wise Rhythm Corps scarcely deviated from issues previously addressed by such artists as U2, Peter Gabriel, and The Alarm—the solidarity movement in Poland; the futility of war and its hideous collateral effects; sublime spiritualty. It didn’t matter if they were repeating others, the songs were that freakin’ good!
At that point in my life I was a machine, lifting weights religiously and jogging some thirty miles a week. Common Ground became my fuel. With songs like, “I Surrender” and “Perfect Treason” (the latter a tune about the perversity of our judicial system) it wasn’t hard to go heavier on the dumbbells or push it another few miles.
Rhythm Corps hailed from Detroit, and their musical coalescence coincided with the beginning of the end of Motor City. Corporate greed and union corruption had started to reveal their mutual decrepitude. Out of this disease, Rhythm Corps harnessed, if not an original lyrical message, a sound that was all their own and something of portent of things to come. But for all its power out of the gate, the steed of righteousness would be undercut by the muddy bog of the market. By the end of the eighties, it was all really over where the music industry was concerned. The energies that fueled the creative explosion of the previous thirty years were being gobbled up by the multi-national coat and ties. Successful independent labels had been bought out. Most were shut down and those that survived saw their catalogs cleansed (these are the same assholes who told Johnny Cash to get out of town, just saying).
When the grunge revolution hit in the early nineties, Rhythm Corps were but a speck of dust on the hooves of the stampeding present trend. But it was interesting, when first listened to Pearl Jam, I heard something familiar in Eddie Vedder’s voice. What was it? Then it dawned on me…Vedder sounded a lot like Michael Persh, the lead singer of Rhythm Corps! The similarities were uncanny and a little sad.
Grunge couldn’t survive the track in which it was forced to race on—the absolute corporatization of the music business. In fact I believe it aided in killing a handful of associated artists. Mammon always wins. Art, if it happens at all, is an accident. Grunge was the elegy to rock and roll, and against its will. The shame was that Rhythm Corps did not share even a verse over rock’s solemn, defiled grave.
A few years ago I sought out Common Ground. I hadn’t heard it in years. All I can say is, the day I refreshed my musical memory with it…that was a damn good day.
We live in a disposal society, this includes any creative endeavor. The album is all but dead and songs today have less value than a section of toilet paper. Rhythm Corps were a tragic anomaly—both ahead of and behind the times.
30 years ago, in 1988, the rock band Rhythm Corps released a seminal album of that decade, Common Ground. Today it is almost completely forgotten.
But it shouldn’t be.
Today, I’m a wreck. After a decade of fighting the ‘good’ fight, if the state of Texas required from its operatives a physical, I’d be put out to pasture. But if I could just somehow catch a whiff of the muse’s nest in the examining room, I just might rise to the occasion with a full bloom of faith and muscle.