Introducing ‘Notes from Mr. Sandman‘ – a column slapping a spotlight on lyricists overlooked, under appreciated, or just plain criminally slept on. Or like a man named Nas once said, “I never sleep, cause sleep is the cousin of death.” Enter Mr. Sandman with what y’all missed while chasing the REM dragon.
Before independent, self-produced albums were the norm there were guys like Cody ChesnuTT who took that path not because he wanted to – for some aesthetic value – but because he had to. He was at a crossroads when he made his seminal album The Headphone Masterpiece: alone, broke, and addicted to a lifestyle that his mental well being just didn’t agree with. The bedroom wasn’t his preferred choice for a recording studio, it was his only choice – necessity being the mother of invention.
The Headphone Masterpiece was a lightening in a bottle moment, recorded on a four-track recorder and written and produced entirely by him (with the exception of a few scant guest contributions). It’s an album you play front to back twice, just because. Something you can chill out at home to or blast while having a few suds with some friends. You can have sex to it. You can fight to it or play it at your wedding. It’s music for everyday life told by a guy who was falling apart at the seams.
The 38-second intro “Magic in a Mortal Minute” sounds like it were written after a night of wild debauchery, a moment of clarity that only occurs among empty beer bottles, full ashtrays and loose memories: [LISTEN]
The album has attitude, “Somebody’s Parents” and “War Between the Sexes” striking a rebellious chord worthy of official rock-and-roll status. You can’t go to a Cody ChesnuTT concert to this day without hearing someone demand – as if it were a matter of life or death – “Bitch, I’m Broke:” [LISTEN]
There’s so much more to the album than a strong pimp hand like “Michelle,” which is Cody basically on his knees begging for forgiveness. You can hear the urgency in the erratic acoustics and desperate vocals – as if she caught him dead to rights and he had to think of a song right then and there to save the relationship: [LISTEN]
Nowadays Cody ChesnuTT is a totally different person. Unwilling even to explore The Headphone Masterpiece at his shows, which is not a total lost cause because his last album Landing on a Hundred is solid too. But truthfully old Cody was more exciting. He lived on the edge and enjoyed, for better or worse, everything that came with his incredible talent.
He knew however that it couldn’t go on, he saw the train coming and like he says in “My Women, My Guitar” he had to get out of its way. And he did – albeit at a slow, slightly reluctant clip: [LISTEN]