PUBLISHED IN THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR DECEMBER 5, 1996

 

BY NICK KREWEN

 

JOHN CODY is at a crossroads.

When The Spectator last checked in with the Hamilton-born Cody three years ago, it was after the release of his debut Duke Street Records album Zelig Belmondo  and on the eve of a Kumbaya Festival appearance with TOM COCHRANE in Toronto.

At the time, he was seriously considering moving back to Hamilton after living his teen years in Ottawa and Toronto.

Nineteen ninety-six finds him in a much different headspace. He now calls Los Angeles home, and recently released his sophomore album Darkness Visible, produced by LARRY KLEIN, the husband of one of his mentors, JONI MITCHELL.

"I've been here for about a year, and on and off for about two," Cody said Saturday afternoon from his publisher's Tinseltown office.

"I just got tired of the cold winters."

The Canadian cold was just one reason for the 28-year-old's move. Career aspirations were probably Cody's biggest motive.

"I met Klein at Kumbaya -- the second one that featured everyone and their uncle," he recalls. "I was hanging out with KIM STOCKWOOD, and she said, `Hey, You've got to meet someone,' and introduced me to Klein. Capitol had flown him up to see if he wanted to produce Kim's album."

Instead, the two men ended up hitting it off, talked for three hours, and ended with an invitation to Klein from Cody to join him, Tom Cochrane, ALEX LIFESON and guitarist BILL BELL for the concert's grand finale: a jam of Cochrane's "All The King's Men."

As a close friend of DON DIXON, Cody's Zelig Belmondo producer, Klein was already aware of the songwriter's talent and had heard a demo tape. After a year or so of correspondence, he invited Cody to L.A. and offered to produce his second album.

"This is a man who was Joni Mitchell's editor for 15 years!," raves Cody, listing Mitchell, LEONARD COHEN and BOB DYLAN as "my pantheon of songwriters."

There was one problem. MCA Canada, Duke Street's parent company, wasn't willing to fund the move or the recording, due to a philosophical clash.

"They wanted me to make a rock record," Cody reveals. "But I knew I was going to a dark place musically and harmonically. It was time for me to make a personal search, and follow the muses wherever they took me. I knew this move was going to set several things in motion for me, personally and professionally."

So Cody ended up liquidating his assets and relocating to L.A.

"That was folly on my part," he says, half-jokingly. "L.A. is not a cheap place to live."

He moved into the Ocean Park Motel in Santa Monica for three months, an experience that helped set the tone for Darkness Visible.

"The parking lot was filled with cars that people were living in," Cody recalls. "The hotel manager told me he rented out those spaces, and some of those people had been living in their Honda two-door for seven years.

"I realized they're not much different from me."

Cody also took some flak from at least one close friend, who chastised him for the move.

"I told I'm here to learn," Cody reports. "I'm studying the craft of writing. This is the place where some of my favorite writers are located, and I wanted to learn and implement their devices.

"I want to be regarded in the same league and conceivably want my work to be accepted at the same level by the public. I haven't regretted it: it's been the most rewarding and fulfilling two years of my life.

"I think this is the best music I've ever written."

Darkness Visible is indeed the darker cousin of the peppy Zelig Belmondo, as such songs as "(That's What You Call) Your Life", "Sharing The Same Stage" and "Better Off" -- a duet with Toronto singer MARY MARGARET O'HARA -- investigate relationships from a bittersweet perspective.

"`Sharing The Same Stage' is a song I wrote for my brother," says Cody. "They didn't want to put that on the album, and I said, I can't believe I'm the only guy in the country who feels disenfranchised from his sibling. So they agreed to leave it on."

The title song, Darkness Visible, was directly inspired by Joni Mitchell.

"She told me that if you make yourself the hero in a song, you also have to make yourself the anti-hero, otherwise it's not a very honest evaluation," Cody reports. "That totally changed the way I'm writing. The ideas are there, but I'm spending much more time on my songs."

Cody said he also received another important piece of advice from Mitchell: decide whether you're a craftsman or an artist.

"Joni said, `If you're an artist, you can't care what anybody thinks. You have to go with your heart, even if no one cares until after you're dead.'"

Larry Klein has also had his own impact on John Cody. He took him to a bookstore and bought him works by authors ALBERT CAMUS, DOROTHY PARKER and MARY GAITSKILL. He also helped Cody develop his lyrics.

"(Don) Dixon is a sound guy. Klein is a lyric guy. Dixon didn't pressure me too much about lyrics. But Klein forced me to stretch the limit and constantly re-examine my work, and I doubt that will ever change about my future writing style."

Today, John Cody is surviving in L.A. He doesn't have a lot of money, although he hopes that may soon change after being injured in an auto accident that fractured his collarbone four months ago.

He's surviving due to the generosity of pals like former MuchMusic VJ CHRISTOPHER WARD, who struck oil after his song "Black Velvet" topped charts around the world, and Larry Klein.

He feels all the sacrifice has been worth it.

"I don't think art is made," he says. "I think art is lived. I'm very confident for the future."

-30-

DISCOGRAPHY

1993 -- Zelig Belmondo -- Duke Street

1996 -- In Darkness Visible

PRODUCER

1998 -- Lynn Miles, Night In A Strange Town  (with Larry Klein)

 

COLLABORATIONS

 

1992 -- Various Artists, Back To The Garden -- A Tribute To Joni Mitchell (with             Marti Jones)

CONTRIBUTIONS

1995 -- Tom Cochrane, Mad Mad World

1998 -- Lynn Miles, Night In A Strange Town

 

 

THANKS: WADE HEMSWORTH

©1996, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink

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