Maturing Matthew Good's a nice guy after all
There's an autographed picture of Buzz Aldrin hanging in Matthew Good's bathroom, reminding me that when the Apollo 11 astronaut was once asked if the moon landing was faked, the feisty old buzzard plowed a hapless journalist in the kisser. The image plays in my mind a few times over the course of the next few hours. The Straight has been invited into Good's highly secure downtown apartment, which he shares with his wife, Jennifer, and three toy dogs that start to yip at the mention of George W. Bush (much to their owners' delight). The man who welcomes us into his home is avuncular, kinetic, and talks nonstop. In contrast to the image of Matt Good that took hold over the course of his bumpy career, he's extremely gracious. But I'm wary-one wrong question, and I might lose a couple of teeth myself.
The apartment is modest by any standards, ascetically furnished and barely decorated, save for the couple's self-created and richly colourful paintings. Interrupting his unremitting verbal gush at one point in the afternoon, Good ever so briefly appraises one of Jennifer's pieces that hangs in the hallway. It's like he's never seen it before. "I really like this, honey," he barks, and then barrels back into the monologue that he more or less holds for the entire time I'm with him. That monologue, by the way, seems incongruous coming from the wired and wiry kid from Coquitlam whose overripe "manifestos"-published by Insomniac Press at the height of his marketability in 2001-were rubbished by his snorting critics. Back then, Good offered self-absorbed insights into his troubled mind, by way of surreal short stories and sloppy rants. These days, Matthew Good is an erudite pundit with a sober and well-written blog reflecting his dominant concern-politics.
Hence, we barely talk about the music that his record company is celebrating with In a Coma, an extravagant 10th-anniversary retro?spective released earlier this week. But we do cover Latin American democracy, the Iraq war, Sudan, Hugo Chavez, Osama bin Laden, Rovegate, The Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the world, and of course Bush Bush Bush. And that's just some of it. Discussing Canada's responsibilities within NATO, he growls, "The only thing that threatens our national security is when jackasses like Rick Hillier get on TV and start talking tough. There's obviously been a shift in military thinking and it's scary. And that goes possibly towards more deep security integration with the United States which, of course, I'm against."
He spends four or five hours a day sitting at his Mac G5-the one concession to luxury that I can find for the self-described "socialist"-and the only question that gives him pause the entire time we're together is whether he considers himself a writer, an activist, or a musician. "I don't know!" he says with raised eyebrows. "I started out as writer, then I moved on to fine arts, then I went to college but for financial reasons had to leave that. I got into music as a secondary thing." Good's CD collection is buried behind a closet door, but his books are prominent. Among them, there are the usual suspects-Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Tariq Ali?-but also Charles Dickens, Feodor Dostoyevsky, and James Joyce. There's also stacks of DVDs-I, Claudius; The World at War; The Family Guy; Brazil; Full Metal Jacket. I also discover that, like any red-blooded man, Good can quote liberally from The Big Lebowski. Next to the shelf is a pendant for his dad's beloved Arsenal Football Club. The family background is English. It even stretches back to the Raj in India. Maybe that's why Matthew Good has a sensitivity to the machinations of empire-he certainly seems to have an intuition for geopolitics-but I wonder how adept he's been at protecting his own, personal sovereignty.
We're at a studio on Burrard Street so that Good can tape a brief interview with CTV television host Peter Grainger. While the camera sets up, Grainger jokes about his methods of lubricating his guests. Not that Good presents a challenge. He's a dream interview-articulate, lucid, humorous-but he also can't resist the compulsion to turn a puff piece into something more, and launches into a rant about Bono's hyped triumph over the G8 and debt reduction. "That original debt package forgave 45 billion dollars for 18 of the world's poorest countries," he informs Grainger, "but within that, the finance ministers of those participating G7 nations [Russia didn't participate] basically demanded that privatization stipulations be included in the agreement, which basically means that over the next 10 years they could stand to make more money than they forgave. So, is it a little piece of history now?"
The interview wraps, and Grainger tells us that he has to do Liam Gallagher next. "I asked for Noel," he says, sighing heavily. Good laughs but needs to get something else off his chest and tells the host, "I let your bosses off the hook."
"Oh yeah?" Grainger responds.
"Yeah," he continues, and then cheerfully points out that the putative benefit concert Live 8 proved to be major cash cow for the media. Grainger gives him a sanguine nod, and gets him to autograph In a Coma. Over the years, Good has learned the art of zeal without coming across as boorish; he's both authoritative and accessible. This is some contrast to the man I observed five years ago. Back then, watching the Matthew Good Band sound-checking at the Commodore during a legendary three-night stand in late December of 2000, the singer was a blazing catherine wheel of ill will who seemed to treat his crew with impatience and generally thickened the air with unease. Good was scary, but he was also rather unique as a Canadian entertainer back then, in that he polarized the country instead of boring it. When I ask Good about my perception of him-which, right or wrong, I shared with most of the population-he pleads that he'd lost command of the situation, his band, and his career. "If I would have stood up and had the balls there," he says, "maybe those years wouldn't have been spent being pensive and anxiety-ridden and so negative. For example, when I'd be in a situation doing press, I'd be in such a shitty mood because of my job. I'd just be negative about it, right? You go down and suddenly you're talking to people about the one thing you don't want to be talking about. And it just comes across as bombastic, confrontational, aggressive. I remember when I started doing press just after the band broke up and I wasn't that way anymore, and suddenly a lot of people missed the old me because at least it was always fun."
He maintains that his famed I Hear Matt Good Is a Real Asshole T-shirt was a joke that backfired, but nobody is likely to forget Good's daily battles with the press, the industry, his band, your band, my band, and everyone in between, even while his records shifted in the hundreds of thousands. Then there was the skirmish with Nickelback. That band went to so far as to threaten him physically in Rolling Stone, but Good had merely said what a lot of people were thinking. "All I talked about was how a whole bunch of bands sounded the same," he explains, shaking his head. "I didn't single any one band out. The name of that band was brought up in conjunction with other bands, who ironically all sound the same." The situation was heated to say the least, but Good thinks he was jobbed by the media. I'm taken back to a moment during Good's preamble with Grainger at CTV. I hear him say, "I do interviews and everyone's really nice-in print mostly-and then they portray me as an absolute monster." He smirks and gives me a sidelong glance. I think of Buzz Aldrin.
When the Matthew Good Band was recording The Audio of Being in 2001-an album that backfired compared to both the creative and commercial high point of Beautiful Midnight-Good started passing out and vomiting regularly. Having decamped to Whistler to write, his anxiety came to a boil. "I spent a lot of time in the shower," he says. "Showers make me feel better for some strange reason. You sit in the shower and water makes you feel better, and you eat an apple." Audio was eventually finished as the band unravelled in operatic fashion.
"You know," offers Good, "When you're throwing up because of stress all day”¦ It's not good. It's a horrible, horrible thing to have to live through. Every time I go back and revisit a song because we're gonna play it live or something, I'll go, 'Yeah I was throwin' up while I sang that.'?"
Good was later hauled up by his record company, before what he calls a kangaroo court. "I was reprimanded”¦over my handling of everything and the break-up of the band." He claims that he was never given the benefit of some advice, that nobody ever took him aside and told him that he was losing the war-until he was past the point of even caring.
"There was a Calgary Sun article in which Mike Bell had printed some shit I said about the head of A?&?R at my record company," he remembers, "and I remember Christi Thompson who used to work with the band came to me and said, 'You know, they're pretty pissed off that you said this,' and I said, 'Fuck 'em. I don't care. I don't give a shit.'?" Speaking clearly and deliberately, he continues with: "There were some things I could have handled better”¦ The money and the fame-that was one of the problems. My abject reaction to it was largely because I was placed in a situation where I was a celebrity and I didn't want to be."
Today, Matthew Good is a little heavier and jowlier than he was-he's gotten a handle on the anxiety that beleaguered him when his life and career were a maelstrom, and his appetite has returned. He speaks lovingly about his eternally encouraging mother, whose favourite record is Avalanche and who told him Audio of Being was "shit", and his train-loving dad who would bounce the dinner table on his knees to simulate a dining car. It's nice, but the afternoon is winding down so I make one more bid for a juicy tabloid headline from Canada's former Minister of Bad Vibes. He doesn't take the bait. He's through with "negativity", as he's said several times today. He won't unload on the members of his old band-he simply insists that he wishes them well. He even wishes Chad Kroeger well. Matthew Good Version 2005 apparently grasps the notion that inviting Amnesty International to your gigs, revealing Bono's hypocrisy, and generally advocating for the dispossessed abroad is one thing-but it helps to make a little peace with the dispossessed at home, too.