Dark times inspired Matthew Good’s Hospital Music



By Steve Newton

Rock musicians aren’t known for giving away their last beer, so it comes as a bit of a shock when Matthew Good offers up his lone Pilsner Urquell. It’s a muggy Friday afternoon, though, and I’m just parched enough to accept it. “I gotta leave on tour in a week, so there’s nothin’ in my fridge,” explains the courteous host, handing over the premium imported brew before pouring himself some wine and sparking up a ciggie.

We’re hangin’ at the Gastown loft he shares with Casey and Benji, two fine mutts he rescued through the SPCA. The home is zoned residential/commercial, so Good also works here; this is where he recorded the haunting cover of Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You in the End” that closes his new CD, Hospital Music.

The loft is basically one giant room, but it suits Good’s purposes well, and Casey and Benj aren’t complaining. Against one wall sits the computer station from which Good regularly communicates, through extensive blogs, with his dedicated fan base. Two acoustic guitars, a Taylor and a Martin, stand ready for action beside sturdy metal shelves packed tight with movies and books, including works by his favourite poet, Czeslaw Milosz, and his latest read, Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation.

A framed gold record adorns the wall nearby, but it’s not for the Matthew Good Band’s hit-packed Underdogs album of ’97; it’s actually for Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring. Turns out Good, a hard-core Talk Talk fan, liberated the trophy from the CFOX basement after doing an interview there in the mid ’90s. (To be fair, the station’s program director at the time said he could have it.)

If Good had his own industry awards on display, they’d take up a fair amount of wall space. Each of his three solo CDs, and all five MGB discs, have surpassed the 50,000-unit mark, signifying gold status in Canada. But he’s not one to flaunt his commercial accomplishments or put on airs; in fact, he’s about as anti–Entertainment Tonight as they come. With his greasy, unkempt hair, worn jeans, and thrift-store T-shirt, Good could easily be mistaken for one of the disenfranchised Downtown Eastsiders smoking crack five storeys down on Cordova.

He feels an affinity for the wayward souls just scraping by in his neighbourhood, and living on the fringes of Skid Row has definitely had an impact on the tone of his new CD. “Girl Wedged Under the Front of the Firebird” opens with a recording of a man on East Hastings talking about a young woman being run down by a car. The candid sound bite that kicks off “Champions of Nothing” has an anonymous East End alley dweller pontificating: “Weird here is normal. Weird here is the extreme somewhere else.”

With his social-activist bent, Good is quick to leap to the defence of Vancouver’s downtrodden. “You wonder why city council, before going on break, votes themselves a pay raise,” he grumbles, “then defers the subsidized-housing issue to a later date. The reality is that a lot of people down here need help; they suffer from mental illnesses. I don’t ever walk out of my front door without realizing the fact that the only difference that separates many of them from me is the fact that I can afford drugs.”

Drugs and mental-health problems played a major role in the creation of Hospital Music. Good has always suffered from anxiety, but after a painful divorce that anxiety became extreme, to the point where his doctor prescribed a high dosage of antidepressants. At the time neither Good nor his physician realized that the 36-year-old also suffers from bipolar disorder. Things came to a head when the troubled rocker was staying at his parents’ house last summer.

“I remember getting out of the shower and going into the spare bedroom where I was sleeping at the time,” he recalls, “and that’s all I remember. I woke up in the hospital and they said I took in excess of 45 [pills]. Given the nature of that, I had to willfully commit myself to the psychiatric ward.”

Good’s first self-produced CD, Hospital Music was written during his recovery. “I wrote the record how the record had to be written,” he points out. “I took the subject matter and I translated that into music.” The songs range from the dreamy, Pink Floyd–ian “Champions of Nothing”–replete with guitarist Rob Bruno’s soaring David Gilmour–style solo–to the mid-tempo stomper “The Devil’s in Your Details”, which was cowritten in 2005 with former Age of Electric and Limblifter member Ryan Dahle, who sits in on lead guitar.

Several songs feature just ace local skinbasher Pat Steward (Bryan Adams, the Odds) on drums and Good on everything else. He wrote 12 of the 15 tracks himself, but did look for outside inspiration from the Dead Kennedys, whose “Moon Over Marin” gets a mellow make over. “It’s my favourite Dead Kennedys song,” he relates, “and lyrically I think it’s one of Biafra’s greatest.”

Matthew Good fans nationwide will soon be able to hear the artist’s choice covers and newly minted originals, as he sets off on a 37-date tour from Victoria to the Maritimes and back. He’s psyched about the intimate aspects of the solo acoustic setting.

“There’s that interaction between the audience where you feel like you’re part of this big event,” he says. “And given the personal nature of the record, I thought that it would be a really great way to stop and talk about crap and have a laugh, you know.”

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