The world is a fine place and worth fighting for


In his book U2: At the End of the World, Bill Flanagan writes about watching Sinead O’Connor record the song “You Made Me The Thief of Your Heart” in a dimly lit recording studio surrounded by candles and flowers. It was, Flanagan noted, how he used to imagine how all of his favorite records were recorded before he became a music journalist and discovered that most of the time studios have very little of the magic to them that music fans would like to believe they have.

I mention this not because I’m pitching for a spot with Metroblogging Dublin [mbd] but because I know more than I’d like to about the recording of Matthew Good Band’s The Audio of Being, and for a long time that’s come between me and a really good listen to the album. It was not recorded in ideal circumstances, the Matthew Good Band was barely on speaking terms with one and other and broke up shortly after its release. It gets dismissed as the contractual obligatory record, or the one where everyone in the band went crazy and tried to buy the dolphins in the Vancouver Aquarium for the world’s most expensive sushi dinner (a completely untrue rumor of excess that I’m starting right now).

For me it came at a bad time.

I’ll be honest if I’m packing my infant into a space ship to launch him beyond the atmosphere as our species’ last hope for survival as the world crumbles under my feet I’m going to send two records with him. (I’d send an iPod but since he might end up in 1950’s Kansas that’s not going to be useful at all). The first will be U2’s Achtung Baby and the second will be the Matthew Good Band’s Beautiful Midnight. These are the two perfect records of my lifetime. This point is completely inarguable, though your perfect records may be completely different, for me these are two works of music that mean as much to me as real events or even people.

Ridiculous, I know, but they’re just markers of changes or of periods of my life and they’ve come to symbolize things well beyond what their creators could have conceived when they were recording them. Some people are going to get what I mean, others won’t. It’s going to depend on your relationship to music or to some other art form. If for you it’s just something to do on a Friday night, then this is all going to sound somewhat unhinged, like a telephone call coming to you in broken English the words might be understandable but they ultimately won’t add up to anything more than a plea for trans-Atlantic comprehension.

It’s too rare an occurrence that I get to sit in a darkened room with a good pair of headphones on and listen, really listen, to music. That’s my fault as much as it is anything else, so I can’t pass this off on a job or having to redo my resume for yet another job I’ll never get called back about. I’m not seventeen, and I don’t spend my evenings laying on my bed trying to sort out why Michelle Smith doesn’t feel the same way about me as I do her while wearing headphones and filling my head with music about people who feel the way I do confirming that I was not quite as alone in the world as I had thought.

Which is quite melodramatic, but then again I’m a sucker for The O.C. and besides high school and university is the time to be melodramatic and really believe that people mean what they say in pop songs.

Tonight I got to sit in my room on my bed and do some writing with a big pair of headphones on, listening to one of my two perfect albums. I noticed things that I had not noticed for a long time, like Matthew Good shouting “My devil’s on roller skates” in my left ear eighteen seconds into “Hello Time Bomb”. It doesn’t really show up on most headphones, but when I caught it again after a few years it made me laugh because it was so removed from the song. It sounded like he was alone in the room shouting at the microphone from about ten feet away. It was touches like that that reminded me why I love Beautiful Midnight.

Matthew Good at Whistler a few years back

In recent years Good has distanced himself from it, and as much as I admire and enjoy his solo work it’s unlikely that I’ll ever feel the same way about it as I do this record. “Hello Time Bomb” may have brought in the frat boys. I’ve been to over a dozen Matthew Good shows over the years, and I know that the opening notes of the big hit radio single means that some shirtless yahoo is going to start running around trying to mosh not caring that the girls in the front row are being jammed up against the barrier separating the stage from the audience. I’ve been in the photo pit at Matthew Good Band shows, and could see the worry on the band’s faces as the song that made them popular actively endangered fans below.

It’s still a wonderful album, and a song like “Suburbia” which often gets overlooked by fans since it never was a single and never had a video, is honest, moving and beautiful in a way that too few songs are these days.

Listening with my headphones reaffirmed my love, and so I decided to venture deeper into the catalogue to the often overlooked The Audio of Being. It has never grabbed me like the band’s other records have, or like Good’s solo work has. It came out at a time where I was not looking for a CD to tell me how I felt, and by that point of my life like Bill Flanagan I knew more about how records were made. It was a record I listened to a lot, but never listened to. If you know what I mean by that then you get it, if you don’t then I don’t know how to explain it to you. (I told you up front this was not going to make complete sense).

The Audio of Being opens with the sort of sonic barrage that Good’s largely been running from since the band broke up. The pressure from the label, the fans and even within the band, to make Beautiful Midnight II was probably overwhelming. It’s easy to see the relationship between the two albums, but they’re not the same. It opens with menace and recriminations, and though Beautiful Midnight invoked the devil on track two, and ended with murder, there are no cheerleaders to count us in. It is music for the end of the world. Lyrically Good would only get darker than this on “Weapon”, musically the band sounds like stormtroopers marching. It’s a sonic assualt that seems to belong more to something from Nine Inch Nails The Downward Spiral than anything that the band had done before.

There are strong songs on this disc, and the baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater. Good has gone on to do much more interesting work, but did reclaim some of the songs on his acoustic disc that was included with his best of album In A Coma. “Tripoli”, which never did anything for me when the album was released, is now stronger because of Good’s acoustic version has become so familiar. Like a lot of the songs on the album it suffers from an extra-unneeded layer of production that buries the natural strengths of Good’s song writing.

Which ends up being a much too analytical way of talking about a record.

The most honest thing then that I can say about The Audio of Being is that it’s a record that deserves a good pair of headphones, a dark room and someone’s undivided attention.

Note: A no-prize to the person who gets how the title of the post relates to the post itself beyond thematic reasons.

4 Comments so far

  1. Barbara Doduk (unregistered) on January 10th, 2008 @ 2:41 pm

    Jeffery, what you have written is filled with such passion, your devotion to the man behind the music has never waned, this reflects that. Kudos.

    I was in the Greenhouse studio quite a few times during the making of Beautiful Midnight. It was a fun time, but even then the divide between the man and the band was clear. I fondly recall the evening I popped over to visit Matt in early 2000 and he pulled out his guitar telling me he’d just written an amazing song, and he played me Advertising, and asked me what I thought. Even though AOB came out of a terrible period of his life, it was fueled by his youthful fire. IMO His passion has become too narrowly focused on politics and being so serious, and I personally feel he has lost that sense of fun he once had. I remember the days of the manifestos, the stories about a boy named Bug and the sense of humor. BM was the height of those “good” times, the pinnacle.

    PS: Ernest Hemingway.

  2. Jeffery Simpson (unregistered) on January 10th, 2008 @ 6:59 pm

    While I do miss the monthly manifesto and the more light heated aspects of his work, it’s hard to fault a guy for being politically aware and being passionate about something other than what we’ve come to expect from our celebrities.

    And you’re half right, it is a Hemingway quote, but that doesn’t quite explain how it fits in with the content of the post (the Beautiful Midnight / The Audio of Being portion of the Matthew Good Band’s career). I’d say you’ve got about one third of the puzzle.

    When/If someone gets it it’s going to be shockingly disapointing. It’s a really trainspotting sort of reference.

  3. Barbara Doduk (unregistered) on January 10th, 2008 @ 11:47 pm

    I am not faulting the political interest, merely stating the fun side seems lost these days. For example Jon Stewart does politics and does it with a great sense of humour (most of the time), not that anyone can just be like JS, but you know, humour goes a long way in bringing politics to the masses.

    On your topic, Let me further say, that I was there the day Genn went over and over on the guitar parts for Born to Kill. A song which I believe, at some point in the touring, there was some audio clips which MG put into the beginning, that included the EH phrase, which actually ends with “I agree with the second part.”


  4. Jeffery Simpson (unregistered) on January 11th, 2008 @ 12:57 am

    We have a winner. Yes, I believe it was a quote from Seven, it was certainly Morgan Freeman’s voice. The movie quote is somewhat off the EH quote, but when Morgan Freeman says something I believe it.

    I’ve got a bootlegged live recording of Born to Kill, and it’s in there. It came on last night and reminded me of it.

    I’ll agree with you to a point on the fun side. I do miss things like a track on an album which is essentially Good failing to play the trolley theme from Mr. Rogers, or the dialogue prior to Flashdance II. Whimsy has its place, but I’d imagine it would be hard to juggle that with his focus on international relations and human rights on his site.

    And his music’s focus has changed. He’s doing a reverse U2, getting more serious and deadpan as he goes on.

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