David Wang, forefront, is the lead singer with Critical Mass. Photo courtesy David Wang

Timely musical message on mental health

  • May 28, 2020

Most people have experienced that annoying friend who no matter how you try to shake them, they just won’t go away.

It’s how Catholic songwriter David Wang views mental health issues.

“They just kind of hang around with you, they never leave your side, make your life miserable and you can’t get rid of them,” said Wang, lead singer of award-winning Christian rock band Critical Mass from the Waterloo, Ont., region.

Wang and bandmate Ian Tanner turned those feelings into words and music and the result is “Misery, My Friend,” which Critical Mass has just released as a single along with a video posted to YouTube.

“I decided to personify that feeling of depression and anxiety as a person called misery. Through your good times or bad times misery is always there with you,” he said.

It wasn’t planned as a song for our time of pandemic, but it has certainly worked out that way. Producer Andrew Horrocks was putting the finishing touches to the song when the onslaught of COVID-19 put the nation in lockdown. And in the early days of the new reality, Wang could see mental health issues were having an effect on the world around him. His father, suffering from dementia, was caught behind the invisible wall separating those in long-term care from the outside world and “it broke my heart to see how isolated he was.”

Then came stories of workers on the front lines succumbing to the pressures of the situation and committing suicide. It showed no one is immune to mental health issues.

It made for an easy call to get this song out as quickly as possible. “We figured people needed to hear this message right now, that if they are having that feeling they have to contact somebody and get help,” said Wang.

“Misery, My Friend” has an upbeat rhythm to it, but the lyrics are anything but. It’s an intentional irony, the songwriter said. The lyrics don’t give you a false hope, but the song itself is very hopeful.

“The reality is a lot of us have to struggle with this through our lives. It’s not like with a lot of Christian music’s songs, ‘I’ve found Jesus, my depression’s gone.’ For a lot of us it’s not like that and we’re seeing that right now (with COVID-19),” said Wang.

The song is somewhat personal to Wang, who isn’t afraid to share some of the mental issues he’s had to overcome. He’s had his share of struggles: a bankruptcy, a high-conflict divorce, family alienation and a home devastated by flood. But he’s survived with the help of counsellors and through the tools and support he’s received.

His music, and writing overall, have also helped him through the tough times.

“My personal thing is when I’m feeling kind of down, I write. It’s sort of my therapy to myself,” he said. “When I write the anxious feelings disappear.”

The response to the song — which is available as a free mp3 download at criticalmassmusic.org — has been encouraging. Wang even received an e-mail from another songwriter who shared with him he had penned a poem after hearing the song and that helped him through the day.

“It’s nice to get that affirmation that people like hearing the message and they’re doing something about it.”

The University of Waterloo, where Wang is a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has also latched on to the song and shared it with students.

For Critical Mass, it’s the band’s first release in almost seven years. The band has released six albums since its origins in 1997, two of which captured Best Rock Album honours at the Canadian Gospel Music Association Awards. The band stopped being a touring band in 2014 but has plans to resume playing live again in 2021.

Wang also for a number of years was a columnist with The Catholic Register, covering the Christian music scene.

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