INTERVIEW: Matthew Good tackles the Great North American Bummer

To answer the burning question of the day – why does everybody seem so depressed? – we turn to a prominent Canadian rock singer who suffers from bipolar disorder.

Mental illness doesn’t necessarily make Matthew Good an expert on depression, but as fans can tell you from his music, he’s put some deep thought into unpleasant human behaviour over the years. He ought to have some insight. Having played Tuesday at Jubilee Auditorium, he says he’s feeling much better these days, thanks to a medley of meds that keep his symptoms in check. He was only diagnosed and treated five years ago.

He says, “You remember how much of a f—ing moody cantankerous bastard I was?”

We sure do. That’s part of what made Sonic radio’s poster boy so interesting. This is sometimes the case with creative people, often to their detriment. Mental illness might’ve made things fun during shows or interviews, Good allows, but musically, “I don’t think it makes any difference.” His latest record is called Lights of Endangered Species.

While Good dismisses the idea that this apparent epidemic of depression is caused by bad habits, by letting yourself have the blues so much that your brain chemistry starts to ossify around this kernel of gloom and it really does become a sickness, he allows there are profound sociological factors that play upon the modern brain. We’re in the midst of the Great North American Bummer – and it’s all our own doing.

“We’re exposed to so much more and we’re exposed to so much more stress,” Good says. “The speed of life in this day and age is much vastly increased from what it was even two decade ago.”

So it’s no surprise there seems to be more and more people suffering mental illness. Privileged North Americans have it the worst. Good says, “We live in a society that has long been built on the premise that there are markers of success and markers of happiness, as if you can look through a catalogue and choose contentment, and it will tell you the path to follow. And then when that whole ‘You Can Co Anything’ dream doesn’t pan out for a lot of people, and they suddenly find themselves 30 and married with kids and a job that our fathers would’ve done happily,” then, well, some people get sad.

In short, we’re spoiled.

For evidence, go to Central America, where Good has spent some time. His brother Chris owns property on a volcanic island in Lake Nicaragua where he allows to locals to live and keep whatever they grow.

“You’ll find families with absolutely nothing, but they’ll all get together, cook a huge meal out of whatever they have and pull out the guitars,” Good says. “Life is great. The irony, of course, is look at how we view them: As having less, as not being as advanced, or dare I say, as intelligent, as us. Which is completely and totally ridiculous.”

Atheism may be another source of long faces: No invisible man in the sky, no heaven, it’s not a pretty picture. Good allows that organized religion, “for all its evils over the many Centuries, definitely serves a purpose. When it comes to that subject, I’m pretty ambiguous. I would never claim myself as anything. I’d more call myself a secular humanist – basically that everybody has a right to believe in what they want to believe and that man has the ability to confront and solve a lot of his own problems.”

There are a lot of problems that the media is quick to report on. We live in an age where anyone anywhere at any time can instantly know any horrible thing happening to anyone anywhere in the world. What’s good about this – people can rally to help much quicker – has a downside: We’re bombarded with bad news on an hourly basis. It’s no wonder that CNN has been called the “organ grinder of doom.” Watch that for a few days straight and see how happy you are.

Good knows this well. In addition to being a rocker, he’s a dedicated news blogger. Of all the horrible things we hear about, we don’t know the half of it – the important half, the half in which “we’re complicit without our knowledge,” Good says. These are the sort of stories he focuses on, he says, material one usually doesn’t find in mainstream media, with a few exceptions. Selected portions of Good’s blog have been syndicated by the Guardian UK – and not because he writes puff pieces.

“I did some reactionary, off-the-cuff entry about the riots in Vancouver,” he says. “I’ve lived in downtown Vancouver for nearly two decades. It’s just like: Jesus fucking Christ, give me a break. Are you people kidding me? That was syndicated by the Guardian and the feedback I got was pretty bad. People threatened my son’s life and shit. So I just saved everything to a backup, wiped it clean, gave it a couple of months and started it up again.”

This sort of thing happens on a regular basis, Good says. And while he takes threats seriously – he has a wife, five-year-old daughter and eight-month-old son – he’s not too worried anyone will actually carry them out.

He says, “People have been coming after me for shit forever. Speak your mind and people are going to come after you.”