Pursuit of Happiness

by J.D. Considine, Baltimore Sun,
reprinted in
Calgary Herald, January 5, 1989

For years, rock'n'roll has been considered kid's stuff, tunes for teens that had to do with cars and girls, and not the problems of leading a grown-up life in a grown-up world. But as the music grows older, so do the people who play it and listen to it.

And that is basically what the Pursuit of Happiness are getting at in the song I'm An Adult Now. With its growling guitars, driving pulse and Reed-style spoken verses, it sounds very rock'n'roll. But the sentiments are more than a little off the norm:

"Well, I don't hate my parents / I don't get drunk just to spite them / I've got my own reasons to drink now / I think I'll call my dad up invite him."

Forget about not getting any younger - this song is getting at what singer Moe Berg describes as starting "to come to terms with the responsibilities of being an adult." Speaking over the phone from his Toronto home, he says. "I guess I always thought of myself as a kid, but certain things happened in my life to make me realize that wasn't true anymore."

Even so, the last thing Berg wanted to do was be caught complaining about the situation. "I had the idea for the song, and decided I didn't really want to write a maudlin, whiny song. It sort of goes against my grain - I hate listening to bands whine. You have to adopt a certain cool when you're an adult. So I thought I should approach it from another tack."

Hence the song's deadpan wit, full of such acid observations as "I don't write songs about girls anymore / I have to write songs about women." But Berg - who, at 29, is a veteran of the Toronto club scene - hopes that does not leave his band pegged as a novelty act.

"People will have to make up their own minds about what kind of band we are," he says. "There's other stuff on the record that is kind of funny. That's one approach I use. Hopefully, what's going to be appealing about our record is that I come out from a different perspective, and sometimes that perspective is ironic or funny.

"I guess you do run the risk of being thought of as a novelty, but if that's what happens, I really don't have any control over it. I just write the songs, and hope people like them."

With a little luck, though, The Pursuit of Happiness should do just fine, and luck seems to be one of the band's strong suits. Although Berg jokes that his band "started at the bottom of the barrel and clawed our way up," the truth of the matter is that "it was more like a series of lucky breaks that we got where we are."

Take, for instance, the first video for I'm An Adult Now. Says Berg, "The band had only been together a couple months, and I have a friend who's a film maker, his name's Nelu Ghiran. We were having one of those barroom conversations, and he said, 'Why don't we make a video?' Just out of the blue.

"So we got together friends that we knew and did it for, like 200 bucks. The thing ended up working out better than we expected, and we started to get a lot of airplay up here in Canada on MuchMusic, which is the MTV equivalent up here, and it brought us to national attention. That created the demand for the single."

From there, things proceeded apace, with the Pursuit of Happiness landing a record contract in the United States. When it came time to pick a producer, the famous Pursuit of Happiness luck struck once again, with the band landing one of Berg's biggest idols, Todd Rundgren.

"We pursued him, and I was really flattered that he wanted to do it," Berg says. "It was very unexpected, a great experience. He's an incredible person, very intelligent and very creative. He did add a lot to the record; the sounds are all his. I can't imagine a better situation for a band than to (make a record) with Todd Rundgren."

And Love Junk, the Pursuit of Happiness' debut album, bears him out. The sound is big and brash, full of smart, tuneful songs but blessed with enough hard rock edge to keep things from getting too pretentious. From upbeat pop numbers like She's So Young to raunchy rockers like Looking For Girls, Love Junk seems an ideal album for those who realize they are growing older but know they are not too old rock'n'roll.

Still, one question remains: Why the name?

"It's from the Declaration of Independence," Berg answers. "To me, it summed up what I was trying to do as a writer, and our approach as a band. I guess it goes back to the whiny thing - too many bands spend too much time whining. Being in a rock band is actually a pretty good thing, all things considered. Those things are supposed to make you feel good."

Copyright 1989 Calgary Herald, Times-Mirror Newspapers

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