(and the sidebar, "Other Sides")
by Howard Druckman, Metropolis, June 7, 1990
"Someone told me," says Moe Berg, to a jam-packed crowd at the Rivoli, "that they heard we were mentioned on 'Sue's Sex Show.'" Berg is leading Pursuit of Happiness through the first of two 'secret' gigs to launch their second album, One Sided Story. Billed as New Adults on the Block, the band is hot, and Berg's usual between-song sarcasm is in top form.
"Some girl called (the radio phone-in program) and said she'd slept with someone in Pursuit of Happiness, and now she's afraid she has a disease. People think that everybody in the band is sleeping with everybody else, even the guys with the guys...as if we're all AIDS poster children."
But One Sided Story, like their 1988 debut LP Love Junk, is about sex: more songs about what happens when girls and boys put their bodies (and occasionally, their souls) together. People are bound to think the LP is partly autobiographical; Berg probably couldn't write this sharply if it wasn't. Is Moe a hound for girls, or what?
"I guess being seen that way is the risk I take," he says. "But most of this stuff is in my mind. I'm not a sex maniac or anything. Far from it, believe me. In normal life I'm a real closed person, so when I write, I reveal my dark side."
But the sexual side isn't that dark, just hyperactive. "I don't think I'm more obsessed with sex than anybody else," Berg explains. "It's just that I will write about it, in a realistic way. Some of the things have happened to me, some are parts of my personality, some are people I know."
And most are about the conflict between faith and infidelity; the band even toyed with titling the album Infidelity in 1000 Languages. In "The One Thing" and "Forbidden Fruit," the temptation to stray is overwhelming, while in "All I Want" and "Survival," separated lovers struggle to remain faithful. But the other songs are about all kinds of love - from desperate clinging to testicular overload. "New Language," one of Berg's best songs, is about inarticulate desire.
"Part of that was about how language is becoming more benign," he says. "I found out, by doing Love Junk, how easily people are offended. Then I thought 'I'm a writer. I don't care if I offend people.' I just translated that into a relationship."
In fact, Berg seems to delight in offending "deserving" parties. In the "Sue's Sex Show" rap, he fell just short of naming the radio station that airs the weekly program - one that plays Pursuit of Happiness in heavy rotation. One item that offends some people is Berg's make-up - which serves as a kind of onstage armour. But he's given it up now.
"I just started to feel ridiculous," he admits. "I thought 'What am I doing? I'm a 30-year-old man. I can't do this anymore. I look stupid.'" Berg is, as the song says, an adult now. But any 30-year-old who's still attached to the adolescent medium of rock'n'roll is bound to feel ridiculous sometimes.
"I do, at times," says Berg. "I think it's great that we draw 14-year-olds, and that's rock'n'roll. But I often feel I'm in a young man's game, and it's a concern. Still, I don't try to write songs for 14-year- olds. It's okay as long as you're aware of it, and you're not parodying yourself."
Berg, in fact, drinks bottled water onstage rather than beer now - to improve his singing. At The Concert Hall last year, and at the recent club dates, he'd hit a more-than-occasional 'off' note, as if he was having trouble hearing his monitors.
"Always," he says. "If you can't hear yourself sing, and there's whitenoise going on behind you, it becomes difficult to find the note. And the more you drink, the more it impairs your hearing. But I'm not a really good singer, never have been. I have to be under almost perfect conditions before I can sing on key."
Still, the records, where every Todd-Rundgren-produced detail is in perfect place, sell well. Love Junk moved 125,000 units in the U.S. and about the same at home. The new one, intentionally crafted to sound like Love Junk II, will probably match or surpass those figures.
"I have no great confidence that we're going to sell a lot of records," says Berg, "but I'd like to sell a few, because then it's easy to convince somebody you need artistic control. We've been extremely lucky that we've gotten to make two records exactly the way we wanted to. I'd love to be able to continue to do that."
Pursuit of Happiness recently changed personnel for the second time in its five-year life. Bassist Johnny Sinclair and singer Leslie Stanwyck quit TPOH to start their own rockin' pop group, Loud Factory (and were replaced by Brad Barker and Susan Murumets). Years earlier, singers Tam and Tasha Amabile also left TPOH to co-front their own band, the Fatales. In both cases, the members left to write their own songs, prompting speculation that Moe Berg's leadership really is a 'one-sided story'.
"A lot of the time," says Berg, "I already have an idea of how I want the arrangements to go when I make the first demos for the band. Every other aspect of the band is completely democratic, but ultimately, the reason I'm doing this is I want to do my songs. John and Leslie formed a writing team, and wanted to do their own songs."
Sinclair and Stanwyck are both day-jobbing it these days, but Loud Factory - like any local indie band - is cutting demos, playing clubs, and pursuing a deal.
"Leaving TPOH wasn't the easiest thing to do," Sinclair admits. "But we were on the road for about 13 months, and it was no secret that I was a little tired of it. We'd done two albums, toured the world, and I wondered what more this had to offer me. I didn't want to wait another year to get two songs on a Pursuit album. The worst that can happen now is that I'll be known as a guy who quit a successful band. But I'm doing what I want to, and I have no regrets."
After the split, Berg spent about three weeks auditioning new players, as much for personal chemistry as musical chops. New TPOH singer Susan Murumets was in Guelph, fronting a band called Big Picture, doing studio work and completing a degree in music. TPOH will undoubtedly provide great experience, and a great career move, but Murumets' writing will surely take a back seat.
"That doesn't bother me," she says. "I can write in my free time. Everyone in the band is important, and the vocals are a big part of the sound. I'm just doing what I love to, in venues that I probably wouldn't be playing for a long time. It feels really good."