Happiness is a life never taken too seriously

By Alan Kellogg, Edmonton Journal, December 30, 2000

So, what's up with Moe Berg?

Every year, he returns home to St. Albert at Christmastime to visit family and friends, and every year there are stories, good ones. Talk turns to politics, girlfriends, life in Toronto, food, architecture, travel, health, gripes, little and not so little victories and humiliations. And, for much of the past two decades, recounting the arc of The Pursuit of Happiness, the group musical manifestation of Moe's pocket genius, which took the skinny, unforgettable blond kid from Edmonton to the world's concert stages, video channels and recording studios.

"Well, we haven't exactly held a press conference or anything," observes the artist-as-a-41-year-old over a plate of goulash with trademarked self-deprecation. But, it's true enough, barring any "major outside force that would make us strap on our skates again," TPOH is semi-officially kaput. The sense of past tense can easily be discerned on Sex & Food, the American "best of" package released earlier this year. "Apart from the music, the thing I'm most proud of is that we never took ourselves too seriously and almost always had fun. I had a blast," he writes in the liner notes as a cheery, if insistent enough adieu.

There are other topics this year. Love, and a wedding engagement consummated at a cottage near Parry Sound. Driving lessons -- on a standard yet -- swimming, camping, the outdoor life. Moe Berg? In a tent? Life lurches forward for all of us.

And there are stories about stories. For, this year marked the publication of The Green Room (Gutter Press, 164 pp.), a debut collection of short stories received as an event by a dutiful national media, which generally avoids first-time authors of the difficult genre like poets from northern Manitoba.

Analogies to the songs, to the songwriting craft, are to be expected. The language, like the lyrics, is sparse, earthy, direct. And titles like Funny with a Flat Tummy, Good Grooming or perhaps even The King of Cunnilingus might have been culled from a TPOH CD.

"It was a smooth transition," allows the author, who has spent 18 months on the work, which began with two stories published in the literary magazine Blood & Aphorisms. "The heat was off, I didn't feel the obligation to write songs everyday. I had always wanted to write stories, and it turned out to be pretty easy. I had always free-associated with the songs, which started as prose and had to be finessed into lyrics."

And the change in jobs?

"I loved playing live, and the thing I miss most is the camaraderie of a band, hanging out with the guys. But I've always worked steadily and I always liked sitting down by myself, the solitary aspect. I've been writing songs for 20 years. This is a new challenge."

Moe admires the work of Raymond Carver and Barbara Gowdy, neither exactly a charter member of the sunny scenarios club, and the characters who people The Green Room have usually been described as urban losers. The new author is learning quickly how to handle such talk.

"The first thing they ask is if it would be possible to link the stories together into a novel, since short stories don't sell. It's not an overly ambitious connection, but in music I learned from Todd Rundgren that every album should hang together in a sense, so I applied that to some degree here."

"In fact, there is some redemption for some of the characters, it's a bit harsh to say they're all losers and failures. But I think anyone who has ever moved to a big city without support systems, family, church or even normal social conventions will recognize some of these people. If they haven't, well, dare to dream," he laughs.

"I've noticed that people often screw up for no apparent reason, they just do. I was careful to not try and overreach, to keep the scope small. And a couple of the reader reviews I've read online say they appreciate that, which is nice."

Coming up is an album producing assignment with the surfabilly band The Sintones, a musical directing-performing stint for the Canadian premiere of the rockin' off-off-Broadway hit Hedwig and The Angry Inch (starring fellow St. Albert expat Ted Dykstra) and yes, The Novel.

"Well, it's basically Catcher in the Rye 2000. The character is a lot more likable than any in The Green Room and a lot of what goes on is in his head. It's not er, wildly ... plot-driven. It's coming. I write every day. I've got a large amount of job satisfaction right now. ..."

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