TPOH Declares Its Independence

by David Wild, Rolling Stone, February 23, 1989

A Duran Duran concert may not seem like the ideal place for an up-and-coming band to perform a witty, ironic song about the trials and tribulations of maturity. But that's exactly what the Pursuit of Happiness is doing at the Miami Arena as it closes its opening set with "I'm An Adult Now" - the infectious first single from the Canadian band's impressive, Todd Rundgren-produced debut album Love Junk. "I can't even look at young girls anymore/People think I'm some kind of pervert," sings the twenty-nine-year-old Moe Berg to a surprisingly attentive audience of 6000 or so Duran Duran fans, most of whom are, of course, young girls.

So why is it, then, that the little girls understand TPOH? This is, after all, a thinking person's pop group, which calls one of its songs "Consciousness Raising As A Social Tool." The main reason would seem to be that for all the sly, inspired wordplay of Berg's songs, the music that the five-piece band from Toronto offers is rather arena-friendly - a perfect pairing of subtle thoughts with riveting guitar-heavy hard pop. "If two vans crashed, one carrying AC/DC and the other carrying Abba, you would end up with the Pursuit of Happiness," bassist Johnny Sinclair has said.

TPOH - Berg, Sinclair, guitarist Kris Abbott, drummer Dave Gilby and vocalist Leslie Stanwyck - is an unpretentious bunch whose members seem to spend most of their waking hours amusing one another with funny chat about their far-flung pop-culture heroes. Although the current shows opening for Duran Duran are relatively straightforward, the band's own headlining club shows are patter heavy - during a few shows on the recent Love Junket tour, Berg took time onstage to abuse a Mr. T doll.

Backstage in their dressing room - with the squeals of Duran Duran fans still audible - the band members unwind before getting back on their tour bus for the long trip to Washington D.C., by successfully naming in chronological order every entry in the discography of their fellow Great White North rockers Rush. This, apparently, is these quirky Canucks' idea of a good time.

The thin, long-haired Berg - who claims he also thought of calling the group Vincent Price Superstar - says he had the name TPOH before he had the band. "The Pursuit of Happiness comes from your Declaration of Independence, and it is not meant ironically," Berg says. "Our mandate is to entertain. There are lots of musicians out there with twelfth-grade educations talking about how horrible the world is. I don't really understand what they have to whine about. They're rockstars! Jesus, they have money, and people constantly tell them how great they are, and girls talk to them. We don't have much to moan about."

Berg - a huge fan of pure popsters like the Beatles, Badfinger and the Raspberries, as well, as the harder stuff from bands like AC/DC and Van Halen - says he tries to approach serious matters in a relatively lighthearted way, as on "I'm An Adult Now" and "Down On Him," a CD-only track on Love Junk that may be the first feminist rock song ever written by a man about oral sex. "I didn't want to just write an obvious song about women being subservient to men," Berg says. "I didn't want to sound like Tracy Chapman or Alan Alda, so I thought, 'What better way to address the subject than to tie it into cock-sucking?'"

TPOH's current lineup has only been complete since the January 1988 addition of Stanwyck and Abbott - whose vocals blend with Berg's to make a sort of post-punk Mamas and the Papas sound. Berg, Sinclair and Gilby, veterans of various Canadian bands, have been together for three years. One of Berg's earlier bands was the M.C. Rons - a short-lived unit that did rock versions of songs like "It's Not Unusual," "Day-O," and "Goin' Out of My Head."

In late 1986, TPOH released a successful indie single of "I'm An Adult Now" in Canada, which eventually led to the group's deal with Chrysalis. For Berg, recording Love Junk with his hero Todd Rundgren behind the boards was a dream come true. "I have every record Todd ever made, and I've always wanted to work with him," says Berg, wearing a Rundgren badge, as well as one for Tiffany and another that reads YES, I AM A MODEL. And though he doesn't see TPOH as Rundgrenmania (not the real thing but an incredible simulation), he does acknowledge a musical debt. "The truth is that our record would have sounded a bit like Todd no matter who was producing," he says.

Berg's admiration for Rundgren survived at least one potentially dicey moment. "Todd gave me a call once he decided to produce our record," Berg recalls. "He said, 'I really like the material, but we are going to have to do a lot of work on those guitars - the guy you have sucks.' He didn't realize I was the guy on guitar he was talking about.

"But that was okay," says the ever-amiable Berg. "I knew right away that he was not going to bullshit us one bit."

Copyright 1989 Rolling Stone


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