The ‘Stupid Luck’ That Made The Pursuit Of Happiness Famous

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The ‘Stupid Luck’ That Made The Pursuit Of Happiness Famous

Postby Marsbar » Wed Oct 03, 2018 2:17 pm

Moe Berg still can’t believe the ‘stupid luck’ that made the Pursuit of Happiness famous

By Moe Berg’s own admission, the road taken to the Pursuit of Happiness’s 1988 debut album, Love Junk, was almost obnoxiously smooth.

Within about a year of landing in Toronto from Edmonton with future TPOH drummer Dave Gilby in 1985, Berg had a hot band behind him and a freak hit on his hands in the form of the ageless “I’m An Adult Now,” a dark-witted indie single that swiftly rocketed to nationwide popularity through the embrace of its cheap-as-crud video by the early MuchMusic network.

NOTE - FROM MARSDEN: This Toronto Star article seems to have not noticed that it was CFNY that really got this all started.


Although at the time the Pursuit of Happiness only had a four-song demo tape to its name, it would soon after be snapped up by American major label Chrysalis Records to record its first album. With personal Berg hero Todd Rundgren producing, no less.

“The stupid luck involved in this is quite flabbergasting,” laughs Berg, 59, over a pint last week, shortly after Love Junk’s 30th-anniversary “deluxe” reissue by Universal Music Canada.

“The Pursuit of Happiness story is pretty linear. We wanted to play shows, so we went and did a demo tape because that was what you did back then … and we had those four songs, and ‘I’m an Adult Now’ was one of those songs, and I had a friend who was a film director and he said, ‘Hey, we should shoot a video,’ just as a project, a fun thing to do …

“So, we just spent a Sunday afternoon shooting some stuff on the street and cobbled it together into a video and we handed it into MuchMusic thinking they were going to play it on City Limits. That’s all we really thought was going to happen. But then the next day they called me up and said, ‘We’re going to put this into full rotation.’”

That stroke of “stupid luck” set everything in motion. Their catchy video instantly attracted a national audience, “and then we kind of spilled into the States and the U.S. came sniffin’ around, and we had a manager and the whole thing,” Berg says. “People ask me, ‘How am I supposed to make it?’ And I say, ‘Here’s what happened to me: no one would take my phone calls and then my whole answering machine was full the next day.’”

Things would proceed at this impossible pace for some time.

Asked by Chrysalis who he’d ideally like to produce TPOH’s debut, Berg half-jokingly offered up Rundgren’s name because he was a fan of the man’s pop songwriting and past production work on records by the likes of Meat Loaf, the Tubes, the New York Dolls, Cheap Trick and the Psychedelic Furs.

To his astonishment, he got a call from Rundgren while on the road in Winnipeg a few days later. Rundgren didn’t like the guitar player — “terrible” is the word Berg, that very same guitar player, recalls him using in the Love Junk reissue’s liner notes — but he saw something in the songs, and loved the interplay between Berg’s acerbic, sex-obsessed lyrics and the tight female harmonies supplied by guitarist Kris Abbott and backing vocalist Leslie Stanwyck.

Rundgren came to Toronto to see the band, which also featured bassist Johnny Sinclair at the time. Amazingly, he was on board.

“I was taken with the unusual lineup and how tight the band was. I thought it was unique in the way that the girls rocked with boys and fully backed up Moe’s frankly boy-driven material,” emails Rundgren, who sums up the prevailing mood of the quick Love Junk sessions to follow as “disbelief.”

“The record was completed in about 10 days, start to finish — so quickly that some band members thought there might be something wrong with it.”

There wasn’t, of course, because here we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Love Junk — still a thoroughly unique (and literate) blast of gut-punching AC/DC riffery, Midwestern punk attitude and, yes, Rundgren-esque pop savvy — with a double-LP/double-CD package brimming with musical odds-’n’-sods from back in the day that officially acknowledges the “classic” status the album has assumed over the past three decades.

“I’m An Adult Now” and its companion singles, “Hard to Laugh” and “She’s So Young,” have never really left the airwaves, and still sound like nothing quite as much as the Pursuit of Happiness. As Rundgren himself puts it: “I can say with a fair degree of certainty that no one has done a record to compare with it since. The coed lineup, the stunningly honest lyrics, the sheer aggression — (it) just doesn’t just happen that often.”

Love Junk’s platinum-selling success at home and international release via an American major also demonstrated to a generation of young Canadian bands, along with similar indie-to-mainstream CanCon crossovers by the likes of the Cowboy Junkies, Blue Rodeo and the Tragically Hip, that you could put out your own records and make something happen.

Berg, who would make three more albums with TPOH before the band amiably drifted apart in 1996, modestly concurs that “the original record still sounds fine to me.”

“There wasn’t a whole lot of studio trickery, which quite honestly kind of saved us because in the ’80s there was a lot of studio trickery and you can hear it on those old, dated records, and you don’t really hear it on ours. So, we were kind of the benefactors of that. If we’d gone with another producer who was a little more in love with his, like, new digital reverbs and stuff the record might not have had the same life, I guess … It’s good to know it’s not completely disappearing into the sands of time.”

Love Junk’s re-release prompted one of the Pursuit of Happiness’s infrequent reunion gigs Thursday at Supermarket in Toronto’s Kensington Market. That’s followed by dates in Kitchener, Winnipeg (with 54-40), Edmonton and Vancouver (with the Northern Pikes) with the TPOH lineup that’s held for the past 20 years: Berg, Gilby, Abbot, longtime bassist Brad Barker and vocalist Renée Suchy. After that, Berg is game to keep going as long as there’s demand and everyone’s having fun.

“We’re engaged in this for whatever it is and I don’t even know what that is,” he says. “The record got made and we’re going to promote it, but I don’t know if we’re going to do, like, five shows or 20 shows. We’re just doing whatever sort of comes our way. If there’s no opportunities to do it, that’s fine, too. But if there’s opportunities to do it, let’s go do it and have a good time.”

By BEN RAYNERPop Music Critic
Tues., Oct. 2, 2018
Toronto Star
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