It’s one of our best-known indie success stories: Toronto’s The Pursuit of Happiness scored big with their first 12” single, thanks in part to a low-budget video in heavy rotation on MuchMusic, the nation’s then-fledgling music station. With its straight talk about growing up, the power-pop song caught the attention of teens and adults alike, and a re-recorded version on 1988’s major label debut Love Junk helped that album hit platinum. TPOH singer-songwriter and guitarist Moe Berg, now a full-time producer, revisits his band’s signature track.
How old were you when you wrote this, and at what point in your songwriting career?
I was in my early-to-mid-20s, still living in Edmonton. I’d been writing songs my whole life and I was at the point where I felt I was starting to write better ones. The genesis started in my mom’s basement, which is where I learned to play guitar.
You inserted yourself, as the writer, into lyrics like “I can’t write songs about girls anymore/I have to write songs about women.” Why?
I do that a fair amount. I guess I came from the school of confessional lyricists like Lou Reed and Joni Mitchell, who put themselves into the song, even if it’s a character. You know they are telling the story.
How autobiographical is it? Were you having a quarter-life crisis?
I guess so. I didn’t have anything in particular going on in my life, I just wrote down what was happening in any given moment. And I guess that day I was thinking about getting older, the idea that your teens are over and your ideas about life are maturing.
I’ve read a lot from other songwriters about their process, and many people talk about songs coming to them, like there is a spiritual benevolence that they channel. I think that’s weird. Like, why would God be so generous to Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney and not so much the general population? What seems more real to me is that some things come naturally to you, and if you work at them you get better. I feel that’s more accurate than God sends you a song once in a while.
So I don’t know if I was planning to write when it happened, but if you arrange your way of thinking as a songwriter, start to organize your thoughts into rhyming words, chorus, then anything you ruminate on can be a song. It becomes intuitive.
Three years after it was an independent hit, you went into the studio with producer Todd Rundgren to make your debut album Love Junk, and re-recorded it. How did that feel?
When you’re young, one of the reasons you need producers and managers is that they can see the bigger picture. When it came time to record our album we thought we should just record our new material, because those other songs were already out there, already done. But everyone said, “No, you need to put ‘I’m an Adult Now’ on there, that’s your song.” I didn’t feel any added pressure to do something different or special in the re-recording sessions, it was just a song. We laid it down rather quickly without hoopla, and it worked out.
What kind of life has it had over the years, in terms of cover versions, or licensing to commercials or films?
There was a time when I would get requests to have it in commercials, and I would always turn them down, because that was an era when it was not a cool thing to do. Now, everyone is trying to get into commercials! I don’t think it’s really been covered, either. But it is also a rather idiosyncratic song, those lyrics, and it’s hard for me to imagine anyone else singing it but me.