Categories: Entertainment

Moe is the tops

Reporter Scott Hayes slowly worked on his massive Rolling Stone-style triple feature on Moe Berg for almost nine years. Bringing it to fruition was a passion project that has finally allowed him to sleep again.

When I first started as a reporter here almost nine years ago, one of the first things that I did was to figure out a way to interview Moe Berg. The lead singer of awesome CanCon power pop band The Pursuit of Happiness was born and raised right here in St. Albert. I never felt that justice was given to him in the way of some kind of official recognition or even a feature story in the press to acknowledge not only his contributions to the world of music but also his lifelong dedication to his vastly successful and influential artistic practice.

We’ve celebrated Mark Messier in a few different ways but he barely had any connection to this city as far as I’m concerned. Messier has a road and an arena named after him and all he had to do was play hockey. The Moose is retired but where’s the Moe Berg Amphitheatre? What are the directions to get to TPOH Way? Why isn’t Love Junk taught in schools?

Furthermore, Moe is still active in TPOH, teaching music at Fanshawe College in Ontario, producing music for other musicians, and making tracks with his new band The TransCanada Highwaymen. Joined by former lead singer of the Barenaked Ladies Steven Page, Sloan’s Chris Murphy, and Craig Northey of Odds, the band is set to tour the country starting in the spring.

Nothing against Messier – honestly – but his connection to St. Albert was pretty threadbare and he’s been retired for more than a decade. Moe Berg, on the other hand, is a workhorse who went through elementary, junior and senior high school here, taught himself to play guitar, practiced endlessly and wrote songs his whole life just to get good at it, and he’s still doing it. He toured around the world and put this city on the map for major musical birthplaces. He’s a self-made Rock God.

Okay, I know I’m sounding too much like a die-hard fan here. I just felt that respect was due. If there’s no statue dedicated to the man then the very least I could do was write a feature article about the life and times of Moe Berg.

And so I spent the years from 2008 to 2016 slowly doing my research and eventually making contact with Moe himself. Earlier this year, I put the plan into action by talking to school librarians and going through copies of old yearbooks, slowly putting the pieces together. I was lucky enough to interview Moe twice wherein I learned about his early bands, especially The Modern Minds that also featured Kim Upright on drums and Bob Drysdale on bass. I interviewed Kim who started up www.themodernminds.ca as a way of cataloguing and preserving the history of that trio that didn’t last long but sure helped launch each of their careers, even on wildly different paths.

Sadly, I missed my chance to talk to Drysdale. He passed away 13 years ago. Even in his short years, he made his marks with The Modern Minds and then the Rock and Roll Bitches before he gave up on being a performer. He didn’t give up on music, however, and kept on composing his own soundtrack. He preferred to march to the beat of his own drum anyway. It was an honour and a pleasure to meet his mother and younger brother to talk about the legacy and the mystery that was Bob Drysdale.

As it turned out, that feature turned into a Rolling Stone-sized triple feature, full double-page spreads with a three-pager for the big finale. It ran on three consecutive Saturdays, ending Dec. 17. I interviewed former teachers, music bloggers, people involved with hosting the unofficial TPOH website and Facebook page, former and current bandmates, and other music journalists.

It was by far the most work that I’d ever put into anything I’d ever written for the Gazette. I lost sleep over it and was endlessly tinkering with it even after I’d submitted it for publication. If it weren’t for the patience and tolerance of my editors and the creative layout team here, it simply wouldn’t have turned out as well as it did. It might not have been the most important story that I wrote this year, nor the most timely, but it meant a lot to me. As passion projects go, I don’t know if I could top it.

Scott Hayes: Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.