Polaris: "Great Big Happy Green Moonface"
By Maura McAndrew | 29 January 2015
Art: Adrian Todd Webb
Polaris was never supposed to be a real band. Comprised of three members of college rock jangle-pop group Miracle Legion, Polaris was created in 1993 for the now-beloved Nickelodeon program The Adventures of Pete & Pete, a surrealist comedy about two brothers with the same name, a local superhero, and the constant hassles of being an imaginative kid in an adult world. Polaris’s music, tweaked slightly from Miracle Legion’s sound, fit the show perfectly. It was sunny but lonely, all chiming treble notes and mournful harmonica, with aching harmonies perfect for the end of something—childhood, friendship, a long, hard day, or even just a half hour television program.
Anyone who grew up with cable in the ‘90s will likely remember Polaris, if only for Pete & Pete’s opening credits: led by singer-songwriter Mark Mulcahy, the band crashes through a cockeyed, cheerful rendition of theme song “Hey Sandy” on a suburban lawn (“Ay ay ay ay / Hey Sandy / Does your dog bite? / Hey Sandy”). Fans of the show will likewise remember the episode in which the younger Pete Wrigley becomes obsessed with a song he hears a garage band playing one day (one of Polaris’s best, “Summerbaby”), and immediately sets out to form a rock band of his own.
It isn’t hard to understand why someone would become obsessed with “Summerbaby,” or any Polaris song, for that matter. The band perhaps dropped some of the nuance of Miracle Legion, but in its place sprouted a barely-contained sense of joy and freedom—this was clearly an outlet in which they could play, and write the kind of innocent love songs that an east coast college rock band in that era may have worried weren’t serious enough to build a career on.
After Pete & Pete ended, so did Polaris, with Mulcahy embarking upon a solo career that continues to this day (see 2013’s beautiful Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You). Mulcahy started a label, Mezzotint, which compiled and released Polaris’s work (previously only available by mail through a Frosted Mini-Wheats promotion) in 1999, a compilation that created enough of a cult following over the years to finally prompt the band to reunite for a tour last fall and a “cassingle” entitled “Great Big Happy Green Moonface.”
Hearing this song, and watching the accompanying found animation video, it’s like no time has passed at all. Though perhaps slightly more sprawling than the tight pop songs on Music from the Adventures of Pete & Pete, “Great Big Happy Green Moonface” is remarkably true to the original Polaris sound—here comes that sunny guitar riff, Mulcahy’s bittersweet harmonies and the quirky, playful lyrics (“Boys are so annoying / Tina says that all the time / They’re boys they just like boy-ing / But someone’s got to love them all the time”). It’s a simple song, whose subject seems to be the relationship between young siblings, likely inspired by Mulcahy’s children.
“Great Big Happy Green Moonface” captures the same innocence Polaris is known for. And like their other work, it sticks with you in the way the music and lyrics are rooted in that sad, sweet feeling of childhood, of feeling joyful one moment and desperately lonely the next, of days that last far too long and years that never seem long enough.