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Never Mind the Pollacks: A Rock and Roll Novel Paperback – September 21, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
In his latest satiric bid for immortality (after The Neil Pollack Anthology of American Literature: The Collected Writings of Neal Pollack), humorist Pollack details the life of a famed rock critic named, predictably, Neal Pollack, and takes swipes at scores of legends along the way. Styled as a series of interviews by rival rock critic Paul St. Pierre, conducted after Pollack's untimely death, the novel charts the history of Neal, born Norbert Pollackovitz in 1941 Memphis, Tenn. Norbert's love for music is evident early on, and soon he and neighborhood pal Elvis Presley are making noise in town. When Elvis accidentally backs over Norbert's father with a truck, Norbert is on his own and is christened Neal Pollack by his pals; he soon flees town to discover the world. St. Pierre's progress in examining the life of the "grizzled monster" is slow until he visits Bob Dylan in Woodstock, N.Y. As Dylan tells it, he met Pollack in 1961, at Woody Guthrie's bedside. The incorrigible Pollack goes on to steal Joan Baez away from Dylan and then moves to Liverpool to become a star rock critic. By the mid-'70s, Pollack returns to Manhattan; Johnny Rotten, Iggy Pop, David Bowie and, later, Kurt Cobain make cameos. Saturated with original song lyrics and pop-up appearances by rock music's greatest legends, Pollack's novel has a swinging appeal. Not everyone will want to tune in for the author's manic tongue-in-cheek self-canonization-his kitchen-sink approach sometimes makes for garbled reading-but Spinal Tap fans and groupies everywhere will be delighted.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Billed as "a rock-'n'-roll novel"--"rock-'n'-roll-critic novel" is probably more accurate--Pollack's foray into fiction isn't that much of a leap from his fictitious essays written by his alter ego, the "Greatest Living American Writer," Neal Pollack (The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, 2002). In his first novel, he tells the story of a late, great rock critic also named Neal Pollack. Pollack, the character, was a self-destructive, prescient, loose cannon of a critic (not unlike Lester Bangs) who was discovered by Sam Phillips in 1951, several years before he discovered Elvis Presley. In fact, Pollack was instrumental in getting Elvis to Sun studios for his first recordings (later he wrote about Elvis in 'zines) and, it turns out, in launching the careers of Dylan, the Stones, Iggy Pop, and Kurt Cobain. Iconoclastic, sometimes hilarious, and always mean-spirited, Pollack (the novelist) spares no one in his satirical jeremiad aimed at popular music and the critics who take it so seriously. Benjamin Segedin
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
When he stops bouncing he usually finds himself down and out, yet luckily beneath the soft white underbelly of the holy cow of rock and roll, its teats thankfully there to squirt its rejuvenating fluids into Pollack's grateful face. That and he's watched over by the magic bluesman, Clambone, as enigmatic yet down to earth as the blues itself.
Pollack often seems oblivious to his journey through rock, while we are fortunate enough to enjoy the likes of Elvis, Iggy, Dylan, The Stones, et al as they pass through the zonked out haze that is Pollack's world. But hey, that world is rock and roll.
Don't think Pollack is some insignificant Forest Gump-like character batted around existence like one of Gump's ping-pong balls: Pollack is important enough that another rock critic wants to write his biography. And though it seems the lame and effete Paul St. Pierre may never truly grasp Pollack's importance or meaning to the world they both inhabit, a final face off with his subject gives him a double shot of the rock and roll life that Pollack has lived and St. Pierre has only written about from a distance.
But screw the analyses. If you like to rock and like to laugh you can do both of these things until it hurts. Plus there's an apocalypse at the end. And it's not just some damn high school blowing up or something.
So, I rate Never Mind The Pollacks #1. With a bullet.
All art is inherently narcissistic, none more than the popular arts that dominate our culture right now. Narcissistic for the artist, sure-they're the ones shouting, "Look at me world, I've got something to say!" But also for the consumers who use art as a mirror to measure against their lives.
Neal Pollack sets his sights firmly on self-referential pop art with "Never Mind the Pollacks!", a satirical journey through the history of rock and roll as loosely narrated by Paul St. Pierre, a prestigious rock critic tracing the footsteps of the book's subject: the quixotic, infamous rock critic named... Neal Pollack.
What appears to be the ultimate in self-indulgence-naming the protagonist after yourself-Is just par for the Pollack satirical course. By removing the false barrier between author and character, he turns the aforementioned mirror towards a modern culture obsessed with reality TV, and the possibility that anyone could be a star. Now more than ever, art is an unabashed opportunity to put ourselves in some sort of grand context of human existence.
It would be nearly impossible to talk about this book without falling into a landslide of pop culture references, since not only does the subject matter itself do so on almost every page, but the basic building blocks of the book do as well. Pollack the Critic is the love child of Forrest Gump and Lester Bangs, blindly careening throughout the most important watersheds in rock history, and influencing them with his savant-like ability to distill The True Spirit of Rock 'N' Roll. From the early days of Memphis, when Elvis runs over and kills Pollack's father, through the folk years of Dylan, onward with Lou Reed and the New York Scene extending into the seventies (all with brief stops in London, as musical movements dictate), and on through the LA punk scene of the eighties and grunge-era Seattle, Pollack the Critic just can't help being in the right place at the right time.
All of this allows Pollack the Novelist to throw stones at the pretentiousness of rock stars and the critics who would elevate them-and by association, themselves-Into something holy. What could've been a terrible exercise in mining a well-known subject for easy laughs (see: Mel Brooks), in the hands of Pollack it turns into a well thought-out commentary on the myriad contradictions that have existed in the Rock world since it turned southern "black music" into a mainstream, corporate entertainment sector.
The real joy in reading "Never Mind..." comes from Pollack the Novelist's ability to satirize on an all-encompassing level, snatching universals at will from the collective conscious of post-war America to embellish the framework of the rock and roll story line. As well, his careful rendering of each episode illustrates a broad knowledge of rock history that goes well beyond the surface. Not only do we get the facts, but the tone, the feeling has been carefully considered in each encounter with these legends of rock. Pollack's ability to fabricate the scenes so believably, as well as his excellent ability to turn a phrase, saves what could've been a trite attempt at cashing in on nostalgia.
Accompanying the book is a CD (sold separately!) filled with songs pulled straight from the pages on the novel. Each song is a sort of style parody (to borrow a term from Weird Al) from the different periods that Pollack the Critic visits in the story. Pollack actually penned and sings the songs, and as terrible as that sounds, it's an enjoyable novelty if nothing else.
As a reader who isn't a real rock afficionado, the jokes were broad enough and about people I'd heard of or who had been introduced through the "history" enough to be laughed at - the book moves fast, and some punchlines didn't hit until a couple pages afterward, when I found myself laughing out loud.
Tragedy + time equals comedy, and by the time the story rollercoasters from the fifties to the nineties, it becomes clear where rock comes from, and why critics will never touch the true source.
I definitely think Never Mind the Pollacks is a growth over Neal's other work - he's stepping outside the mimic-satire of Anthology of American Literature and coming at the material edgewise, broadening the message. This book proves Neal has more to say, and I'm looking forward to whatever else is to come, be it rock music or indie lit.