Never Mind the Pollacks: A Rock and Roll Novelby Neal Pollack
These names defined the mayhem, excess and glory of American rock for half a century, but only Neal Pollack was there for every note of every show, except for the shows he missed. Only Neal Pollack saw Memphis with Elvis, the Village with Dylan, and the depressed Pacific Northwest with Kurt Cobain. Only Neal Pollack had the extra-potent cough syrup that they all so
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These names defined the mayhem, excess and glory of American rock for half a century, but only Neal Pollack was there for every note of every show, except for the shows he missed. Only Neal Pollack saw Memphis with Elvis, the Village with Dylan, and the depressed Pacific Northwest with Kurt Cobain. Only Neal Pollack had the extra-potent cough syrup that they all so desperately craved.
From the twisted mind of America's most-photographed satirist comes a raw protean yawp from the depths of nowhere, a hilarious trip through time that savagely parodies the history of rock-'n'-roll and its grandiloquent journalism.
The fictional Neal Pollack, born Norbert Pollackovitz before being renamed, by Elvis, at his Bar Mitzvah, first hears the blues as a child. The notes come from the guitar of Clambone Jefferson, an ancient, mythical character who Pollack spends the rest of his life chasing as the source of music's primal allure. In that pursuit, Pollack becomes a renegade rock journalist whose screeds appear in such high-profile publications as Hillbilly Hot Rag! and Broken Testicle. He seduces Patti Smith and Joan Baez. He discovers Kurt Cobain. He goes on pharmacopoeial binges that put the most reckless, bloated rock star to shame.
Through it all, the real Neal Pollack, the greatest American novelist of his generation, manages to echo the style of overeducated blowhards while tackling the history of blues, rock, punk, post-punk and post-post-punk with equal enthusiasm and disdain.
Never Mind the Pollacks is a rock novel that really rocks. Like a classic album, it opens with a kick in the guts, proceeds to a bite in theshins, and ends with an uppercut to the jaw, leaving you bloodied, awed, and grateful. Along the way, it manages to uncover America's sellouts and false idols. So drink some cough syrup and put on Iggy and the Stooges' Raw Power. Better yet, burn your copy of Raw Power and listen to something new. Because rock, like literature, must destroy itself. Thankfully, Neal Pollack is here to kill them both.
About the Author
Neal Pollack is the author of the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. He writes for numerous underground publications such as Vanity Fair and The New York Times. His rock credentials are validated by his residence in Austin, TX.
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Never Mind the Pollacks
A Rock and Roll Novel
What a wonderful morning. I'd just finished reviewing the galleys of my book The Threepenny Hip-Hopera, which compares the sociopolitical roots of Chuck D's work with those of Kurt Weill's. It serves as an excellent companion piece to my oft-studied book From Bauhaus to Compton: Sixty Years of Revolution in Western Popular Music.
Then my editor from the Times arts section e-mailed.
"We haven't interviewed Sam Phillips in nearly two years," he wrote. "Our readers demand roots-music coverage."
It was the perfect research opportunity. I needed to seek verification for my still-nascent Pollack biography, to summon my remarkable powers of research, drive into that Delta dawn, and never blink at the truth. I knew that Pollack had spent part of his youth in Memphis, because I possessed this protean gem from the secret diaries he'd kept at age twelve. It was dated July 3, 1953:
I think Rocket 88 is neat/It really makes me tap my feet/They'll be dancing in the street/When Ike Turner brings the heat.
Brilliant. But I needed more.
My wife was home because her New School seminar, Rapacious Global Corporations: Imperialist Mind Control in the So-Called Third World, didn't meet on Thursdays.
"Honey," I said, "I'm gonna get an apartment in Memphis for a few months. It's for work."
"OK," she said.
"Are you gonna miss me, baby sugar?"
"Eh," Ruth said. "Not really."
"Oh," said I.
I've often written, at Harper's folio length, about Sam Phillips, spoken about him on panels, composed tribute songs to him in my mind, but I'd never had the opportunity to meet him in person. While I felt this was the insulting equivalent of Boswell never meeting Johnson, or David McCullough not meeting John Adams, I was still grateful for the assignment and the resulting paycheck.
When I encountered Phillips on a balmy Memphis night a few days later, the father of Sun Records, the grandfather of all records, really, the original benefactor of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, stood on the front lawn of his Memphis home in his bathrobe, his longish hair and reddish beard appearing just as they had on that recent CBS Sunday Morning feature.
"Who the hell are you?" he said.
"Paul St. Pierre," I said. "I'm here for the interview." He looked confused.
"Someone interviews me every day," he said. "I can't keep you damn people straight."
Every room of the house was full of memorabilia from a life in rock. There were gold records, and platinum ones, and records with no color at all but black, the presence of all musical color. Lyric sheets, both framed and unframed, adorned the walls. A life-size copper statue of Roy Orbison stood in one corner, across from a wax model of Howlin' Wolf. And everywhere, photos, of men fresh from the cotton fields, hillbillies hitchhiking into town, people recording, picking, playing, laughing, self-promoting, shouting into microphones and sitting on the laps of pretty girls. It was a house to be envied indeed, filled with haunting music from the dawn and twilight of the real America.
Without any prompting from me, Phillips began to talk, in a relaxed, folksy, intelligent drawl, about the birth of rock 'n' roll. As he spoke, I realized that he'd channeled, in his life, an American ethos about which I'd only dreamed, or occasionally seen in movies made in the 1970s. I realized my rock archivist's fantasy. Phillips had stood at the center of popular history. Fifty years later, he sat beside me, recounting:
"You see, the motto of my Memphis Recording Service was 'We Record Anything, Anytime, Anywhere.' Well, actually, the original motto was 'Don't Be Afraid To Record With Me Just Because I'm White,' but nobody came in off that one, so I changed it. In any case, I opened my shop at 706 Union Avenue in 1949. I wanted to bring together what I saw going on in Memphis at the time, these black and white music scenes that had more in common than even the musicians knew. All along, my mission was to bring out of a person what was in him, to recognize that individual's unique quality and then to find the key to unlock it. And one person, to me, embodied all the hopes and dreams I'd ever had for American music."
"Of course," I said.
"I'm talking," said Sam Phillips, "about Neal Pollack." Pollack had come barging out of the shadows yet again, and my imagination veered into places at once horrible and hopeful.
"Pollack?" I said.
"Oh, yes," Phillips said. "I knew him from very early on. Why, I remember -- "
"Damn Neal Pollack," I said aloud. "Damn him!"
"Neal Pollack," Phillips said, "Neal Pollack. Now there's a name I haven't heard in many years."
"But you just mentioned him."
He slapped his forehead.
"Why, that's right!" he said. "I did. Well, let me tell you the story about how Neal Pollack and I met."
My notebook and tape recorder snapped to attention. He began:
"It was early fall, 1951. I'd driven up to Chicago with my dear friend Kemmons Wilson, who was getting ready to open the first Holiday Inn. I'd made the trip to squeeze some money out of Leonard Chess, that parsimonious bastard, and Kemmons was looking for investors in his enterprise. One evening, after retiring our respective alms cups, we met at a bar on Roosevelt, just west of State. It was your typical Chicago bar, tin ceiling, autographed photos of Hack Wilson and Jack Dempsey, bitter anarchists mumbling over their pamphlets at a corner table, fat-fingered city employees ogling the working girls. We sat down. I ordered a draft beer with the density of sausage. Kemmons had sour mash straight ...Never Mind the Pollacks
A Rock and Roll Novel. Copyright © by Neal Pollack. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Meet the Author
Neal Pollack is the author of the bestselling memoir Alternadad and several books of satirical fiction, including The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature and the rock novel Never Mind the Pollacks. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and son.
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