Never Mind the Pollacks: A Rock and Roll Novel [NOOK Book]


The most important document in the history of rock 'n' roll since the liner notes to Killroy Was Here.(This paperback includes a new P.S. section with author interviews, insights, features, suggested readings, and more.)

Never Mind the Pollacks, the first novel from acclaimed humorist Neal Pollack, is an epic history of rock-and-roll told through the eyes of two rival rock critics. The novel spans the decades from the 1940s to the present day, and includes such real-life ...

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Never Mind the Pollacks: A Rock and Roll Novel

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The most important document in the history of rock 'n' roll since the liner notes to Killroy Was Here.(This paperback includes a new P.S. section with author interviews, insights, features, suggested readings, and more.)

Never Mind the Pollacks, the first novel from acclaimed humorist Neal Pollack, is an epic history of rock-and-roll told through the eyes of two rival rock critics. The novel spans the decades from the 1940s to the present day, and includes such real-life characters as Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Bruce Springsteen, Joey Ramone, Patti Smith, Kurt Cobain, and many more. Pollack deploys his trademark roasting of literary pomposity, but his narrative transcends mere parody to become full-fledged social satire. He takes on the icons of popular music and their biographers, true-life rock books and historical fiction. There has never been a book quite like this one, particularly since it contains more than two-dozen original songs written by the author.

The life story of the book's main character, "Neal Pollack," is uniquely American. The only son of Jewish immigrant parents, he shows an aptitude early in life for rock criticism. Prodded by the legendary Sam Phillips and haunted by a ghostly, mysterious blues man, deeply disturbed by his mother's illegitimate marriage to Jerry Lee Lewis, he leaves his Memphis boyhood behind to become a folk troubadour in Greenwich Village. Six broken hearts, two liver transplants, and a lot of cocaine orgies later, he meets his ultimate destiny in a surprise ending that will shock anyone who wasn't paying attention to the early chapters. With Never Mind the Pollacks, Neal Pollack establishes himself as one of the most important novelists of his generation who isn't named Jonathan.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
Neal Pollack specializes in lampooning literary pretension, so it's no surprise that in his latest book, Never Mind the Pollacks, he takes a crack at that dependably whackable piñata of excess and affectation, rock criticism. With half its adherents striving to write in a manner that makes Hunter S. Thompson sound like George Will, and the other half hellbent on divining the Tocquevillian ethos that undergirds "American Idol," the genre is certainly ripe for satire. — G. Beato
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. (Oct. 1) Forecast: Pollack fronts a punk-rock band called the Neal Pollack Invasion, and he will take his show on the road in a multicity tour to coincide with publication of the book. Expect antics galore, and substantial coverage in the alternative press. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Rock critics take note: the satirist who roasted magazine journalism to a turn in The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature has you in his sights. In this first novel, pretentious cultural critic Paul St. Pierre sets out to lionize that "dark genius prince of rock criticism," arch iconoclast Neal Pollack. As narrated by St. Pierre, Pollack's youthful epiphany at the feet of Clambone Jefferson, a mythic source of authenticity from whence floweth blues, rock'n'roll, soul, hip-hop, and-with an extraterrestrial assist-funk, leads him on a Forrest Gump-like odyssey in which he blowtorches to life such latent luminaries as Elvis, Dylan, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, the Ramones (as "Smokey, the elusive fifth Ramone'), and Kurt Cobain, whom he fixes up with "She Who Shall Not Be Named for Fear of Lawsuit." The pill-popping and name-dropping grow a bit wearisome by the end of this long, strange trip, and some targets (Dylan, Springsteen) yield more readily to Pollack's pitch-perfect parody than others. But St. Pierre's vapidities are hilarious (shades of Frederick Crews's devastating Postmodern Pooh), and Pollack's clever antics carry the day. Recommended for any library that doesn't wish to be hopelessly unhip: display near the CDs, together with the forthcoming soundtrack album.-David Wright, Seattle P.L. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Now it can be told: Elvis Presley was . . . a closet rock critic. Satirist Pollack, who punctured the pretensions of literary criticism in The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, savages rock and its sycophantic critics in his first novel. Fittingly, he is the main character in the book, which is couched-not always successfully, in terms of point of view-as a biography by the megalomaniac, lickspittle academic Paul St. Pierre. "Neal Pollack" is the first and greatest of rock critics, a superhuman consumer of booze and dope and a participant in every form of ambisexual perversity. (The larger-than-life character is clearly inspired by the late Lester Bangs, the manic, prolific subject of Jim DeRogatis's biography Let It Blurt, while St. Pierre appears modeled after high-middle-brow author Greil Marcus.) The central conceit-that rock criticism is more important than the music itself-drives the action through the entire history of rock 'n' roll. "Pollack" appears, Zelig-like, at every critical moment in rock to shape the music's direction: he befriends Elvis Presley in Memphis, hits the road with neophyte folkie Bob Dylan (and beds Joan Baez), hangs out with the Velvet Underground, creates Iggy Pop's over-the-top stage persona, roadies for Bruce Springsteen, forms the Ramones, has an affair with Patti Smith, and mentors Kurt Cobain. Along the way, his avatar, bluesman Willie "Clambone" Jefferson, invents Detroit funk and rap music. Numerous real-life critics, including Bangs, make cameo appearances. There's even a mock discography. The loopy, sex- and drug-steeped, violent plot, though unsatisfactorily resolved, incorporates a number of dumb yet pointed parody lyrics that take theabundant wind out of rock's soiled sails. The choicest moments come in fine-tuned mocking of rock criticism's fatuous clichés, radically overblown praise, and flavor-of-the-month bandwagon jumping. The message: Get over it, guys, it's only rock 'n' roll. Loud, wild, messy, and fun-just like the best rock 'n' roll. Agent: Daniel Greenberg/James Levine Communications
Kurt Andersen
“Neal Pollack’s singular method of deconstructing the popular culture is smart and knowing and pitiless and entertaining.”
Chuck Klosterman
“Neal Pollack seems to understand rock journalism better than virtually everyone who gets paid to do it for a living.”
Augusten Burroughs
“A warped, literate, wildly original and perfectly executed satire that somehow reminds me of A Confederacy of Dunces: The Musical.”
Janeane Garofalo
“Neal Pollack is the Norman Mailer of his generation, and Never Mind the Pollacks is his The Executioner’s Song.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061750212
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 893,119
  • File size: 419 KB

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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First Chapter

Never Mind the Pollacks
A Rock and Roll Novel

Chapter One

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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