Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Never Mind the Pollacks, by Neal Pollack

Not until I started this book review blog, where I had to start explaining what led me to read each book I read, did I realize how much of a reading hobo I am. Most of my book reviews start with "While bored in the library...." This is no exception.

I went to the library to do some problems on general equilibrium. Lo and behold, I was quickly bored. (Said boredom came before even actually sitting down and getting out the problems.) I looked at the shelf next to me and saw a book entitled Never Mind the Pollacks, which I took to be a culturally-insensitive version of the title Never Mind the Poles. Then I saw it was written by Neal Pollack, who wrote The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, wherein he creates a fictional giant of American prose named Neal Pollack, combining all the excesses of Hemingway, Salinger, and Mailer. I love that book.

In this book he creates a fictional giant of American rock criticism named Neal Pollack. The device allows for hilarious lines, such as:

On the morning of the day he died, Neal Pollack woke with a burning pain in his ass unlike any he'd experienced in weeks.
Neal Pollack yowled into the darkness. He scrambled from the sleeping bag, mad with heartbreak and shattered ego. Plunging naked into the woods, he tore at his cheek flesh with long nails.
Neal Pollack was naked on the filthiest futon that I'd ever seen.

Character-Pollack's life follows the progression of American rock, from Memphis to New York to Detroit to New York to Los Angeles to Seattle. He discovers, creates, or leaches from Elvis, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Bruce Springsteen, the Sex Pistols, and Nirvana, among others. Writer-Pollack pushes the frontiers of fictionalization of real people with such lines as:

Neal Pollack punched Michael Stipe in the face. It was an action, Stipe later said, that prompted him to take Pollack's name out of "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)".
Evidently, most people were cool with it; only one person from rock history cannot be directly named, instead going by "The Widow" and "She Who Shall Not Be Named for Fear of Lawsuit." It seems fitting to me that the person from rock history who's place seems most attributable to accident is the one most humorless about her place in rock history.

The book makes the argument that black people invent a new music genre and then white people steal it and ruin it. When Character-Pollack first hears rap, he wonders if it is "yet another form of African-American musical expression, this time one that was so unique to the black experience that white people would never be able to co-opt it," and after trying to rap himself, he concludes, "He sounded like Tim Conway! This form of music was simply beyond him. Black people had done it, at last."

This book is hilarious. And I don't throw that word around as loosely as all the critics who wrote blurbs for Wake Up, Sir!, which is yet to make me laugh out loud. This book made me laugh out loud at least once every 20 pages. If you have a problem with sex, drugs, and, well, rock and roll, you should expect quite a lot of each in a book like this.

Rating: 6.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

1 comment:

  1. Cool! I like your take on it. Hilarious lines.