Neal Pollack sometimes masquerades as the Greatest Living
American Writer and sometimes as an excess-prone rock critic, but
he always delivers smart, razor-sharp social criticism. Taking on
authors with bloated egos and reputations — Mailer, Updike,
DeLillo — Pollack parodied the big guys within an inch of
their literary lives in his “Anthology of American
Literature.” In “Never Mind the Pollacks,” his
most recent work, he adds a soundtrack to his literary excoriation
of rock and punk’s biggest names.
Accompanied by Dakota Smith and Ann Arbor musician Jim Roll,
Pollack lampoons Lou Reed, the Stooges, the Ramones, the Sex
Pistols and the Velvet Underground. The three came together to
record the soundtrack, which was originally lyrics written for
“Never Mind the Pollacks: A Rock & Roll Novel,” in
about five hours. Since the album appropriates the structure of
recognizable songs, there isn’t much innovation on the part
of the musicians, but the trio maintains the drive and youthful
abandon of the originals with steady beats and solid riffs.
Pollack’s harsh vocals easily imitate the sneer of the bad
boys he criticizes. The album kicks off with the straightforward
“New York City,” in which he enumerates public figures
and entities who are “pile(s) of shit” (Andy Warhol,
Donald Rumsfeld, jalapeno bagels). Suddenly, snarky, nasal Pollack
spits out “Fuck you, David Bowie! You’re a goddamn
suck-up whore … pile … of … shit.” It’s a truly
great moment in rock criticism.
Pollack goes on to mock Lou and the Velvets with “Memories
of Times Square (The Dildo Song).” He replaces the chorus of
Reed’s post-Velvets hit, “Walk on the Wild Side,”
with “Heyo, dildos / Juggling dildos up in the air / Dildos,
dildos.” The verses, interestingly, remain about the same as
Lou’s originals, recounting slightly goofier tales of drug
use, prostitution and broken dreams on the streets of New York.
The highlight of Pollack’s, “I Wipe My Ass on Your
Novel,” renders the album’s shortcomings — a few
weak jokes and repetitive lyrics — inconsequential. Out of
silence, Pollack hollers, “Look / It is the sigh / Of your
super-absorbent novel / clearing my grateful ass / Of the shit / Of
your words.” He invokes literary giants (“Thank you,
Joyce Carol, for a year’s worth of three-ply”) and
speeds into pogo-inducing punk choruses.
Though Pollack spends most of the album ripping on ’70s
icons, his book and soundtrack contain a message directed at those
who follow and create rock today. Just because rich bedheaded kids
from New York or Detroit kids with a gimmick are trying to pull off
this badass schtick by recycling Iggy and the VU and the blues
doesn’t mean it’s any good, or worth bringing back in
some bastardized form. The current Scene is infected by the
bullshit gasconade, material excesses and false sense of importance
that ruined rock music so many times in the past — ridiculous
for a trend that’s barely been around two years.
There’s a big difference between a new sound and a fad,
and Pollack, despite the vitriol he spews all over rock icons,
knows that they were something worth writing about, and still are.
Thanks, Neal, for cautioning the world against taking fallible,
fragile and stupid rock ‘n’ roll too seriously.
Rating: 3.5 stars.