Neal Pollack made his name spoofing the great literary egos of our age—especially Norman Mailer—by proclaiming himself America’s greatest living writer. The pieces he wrote as proof were letter-perfect spoofs of the decadent, testosterone-fueled travelogues around which magazines like Esquire built their reputations. The easiest place to find him in those heady early days of nurtured literary confusion was the McSweeneys website (www.mcsweeneys.net), where he swept across readers like an ego-fueled wildfire. Filled to the brim with fictional riots, feuds with mayors, and sex with the native populace of any country he visited, those writings are a hoot. Pollack even went so far as to commit his writings to record in 2002 with The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature by reading selected pieces with backing by the Pine Valley Cosmonauts. They were every bit as funny as the printed versions, and Pollack’s practiced arrogance made some of them even funnier.
Never Mind the Pollacks acts as a companion piece to Pollack’s book of the same name, in which he now claims to be America’s greatest living rocker. Aided and abetted by partners Jim Roll and Dakota Smith, Pollack slams together a whirlwind tour of rock history since the punk explosion. Supposedly recorded in five hours by relative strangers, Never Mind the Pollacks is off-the-cuff and sloppy—which is just fine, since most of the acts he lampoons here weren’t known for their precision anyway.
The title track is a decent nod to the Sex Pistols, naturally, but other victims/honorees include Lou Reed on “Memories of Times Square (The Dildo Song)”, the Stooges (“I’m a Seeker”), the Ramones (“Coney Island”), and the Velvet Underground (“Vein”). Although he doesn’t really fit the mold of those acts, Bruce Springsteen even gets the Pollack treatment on “Jenny in the Car, 1972”, in which Pollack manages to fit guns, New Jersey, factories, unemployment, and copping a feel in the car into four minutes worth of “Pink Cadillac” guitar.
Overall, Pollack’s parodies are pretty funny. The litany of things that are “a pile of shit” in “New York City” runs from New York itself and Andy Warhol to Donald Rumsfeld and (I think) jalapeno bagels. The funk/punk mashup of “Racism Number 5” sends up the Minutemen and asks questions like “how can you have a girl when there’s war in Nicaragua / Who’s your president, Ronald Reagan or Che Gueverra?” A particularly inspired moment comes in “Coney Island” when Pollack sings “whack-a-mole” where “blitzkrieg bop” should go. It all comes across like a New York Friars Club Roast of CBGB’s.
The jokes wear thin after a few listens, though, which is to be expected with most musical comedy. Pollack, Roll, and Smith are to be commended for harnessing the heart and soul of punk and new wave (in a blind listening test, a couple of these cuts might pass for the real thing). In fact, it makes you wonder why many of the bands who actually do this for a living can’t make music that contains this much life. In the end, though, after the parody fades with familiarity, you’re left with pastiches of styles that were established by true giants. You’ll end up going to those originals more than you do Never Mind the Pollacks. But it’s obvious that Pollack has no intention of making anyone forget who the Sex Pistols were (although his lambasting of David Bowie is so devoid of irony that he might actually favor banning the Thin White Duke from memory). Never Mind the Pollacks is a diversion, and probably a pretty shrewd marketing ploy. While its appeal may fade with time, at least it puts a smile on your face—and that’s worth something.
// Notes from the Road
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