Classic Nada is a series wherein we share lost articles from our first ten years, 1997-2007, so that we may simultaneous recall and mock our former selves. Here’s one of only a handful book reviews we mustered during our first seventeen years. Our most recent book review, this one appeared ten years ago. (Incidentally, you read a lot of books and want to review them for us write to editor (at) nadamucho (dot) com.)
“Never Mind the Pollacks!”
By Neal Pollack
Review by Todd Bunker
All art is inherently narcissistic, none more than the popular arts that dominate our culture right now. Narcissistic for the artist, sure—they’re the ones shouting, “Look at me world, I’ve got something to say!” But also for the consumers who use art as a mirror to measure against their lives.
Neal Pollack sets his sights firmly on self-referential pop art with “Never Mind the Pollacks!”, a satirical journey through the history of rock and roll as loosely narrated by Paul St. Pierre, a prestigious rock critic tracing the footsteps of the book’s subject: the quixotic, infamous rock critic named… Neal Pollack.
What appears to be the ultimate in self-indulgence—naming the protagonist after yourself—Is just par for the Pollack satirical course. By removing the false barrier between author and character, he turns the aforementioned mirror towards a modern culture obsessed with reality TV, and the possibility that anyone could be a star. Now more than ever, art is an unabashed opportunity to put ourselves in some sort of grand context of human existence.
It would be nearly impossible to talk about this book without falling into a landslide of pop culture references, since not only does the subject matter itself do so on almost every page, but the basic building blocks of the book do as well. Pollack the Critic is the love child of Forrest Gump and Lester Bangs, blindly careening throughout the most important watersheds in rock history, and influencing them with his savant-like ability to distill The True Spirit of Rock ‘N’ Roll. From the early days of Memphis, where Elvis runs over and kills Pollack’s father, through the folk years of Dylan, onward with Lou Reed and the New York Scene extending in the 1970s (all with brief stops in London, as musical movements dictate), and on through the LA punk scene of the 1980s and grunge-era Seattle, Pollack the Critic just can’t help being in the right place at the right time.
All of this allows Pollack the Novelist to throw stones at the pretentiousness of rock stars and the critics who would elevate them—and by association, themselves—Into something holy. What could’ve been a terrible exercise in mining a well-known subject for easy laughs (see: Mel Brooks), in the hands of Pollack turns into a well thought-out commentary on the myriad contradictions that have existed in the Rock world since it turned southern “black music” into a mainstream, corporate entertainment sector.
The real joy in reading “Never Mind…” comes from Pollack the Novelist’s ability to satirize on an all-encompassing level, snatching universals at will from the collective conscious of post-war America to embellish the framework of the rock and roll story line. As well, his careful rendering of each episode illustrates a broad knowledge of rock history that goes well beyond the surface. Not only do we get the facts, but the tone, the feeling has been carefully considered in each encounter with these legends of rock. Pollack’s ability to fabricate the scenes so believably, as well as his excellent ability to turn a phrase, saves what could’ve been a trite attempt at cashing in on nostalgia.
Accompanying the book is a CD (sold separately!) filled with songs pulled straight from the pages on the novel. Each song is a sort of style parody (to borrow a term from Weird Al) from the different periods that Pollack the Critic visits in the story. Pollack actually penned and sings the songs, and as terrible as that sounds, it’s an enjoyable novelty if nothing else.
The book itself balances precariously between novel and novelty, almost what some might categorize as the modern genre of “creative nonfiction”. Certainly great art is a mirror of the times it lives in, culturally, artistically, and aesthetically. But fiction in particular connotes something made of these elements in a more abstract manner, as opposed being so reliant on historical context. “Never Mind…” does a great job reflecting the self-referential times we live in, the love of irony, the omnipresent retro/nostalgia factor in art and fashion. Because it has no intention of changing your life or weighing on your mind after you close the cover, (that would be pretentious in both Pollacks’ minds, it seems), it serves the purpose of what appears to be Pollack’s definition of the best kind of rock and roll: A well-executed, if sometimes messy, pleasant diversion.