In Performance: Neal Pollack, rock 'n' roller | Calendar | Chicago Reader

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In Performance: Neal Pollack, rock 'n' roller

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In the three years since Neal Pollack hustled to minor-league celebrity with the publication of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, he's inspired his share of critical bile. Ask the bookish if you should pick up his first volume--a parodic portrait gallery of literary cliches--and the response will often be "Pfft. One-trick pony," or the pithier "What an asshole." But the strangest dismissal of the former Reader writer to date has to be the one made early on by a San Diego writer who said he didn't exist--that "Neal Pollack" was a pen name for McSweeney's editor Dave Eggers, whose publishing imprint put out the book.

That rumor was quickly debunked--in a letter to the editor by Pollack's mother--but Pollack has had a hard time disentangling his name from Eggers's ever since. Yet as Pollack pointed out when accused last month on the literary blog MobyLives of being Eggers's "hatchet man," he hasn't had a piece published by McSweeney's in over two years, and the journal's Web site long ago took down the link to his archive. It was nothing personal, Pollack says, merely an aesthetic split. While Eggers appears to have given up on entertaining the reader, Pollack's work has only gotten funnier as he grows ever angrier at the general stupidity of American writing.

Last year, for kicks, Pollack gave play to the envy rock studs inspire in lonely writers: he put together a band, the Neal Pollack Invasion, wrote songs mocking the styles of seminal punk arteests like the Sex Pistols and the Minutemen, and began touring as "Neal Pollack," rock star. He also completed a new novel--Never Mind the Pollacks, published this fall by HarperCollins. Like the Anthology, it stars an alter ego named "Neal Pollack." This time around he's a stupendously irresponsible, dead rock journalist whose insult comedy touched rock legends from Lester Bangs to Joan Baez to Lou Reed (whom he touched in a real special place). It's structured as a farcical biography-in-progress as researched by Paul St. Pierre, an academic baby-boomer hack whom "Pollack" cuckolded on his quest to foil poseurs who would spoil what he bitterly believed to be the true ideals of rock: failure worship and the deliberate squandering of privilege.

As might be expected, the real Neal Pollack, having successfully spun his spleen into a book deal and a column in Vanity Fair, continues to take a pasting from self-proclaimed guardians of authenticity like the Philadelphia-based Underground Literary Alliance. "He wants to be punk rock," sneered ULA writer Chris Zee in a recent online rant. "He's got a couple books published and [he's] successful, so what is he upset about? It's a pose.... There is nothing more embarrassing than a man in his late thirties just discovering punk rock and the attitude. It means he didn't have the heart to rebel as a young man."

"I'm making fun of the critical stance that promotes purity above anything else," Pollack says via e-mail. "That stance permeates contemporary literary culture with its stench. The corporate publisher promotes Jonathan Safran Foer as a 'pure' literary product. Jonathan Franzen is a 'true' writer. The Believer postulates that book reviews should be purged of 'snark,' meaning no jealousy and no bitterness, which are the dominant emotions of the literary life. On the other end, you have the Underground Literary Alliance, for whom the act of getting paid for writing is a betrayal of some undefined literary 'revolution.' I've got a lifetime of material arrayed before me, and it looks delicious."

Currently on tour promoting the book and its accompanying CD, Pollack and his band will make several appearances in Chicago this week. He welcomes criticism: "People naturally want to throw fruit at me anyhow, so I very much encourage them to bring some fruit to the rock shows." At 7:30 on Thursday, October 16, he'll do a free reading at Quimby's, 1854 W. North (773-342-0910). At 10 that night the Neal Pollack Invasion plays at Subterranean, 2011 W. North (773-278-6600). Tickets are $8 and you must be 21 or older. At 12:30 PM on Friday, October 17, he'll give another free reading at Borders Books & Music, 150 N. State (312-606-0750), and at 9 the band will open for the comedy troupe Schadenfreude at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport (773-935-6860). Tickets to that are $20.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Brian McCall.

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