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Pollacks: Bollocks 

Short form satirist takes a wrong turn with the long form

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You know that feeling when one your favorite Saturday Night Live sketch comedians leaves the show to start making B movies or sitcoms and you just know the odds are in their favor to suck?

Brevity, in most cases, remains the soul of wit, and the range of characters and comedic shticks afforded by the sketch format seldom translate into feature length. Sure, some SNL grads like Steve Martin, Bill Murray and Mike Meyers have parlayed their tenures into mega-stardom and a handful of unforgettable comedies. But then there are the David Spades, the Tim Meadows, and the dozens of others whose post-SNL careers have been either entirely regrettable or completely forgotten.

Satirist and self-styled "greatest living American writer" Neal Pollack seems to have made an equally regrettable leap from the short form of his great mock-u-journalism essays in The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature to an ill-conceived bore of a joke novel that pretends to mock the rock industry of which he obviously wishes he were a part.

The cover of the book tells the whole story: It's a photo of classic records by punk bands like The Stooges, The Ramones and Black Flag, all sitting in the bins at some record store. But get this: All of the albums have been cleverly redesigned so all the bands are called "The Pollacks." And the title of the book, Never Mind the Pollacks, which is emblazoned on a punk rock poster above the bins, is a play on the Sex Pistols' seminal punk album Never Mind the Bollocks! Get out of town!

So here's the plot, which seems to have been almost directly lifted in concept and spirit from the movie Forrest Gump: Infamous ne'er-do-well rock critic Neal Pollack (a la Lester Bangs) is dead. His snob-nosed colleague Paul St. Pierre sets out to set the record straight on his nemesis by chasing down all the famous musicians with whom Pollack had contact, which is all of them. As it turns out, Neal Pollack, the character (think Gump), was actually there at all the crucial moments of rock history. Dude, Elvis runs over his dad! He and Bob Dylan both go to see Woody Guthrie in the hospital at the same time! It's Pollack, not Andy Warhol, who juices the career of Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground. I know, it's crazy! And so on.

There are moments of wonderful satire, sure, but mostly when Pollack (the writer) sends up the critics.

"Pollack gazed upon Baez as she sang ''Silver Dagger' and ''El Preso Numero Nueve,' songs that, when sung by others, he later dismissed as the work of 'pre-Cambrian Eurofags.'"

Glib little moments like these occasionally redeem the laziness and pathos in the plot.

"Ever since Giuliani had taken office, it was impossible to get electricity in your squat," ruminates Pollack on Pollack. "You couldn't even afford to live in the city for free anymore, Pollack thought bitterly. Bring back the days when you could jaywalk and legally murder a street poet, that's when this place was really good."

Then there's St. Pierre, the narrator, whose mockery of himself and his overeducated wife ultimately marks the high points: "In her office space, Ruth worked on an essay for Cultural Studies Today in which she wittily deployed found quotations from the scenarios of Ashley Judd movies to comment on cable-television coverage of the Robert Blake trial."

Aside from these little asides, the book is desperately seeking structure, and made even more embarrassingly desperate by the fact that Neal Pollack (the author) actually put together a mock rock band and album titled The Neal Pollack Invasion to accompany the book's release. Even worse, the album is actually marginally fantastic! Worse than that: He's gonna be touring with the band to promote the book!

-- Noel Black

capsule

Never Mind the Pollacks

By Neal Pollack

(Harper Collins: New York) $23.95 /hardcover

  • Short form satirist takes a wrong turn with the long form

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