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Never Mind the Pollacks 

The "greatest living American writer" comes to CC

The standard Neal Pollack-is-coming-to-town profile will mention that the 33-year-old Phoenix-bred writer once labored at an alternative weekly something like this one, The Chicago Reader. It will also note that after gigging at small coffeehouses, Neal Pollack the journalist launched his self-professed alter ego: Neal Pollack, the greatest living American writer.

So who the hell is the real Neal Pollack?

As with any multi-persona packing prankster, the answer changes with the season. Pollack came onto the scene with satiric essays published in postmodern ironist Dave Eggers' journal McSweeney's and then writ large with his 2001 collection, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature.

Pollack's "greatest living American writer" persona skewers the self-important literary journalism of Gore Vidal, Normal Mailer and others with essays such as "I am Friends with a Working Class Black Woman" and "The Albania of My Existence."

In the latter essay, Pollack visits a family so poor its children play soccer with dead cats.

"People here are beset by unwanted refugees, obscure diseases and limited opportunities to express themselves through fashion," Pollack writes. "I must tell you: things are not good."

After several years of the greatest living writer shtick, Pollack is shifting personas to conflate his literary and rock 'n' roll aspirations. The result is Never Mind The Pollacks the novel, and Never Mind The Pollacks, the CD by his provisional rock band, The Neal Pollack Invasion.

The Indy spoke with Pollack about his new novel, his ambition and his upcoming reading at Colorado College.

Indy: How about a sneak preview of your novel? A verbal film trailer if you will. I'll kick it off: "In a time of..."

Neal Pollack: "...in a country ready to rock ..." The book is the story of this kid named Neal Pollack who is born in Chicago in 1941 to German immigrant Jewish parents. He discovers the urban blues when his father takes him to Maxwell Street and he's immediately touched by it. Only he doesn't want to be a musician. It unearths something inside of him that makes him want to be a rock critic. He travels through various eras of rock and roll as a "rock critic" but really what he is is a pathetic groupie who becomes increasingly drug and drink addled and he just annoys everyone in the history of rock.

Indy: Do you view your rock star aspirations on the same continuum as your literary aspirations?

NP: Everyone around me makes sure to tell me that I'm not an actual "rock star." I say it tonguein-cheek, but what I mean is that the whole way that writers are seen in our culture is reductive and boring. They're these rock stars for dull people. You go see them in a bookstore and they read from their books pedantically and they answer a bunch of questions in the most pat way possible. I'm trying to take the performance aspect of every writer's career -- and every writer's career has a performance aspect whether they'd like to admit it or not -- and trying to make it more "rock and roll." Great bands have gimmicks outside of their music; why shouldn't writers have something to keep people interested in them other than their writing?

Indy: I reckon some people don't always get the satire of the Greatest Living Writer pieces. Are there any common misconceptions about your work?

NP: For the most part people get the joke. It's not like I live the persona. If you go to my Web site (www.nealpollack.com) it's not like it's designed to be the Web site of the persona. In the new novel, the main character is named Neal Pollack, but he's a totally different character; he's not the Greatest Living American writer. I'm constantly shifting the persona because I don't take it that seriously. I'm not doing it to fool people; I'm trying to write entertaining satire.

Indy: Are your plans to go more of the fiction satirist route, or do you have any desire to write "serious nonfiction"?

NP: The occasional editor comes around and wants me to write something that's real. I did a couple of pieces for The Stranger (a Seattle alternative weekly) that were straight up political commentary. I just finished a piece for GQ where they sent me to do a story on Dick Cheney, "In Search of Dick Cheney," which means Don't really try to find him. I'm a hack for fire. If I get a good assignment, whether it's writing satire or not, I'll do it.

Indy: You've talked about writers who have "made it" and how they often resent their fans who come to their readings and ask how they can get published. You asked the rhetorical question: Don't you remember when you were still hungry? So now that you've made it, are you still hungry?

NP: I feel even hungrier because maybe my stomach has expanded a little bit. I still feel like I'm always hustling, I'm always trying to work and trying to climb. I've had some help along the way, but I feel like I've become a self-made writer and because of that there's a business component of my work. I spend half the day sending out e-mails and drumming up work. If anything, because I've had a taste of success, I want even more of it.

Indy: Can we get a preview of your reading here at Colorado College?

NP: I'm going to read a few excerpts from the novel; I'm going to play a few songs from the record (on a boom box; I won't have my band with me). I'm also going to do some of my political pieces from the blog [also on Pollack's Web site] and just generally talk about some stuff that interests me politically. It won't just be a pleasant evening with an author.

-- John Dicker

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