I don't address those questions anymore," says Neal Pollack, sounding genuinely peeved. But I couldn't just let the despised line of inquiry drop so easily. In spite of nearly incontrovertible proof that Pollack is a real guy, a first-order satirist, and a brutally funny political columnist able to turn words into blunt, hurtful objects adorned with rusty spikes and razor-wire, rumors still circulate.
"I was born in Memphis," Pollack offers. "I remember standing out on the high dive at the Jewish Community Center." Sure he does. No man who can sing with such conviction about a dwarf juggling dildoes in Times Square could really have his roots in the Mid-South. Could they? He's clearly a deceiver.
Pollack first came to the attention of the literati as a frequent contributor to McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, the brilliant (if cleverer-than-thou) literary magazine operated by A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius author Dave Eggers. As McSweeney's has been known to play around with identity and the thin line separating fact and fancy, readers began to question Pollack's true identity. Now, as he is preparing to embark on a tour promoting his new book Never Mind the Pollacks (HarperCollins), a fictional history of rock-and-roll from Memphis in the 1950s to Seattle in the 1990s, which, along with its accompanying CD, spoofs Robert Gordon's It Came from Memphis and virtually every other rock history ever penned, it's only fitting that the truth be known. Is he author or rock star? Is he the figment of a better writer's imagination or is that alleged "better writer" merely the figment of his? And does anybody really care so long as he keeps making with the funny?
"Look," I pressed, "you've got a kid now, and someday you are going to have to explain to him that his daddy doesn't really exist: that his daddy is really Mr. McSweeney pretending to be Neal Pollack. Or vice versa. You're going to have to tell the kid that sometimes things aren't what they seem to be."
There was a moment of silence. The very real man who can spoof Hemingway and Mailer with such ease was about to get very mad at me. So I came clean and admitted that I was only baiting him in hopes of releasing the over-the-top self-righteousness that is the hallmark of Pollack's satire. This said, the serious questioning can begin outright.
Flyer: So, Neal, I've heard you sing about it but have you ever really wiped your behind with someone else's novel? I don't think novels are as absorbent as you seem to think they are.
Neal Pollack: Well, um, no, but they do have a lot of pages.
I read somewhere that you will do what it takes to get attention: send people your used condoms, French kiss a moose
I have no shame. I will do whatever it takes to make a living as long as it is for the most part in the bounds of the law. For the most part.
Does the shamelessness work for you?
It's not shamelessness. Sometimes I am ashamed, but I have to fight through it. This is my job. In some ways every book tour is like a walk of shame: "Oh my God what have I done?!"
You've got to feel the same way about the new CD and your tour with the band.
I've never done anything like this before: "God, what the hell am I doing?" I can't play an instrument. I can't even shake a tambourine. But I can carry a tune and I can tell jokes. And I look really good with my shirt off.
Whether you are doing Hemingway or Springsteen, your tone is spot-on. How do you get there?
When you are doing parody you have to immerse yourself in your subject matter and really become whatever it is you are parodying. When I was doing the Springsteen song I immersed myself in Springsteen. I tried to get the lyrics and the pacing just right and paint a satirical picture of the Boss. The key to doing parody well is to become what you are parodying.
Is it parody or satire?
Satire. It's satire, I guess. Satire implies a degree of artistry. And to satirize something properly you have to be deep inside of it. I don't think I'm the hipster Weird Al.
And it's fearless. After the whole Trent Lott debacle, where he pined for the days of segregation, you took on the voice of a Southern racist and argued that negroes were inherently bad. People misunderstand that sort of thing. They don't get it. It's scary stuff.
If it doesn't have teeth it's not worth doing. I don't know that my work is that dark, but comedy needs a dark edge and I try really hard. A lot of contemporary humor gets to that dark place. South Park gets there. The Simpsons when it's good. And The Daily Show. I'm naming all TV but that's where the best satire is being done now. And [satirical newsweekly] The Onion. I'm a little ripple in the pond compared to those institutions. I'm the satirical novelist. Ooooooh! I might as well be the satirical cello player.
There is always a danger when someone distinguishes themselves in one field, then tries to make their big rock album
Who are we thinking of here? Billy Bob Thornton?
Billy Bob, Bruce Willis, Jerry Springer
Those are all movie stars or TV stars. I'm operating on such a different level here. This is a garage band not a celebrity ego project. I know that I've got good musicians, and we put on a good show. We're gonna bring it HARD.
Neal Pollack will sign and read from Never Mind the Pollacks at Square Books and perform with the Neal Pollack Invasion at Proud Larry's in Oxford, Mississippi, Thursday, Oct. 2nd. On Friday, Oct. 3rd, he'll be reading and signing at Davis-Kidd and performing at the Hi-Tone.