Writer Neal Pollack to invade Baltimore with his punk band

Humorist, musician combines research, fun

Scene: clubs, bars, nightlife

October 09, 2003|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

Writer and high-brow humorist-turned-punk-musician Neal Pollack says he hasn't sold his soul to rock 'n' roll.

The former Chicago Reader reporter, Vanity Fair contributor and author of the new book Never Mind the Pollacks says his current gig as a mike-twirling frontman is all about experiential learning.

"I figure, if I'm going to do a book about rock 'n' roll [lifestyle], then I'm going to have to live it to the limits of my ability," he said while burping into his cell phone.

It's fair to say that Pollack's over-the-top stage shows could be construed as legitimate background research, hard work that has to be done in the name of fair and accurate journalism. But rocking out a few times for street cred or authenticity's sake isn't good enough for the exuberant author.

This guy wants a degree in rock 'n' roll, and a full-fledged, 20-city tour, he says, is the only way he can get it.

In his novel, Pollack chronicles the history of the rock genre through a tale that pegs two fictional rival rock critics against one another.

On the stage, he's a personification of that subversive, anything-goes ethos that he celebrated in print. It seems that Neal Pollack doesn't just write about rock 'n' roll, he is rock 'n' roll.

But the McSweeney's contributor hasn't always been so cool.

Growing up in suburban Phoenix (the "least rock 'n' roll place on Earth") he was a high-school over-achiever, a leadership-camp kind of guy, he said.

"I was a real goody-goody. My favorite band was Huey Lewis and the News," Pollack recalled with a chuckle.

But after seven years as a serious, go-getter beat reporter, the journalist began researching a book on the darkest, seamiest of all musical experiences.

The results of his efforts were two-fold.

His book, a triumphant rock odyssey, was complete; and the writer who in recent years had garnered acclaim for his sardonic essays on the states of both society and politics was born again as a counterculture hero who would use his songs to mock such intellectual pursuits.

"I gradually devolved into the punk-rock clown that you see before you," he said.

The new hard-driving road-warrior Pollack will stop in Baltimore tonight when he and his band, the Neal Pollack Invasion, put on a show at the Talking Head Club.

To date, the group has played together a mere handful of gigs -- a fact belied by their tight set and high energy stage presence, Pollack boasted.

"I have a great band. They can play any kind of music," he said.

That musical versatility gives him free reign to mold the performances around disparate locales and venues. With a screeching Pollack leading the charge, the band has stormed through cities such as Memphis, Tenn., and Washington, performing both honky-tonk revues and sweaty punk sets.

He's not sure of tonight's musical theme, but Pollack is certain that it will rock.

"It's going to be good. In fact, I would venture to say that its going to be ... great," he said. "With my shows, anything can happen. It's a magical dreamland of possibilities."

And though he admits that his temporary role as rock god has been fun, Pollack said he isn't going to quit his day job just yet.

That said, the interested should catch his rock act while they can.

The 33-year-old author knows his penchant for low-budget van trips and late-night shows may soon fade.

"Touring with a band is the greatest thing in the world. I'm so lucky. ... But rock 'n' roll is a phase," he said.

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