Neal Pollack has crafted a satirical novel that skewers both rock ní roll and the journalists who create rockís idols. Think Forrest Gump (on acid) meets This is Spinal Tap. The story follows rock critic Paul St. Pierre on his quest to write Neal Pollackís biography. Yes, the deceased bad boy rock critic shares the same name as the author, and the novel reads like a Whoís Who of rock. Pollack ties up fact and fiction tighter than a Gordian knot. There are many scenes that I wish were true -- Mick Jagger as an avid bridge player, an innocent James Osterberg corrupted into becoming Iggy Pop, Elvis Presleyís secret stash of Alice Cooper albums and a bathtub scene with Dee Dee Ramone, Iggy and Neal Ė too fresh, too funny.
Neal Pollack, the character, began life as Norbert Pollackovitz, son of Vernon and Gladys. The only song permitted in the Pollackovitz household is "The Caissons go Rolling Along" and it is played ad nauseum at dinnertime until one day Norbert snaps and tosses the record out the window. Gladys sees this as proof of her sonís musical genius; Vernon sees this as proof that his son is more idiot than savant. Norbert Pollackovitz meets a young Elvis Presley in Memphis, takes him to meet Sam Phillips Ė and musical history is made. Elvis plays at Norbertís bar mitzvah and renames him Neal Pollack. How does this boy genius escape his fatherís stranglehold? Elvis accidently runs Vernon over, freeing both Neal and Gladys from a mundane existence. Gladys meets and falls for Jerry Lee Lewis, a relationship that brings out Gladys' suicidal tendencies.
Now free to fulfill his musical and spiritual quest to find The One, Neal embarks on his own magical mystery tour. Along the way he does find him -- first in Iggy Pop, then Kurt Cobain and several false rock messiahs in between. Nealís life is chock full of coincidence and freak accidents. Neal bumps into Rolling Stone Magazine founder Jann Wenner and follows him to his office where staff are listening to Jimi Hendrixís latest album. Neal grabs the record and smashes it. Nealís habit of record breaking is interpreted as musical insight. He is promptly offered a job as a music critic. His first review is a paragraph of randomly struck typewriter keys. He is fired. And so begins the self-destructive life pattern of Neal Pollack, a character who mainlines cough syrup followed up with a drain cleaner and bourbon chaser. Neal survives being struck by a bus, driven by a Springsteen fan who remembers an horrific review of The Boss Neal wrote years ago.
Okay, so itís Forrest Gumpish, but it is hysterical to read (and picture) Neal rescuing Dee Dee Ramone from the Glam Rock scene and pestering Joey Ramone to let him join the band (as Smokey Ramone). You donít need to be a diehard rocker to appreciate Pollackís humour and biting satire; even if youíve lived under a rock for the past two decades youíll still get the jokes and itís impossible not to imagine Keith Richards starring as Neal Pollack in the film version. I give this novel 3 stars. Itís only rock and roll but I like it.