Friday Sept. 8 Brooklyn:
In the early golden dusk of twilight on a beautiful fall evening, an extremely long line began to form around the uberhip nightclub-cum-artspace Galapagos located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The mostly young white Manhattanite crowd seemed rather accepting of an ever-expanding line into this club. Was this a Soprano's audition? Was Spencer Tunick doing one of his famous group nude shots?
No, these folks were waiting in line for a book release and reading. A book release party clothed in the trappings of an old-fashioned indie rock record release party. But this was no ordinary book, mind you. This was the first release from the (in)famous on/off-line 'zine turned publishing company, McSweeney's. The book, from Chicago writer Neal Pollack, entitled Neal Pollack's Anthology of American Literature, was having its debut; rock and roll style. Its publisher is the wildly successful author and wonderchild of the now, Dave Eggers (pictured above). His book A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius, a memoir, has moved into Book-of-the-Month-Club level of success (read big $$). And his influence is significant and growing.
In this long snaking line through the Brooklyn dusk, I saw a large number of young women carrying tattered copies of AHWOSG in hopes of gaining the elusive Eggers signature. Every one in line had the stupefied look of a teenage rock fan, myself included. We shall not be denied, we shall have this Signature, this Event, this Moment! The churning horde moved through the decidedly industrial interior of Galapagos, which has a strange and murky pool at the entrance to the building. Still turning corners, waiting patiently for our chance at seeing the "famous literary stars." Finally arriving in an extremely crowded, standing room only scene, the main event was about to begin.
The Master of Ceremonies John Hodgeman was quite dapper in his black smoking jacket and his penciled in mustache. Hodgeman has taken his cues from old Dean Martin films or perhaps too many Jerry Lewis telethons. He is the straight man to the evenings bundle of humorous stories prominently featuring Neal Pollack, all read by the rising stars of this indie-litarary scene. Basically this was a Johnny Carson style roast to Pollack, complete with music and song. And it was very well scripted. It was a SHOW.
First up was faux-guitarist short story writer Arthur Bradford. He read his hilarious story called "Insects" while accompanying himself on guitar. At two seperate points, Bradford stopped to smash his guitars to great effect. Each time a hand hidden behind the stage door handed him another guitar. He was funny, engaging, and lighthearted. It was a good icebreaker for a crowd that was too large for the space.
Next up was Colleen Werthmann, dashing in her red leather hotpants and here smart girl Clark Kent glasses. Hers was a "dramatic reading". With no introduction, she commenced upon a sorted and engaging tale of intrigue involving her, James Garner and of course Neal Pollack. She is a great reader and paused dramatically to emphasize her use of fifty-cent words that thrilled the literati scene on hand. Who ever thought the word "chortle" could be so funny? She was greeted by rousing applause.
Next Hodgeman and man of the night Dave Eggers, along with superb piano accompaniment, cranked up the next "skit" of this meticulously planned farce roast of Pollack. Eggers, certainly the big money draw, was dressed to the nines in a finely tailored black suit, crisp white shirt, and red tie. He has a head-full of tight dark curly hair and the cheekbones of a young Robert Redford. I could not help but notice the suppressed squeals coming from all of the fine young ladies attending this event. Eggers and Hodgeman commenced this segment with an exaggerated Question and Answer session from a long scripted scenario. With the background piano music this scene was reminiscent of the radio show " A Prairie Home Companion" or some other strange game show. Many members of the audience were called forward to answer questions, bring drinks to Dave and John (Maker's Mark on the rocks, for the record), bow down, assume a grunting toad-like position. All of this went over well with the young audience, though it was dragging and boring at times. Dave and John continually cracking up and generally enjoying themselves.
This paved the way for the final toast, which came from rising literary star Zadie Smith. And what is a rock & roll party without an Englishman, or English woman as the case may be. Smith played the Mike Jagger to Auther Bradford's Bob Dylan. Smith, author of White Teeth, looked totally the sport in her black on black outfit. It makes one think that New York and London are kind of the same town separated by a pond rather than an ocean. Smith's story, again another ingenious, roasting farce involving her love affair with, of course the great Neal Pollack. She explained how Pollack had been her true inspiration and how truly great he was. He story was filled with self-depreciating humor. One joke, about how she won a scholarship to keep women of color away from the R& B business was truly funny. And her intimacy with R. Kelly lyrics showed her street cred. And finally the moment this evening was all about arrived-Will the real Neal Pollack please stand up?
Pollack, in his best black on black outfit, more Milwaukee Ave. fashion than Avenue A, begins rather slowly to sing "America the Beautiful" moving slowly from his chair to the podium. Very slowly half singing. And then upon his arrival, the Great Pollack speaks. He says, "Thank you all for coming, we will now have an intermission." This was not a joke. And with that Pollack exits the stage, music comes and the set is over. Double Anti-Climax. No, this is funny. No, this is post-ironic humor at its finest hour. It is the beginning of a revolution of sorts. What is it about though? Finally I wistfully remember while standing in line the two clean-shaven guys behind me muttering to each other with anticipation. One said earnestly, "You know, I read this mcsweeneys web-site thing and I've read some of Pollack, and really I don't get it."
And all of a sudden, I hear Nirvana in my head:
"He's the one, who likes all our pretty songs, and he likes to sings along, and he likes to shot his gun, but he don't know what its means, and I say YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"Don't we all just want to sing along Neal? Needless to say, I did not actually make it back into the room to hear Pollack's Act TWO. And you know what, I don't really care.
Neal Rules!The Dave and Neal Show: Part II
Brewer's Restaurant: Mid-Town Manhattan
New York City, all five boroughs, loves Neal Pollack.
This is for sure, a sure bet, so to speak.
He is the real deal, so to speak.
Neal Pollack is keeping "da shit real", so to speak.
Compared to the litigious nature of Pollack's tome's release last Thursday at Brooklyn superclub Galapagos (center of hipdom, believe me, if you don't live in Williamsburg, you can not fathom the hipness factor, honestly-ed. note), tonight's reading at Brew's was almost quaint. It was down right homey.
Home-style, old fashioned in the finest since.
Old School, so to speak.
And a cheerful, crowded good time was had by all. Guests including the incredible Colleen Werthmann joined Pollack for some of his 50-minute reading. And tonight, the recently served by the State of New York, New York County, Dave Eggers, was no where in my sight. He could be hiding. He could be incognito, considering the difficulty of maintaining "reality" and selling books in America. He could be deeply immersed in plotting his legal strategy with an army of Fifth Avenue lawyers that would shame the Microsoft team. And also kick their asses in softball. Such is the power of Eggers.
Upon entering Brews Restaurant, we were greatly relieved to find a real bar in New York, where real people drink real beer, and to no end mind you. The waiter, obviously noticing our hipness, (who else would be at a Mcsweeneys.net event?), said without batting an eye " Around the corner, take a right, up the stairs, open the door." We followed his instruction to the T, so to speak. Finally we arrived within the beautiful upstairs room at Brew's.
Within this room Pollack was already waxing poetic. He was reading about his adventures in Ireland in three-part harmony. Neal has a great reading voice, reminding one of a young Placido in a recording of Wagner's Gotterdammerung I've heard from the early 70's. It was delightful, funny and slightly weird. But good weird, not bad weird. And perhaps I am coming to understand this Pollack figure, even admire him in a "standing-in-a-corner-kinda-way." Pollack's story about living in France was hilarious. His diatribe on the franc vs. the dollar drew a flood of laughter. The evening ended early, but all seemed satisfied with the outcome.
Neal Pollack, what will become of this new chronicler of Americana, this voice from the heartland? Again, again where was Eliot from, where was Pound born? This new book puts Pollack on a larger radar screen. He is pulling it off, the "reading tour" that as, with grace and style. In hearing his words I know something new is going on. And this is good, because big-publishing output, like big record label output rarely meets the minimum standard of "worthwhile".
Neal Pollack leader of the Nova Ironica movement in letters- We Salute You!
Salutations, really. In a rush for drama (see Part I-ed.note) we rashly choose words we can never reclaim. Though we still doubt whether anyone ever has to believe what he or she can write. It would be too painful. Ask Eggers.
And Neal Pollack is one of the damn good ones.
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