Biography of a working-class teacher who became a prolific punk icon.
In his debut, writer and lyricist Cutter examines the life and art of the curmudgeonly, beloved Robert Pollard, leader of Guided by Voices, and his improbable success after years of home-recording obscurity. As Pollard recalls, “the fact that it actually happened when I was thirty-six, it was kind of mind-blowing.” Based on interviews with Pollard and other principals, the book mirrors the shaggy dog story feel of Pollard’s private universe of songcraft. The author acutely captures how Pollard’s wry self-mythologizing derives from his biographical relationship with Dayton, Ohio, its blue-collar eccentricities and rock-’n’-roll underground. During Pollard’s rowdy childhood, he both excelled in athletics and created a world of collage art and imaginary, epic rock bands; he began recording and sporadically performing with a circle of like-minded friends. At first, Pollard’s low-fi theatricality equally charmed and alienated his family, neighbors, and rival bands. He pursued these projects even as he started a family and became a well-liked teacher. All of this fed GBV’s strengths once they connected with the indie-rock cognoscenti. They eventually signed to Matador Records and went on to dominate the fervently self-aware, high-stakes, post-Nirvana 1990s indie scene. His childhood fantasies realized, success and endless touring drove Pollard to become outwardly abrasive and more domineering with his band mates, leading to high turnover and plenty of decadent backstage drama, all ably captured here. Still, Cutter portrays Pollard as a large-hearted figure, driven to maintain creative control and satisfy fans’ desire (and his own standards) for ever lengthier, crazed, and inebriated performances. Pollard has sporadically retired and revived GBV since 2004; Cutter concludes, “finally, Bob realized he didn’t need a label and its expectations to have what he’d always wanted.” The author’s lively writing captures the arc of indie-rock’s mainstreaming, although his exegesis of dozens of Pollard songs may appeal mainly to GBV’s (many) obsessive fans.
A well-crafted, intimate portrait of an unlikely, all-American rock-’n’-roll life.