Now it can be told: Elvis Presley was . . . a closet rock critic.
Satirist Pollack, who punctured the pretensions of literary criticism in The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, savages rock and its sycophantic critics in his first novel. Fittingly, he is the main character in the book, which is couched—not always successfully, in terms of point of view—as a biography by the megalomaniac, lickspittle academic Paul St. Pierre. “Neal Pollack” is the first and greatest of rock critics, a superhuman consumer of booze and dope and a participant in every form of ambisexual perversity. (The larger-than-life character is clearly inspired by the late Lester Bangs, the manic, prolific subject of Jim DeRogatis’s biography Let It Blurt, while St. Pierre appears modeled after high-middle-brow author Greil Marcus.) The central conceit—that rock criticism is more important than the music itself—drives the action through the entire history of rock ’n’ roll. “Pollack” appears, Zelig-like, at every critical moment in rock to shape the music’s direction: he befriends Elvis Presley in Memphis, hits the road with neophyte folkie Bob Dylan (and beds Joan Baez), hangs out with the Velvet Underground, creates Iggy Pop’s over-the-top stage persona, roadies for Bruce Springsteen, forms the Ramones, has an affair with Patti Smith, and mentors Kurt Cobain. Along the way, his avatar, bluesman Willie “Clambone” Jefferson, invents Detroit funk and rap music. Numerous real-life critics, including Bangs, make cameo appearances. There’s even a mock discography. The loopy, sex- and drug-steeped, violent plot, though unsatisfactorily resolved, incorporates a number of dumb yet pointed parody lyrics that take the abundant wind out of rock’s soiled sails. The choicest moments come in fine-tuned mocking of rock criticism’s fatuous clichés, radically overblown praise, and flavor-of-the-month bandwagon jumping. The message: Get over it, guys, it’s only rock ’n’ roll.
Loud, wild, messy, and fun—just like the best rock ’n’ roll.