Great Moments in Book Touring
by Neal Pollack
I recently completed an October tour of the eastern half of the United States with my band, The Neal Pollack Invasion, to promote my new book, Never Mind The Pollacks. The book is a parody of rock criticism in general, and rock critics who lionize punk rock in particular. The gods of rock obviously took karmic revenge on me. Here are some highlights.
"Loud, wild, messy, and fun just like the best rock 'n' roll." Kirkus Reviews
"One of the greatest satires of authorial vanity to come along since the actual career of Norman Mailer." Will Blythe, Rolling Stone
"Unlike most other collections of crime stories published these days, Pollack's roster of authors isn't weighted down with marquee names, and the contributions don't read as if they were phoned in from a vacation home on Cape Cod." Chicago Sun-Times
- During our first show, in a movie theater in Austin, Texas, I feel a shooting pain in my right kneecap. When the show ends, I realize I can no longer walk. I go to the hospital the next day. The doctor tells me I've strained my meniscus, which is the cartilage below the kneecap, and will have to wear a knee brace for the duration of the tour.
- Two days later, the band drives to New Orleans in a rental van. The bar where we're playing fills up early, but no one is collecting money at the door. Then the door guy shows up, and I complain, asking him to please collect the money now. "That's not my job," he says. I perform the show seated, wearing a knee brace, on Vicodin, begging people to put money in a tip jar. The woman assigned to sell books at the event looks alarmed when I begin throwing ice at the audience.
- The next night, in Oxford, MS, my musicians perform in front of 300 people on "Thacker Mountain Radio." My reading is scheduled directly after the broadcast. The room clears out utterly and I read before fifteen. Later that night, the band plays at a legendary blues club. There aren't enough people in the audience to care that I've forgotten the lyrics to the Lucinda Williams parody I'd tried to write in the van.
- Hung-over from the night before, and annoyed at the Memphis show promoter who's incessantly complaining about the small crowd, I lose my temper and throw my crutch at the wall, narrowly missing the head of my drummer. The guys in the band curse and stomp away, except for my drummer, who says, "Why'd you throw that crutch at my head?" Good question.
- The record store where we were supposed to perform and promote the book in Atlanta doesn't have any copies of the book. The store owner says it's my publisher's fault, but the publisher says it's the record-store owner's fault. Regardless, it's game five of the Cubs-Braves series and a half-dozen people come to the show, which ends with the club turning the lights on at midnight and kicking us out.
- In Washington, D.C., I miraculously regain the ability to walk and shed the knee brace. At a party that night, I find myself in the middle of the living room of a sticky-floored mansion, screaming a song in the face of Peter Bergen, CNN's "terrorism expert." Then the cops show up and we have to stop playing. At the end of the night, two of my band members slow-dance with young women with no music playing, and it seems that the tour is going well after all.
- On the drive to Boston from New York, I learn that the owner of the sports bar where, for some reason, we've been booked to play, has been trying to cancel our appearance all week because he'd rather have people watching the Red Sox-Yankees game. I also learn that my book publicist, god bless her, cursed to shame the bookstore owner who wanted to work with that particular sports-bar owner. About twenty people show up, far fewer than would have gone to see me at a normal bookstore reading. I begin to suspect that being in an obscure indie-rock parody band may not be the best way to sell books.
- Our trip from Providence to Pittsburgh is interrupted by a windstorm on the Pennsylvania Turnpike that causes a trailer carrying magnesium sulfate tablets to overturn. Magnesium sulfate ignites when wet, and the state closes 100 miles of the turnpike. We take a five-hour detour through the Cumberland Gap, enduring a Gothic rainstorm, blinding fog, a strange, whirling funnel of leaves, and a treacherous pass over what the signs only call "Dangerous Mountain." My drummer says. "You know that last tab of acid I was saving for later? I just took it." We get to Pittsburgh at 11:30 PM. Fewer than a dozen people await us as we play in an abandoned movie theater. Then the headliner shows up. They are a punk band from England called Gold Blade, all men in their 40s, who are on their first and probably only U.S. tour. They play a full set for only the concert promoter and us. It's as though the Clash have stepped out of the fog to teach me a lesson in the power and absurdity of rock-and-roll. But I still just want to go home.
- I drink a bottle of wine and slow-dance with a college sophomore in Milwaukee while the band plays an eight-minute cover of "Purple Rain." Later, when the crowd asks us to play "Eye Of The Tiger," we comply.
- In Minneapolis on the last night of the tour, Dakota, my rhythm guitarist, plays a cover of "Best Friend's Girl." He's met with dead silence. After every song, I look into the crowd, and see fewer people. I spit water. Someone shouts, "You can't spit water! It's inauthentic!" I throw my water bottle at him and shout back: "Nothing is more authentic than water!" Two weeks later, the independent record label that released our album goes bankrupt.