Never Mind The Hack

Neal Pollack: The Hack

The Hack

Neal Pollack is a hack. There. I said it. Many years ago while working in a bookstore (slowly running their music department into the ground) I scored a advance copy of his book, Never Mind the Pollacks, wherein this charming hack re-imagines himself into pivotal points in the historical fabric of rock. I thought the book sucked a bag of dicks but I did find something positive to write for the publisher. (Yes, I realize the intent of the book is to lampoon, but still.) A few years later I received a bag o’ galleys from a dear friend who still works in the bookstore. In the stack was the book AlternaDad by….gasp…Neal Pollack.

I never finished the book, but I did give it a try. There is one section of the book that sticks with me in my old age, and that is the segment when Mr. Pollack (from now on referred to as “The Hack”) has Music Listening Time with his son. I only remember two of the artists he mentions: the Ramones and the Aquabats. The Hack fashions himself a hipster and he is trying to pass on his hipster tastes to his son. This I can relate to.

Being Hack-y

Being Hack-y

My son Jack is three-and-a-half and already 43 inches tall. He is our first child, followed 19 months later by his sister Sophia. All of Jack’s life, I have tried to surround him with music. I haven’t been the best at this of late as working five days a week has taken away much of the time when I would normally play music. I associate so many memories of him with music, from driving across town while coming to grips with the news that I was to be a father, to his arrival in the hospital. (For the record the soundtrack to my shock was Truth is Marching by Albert Ayler; in the hospital A Boy Named Charlie Brown by Vince Guaraldi.) After two months, my wife returned to work and I brought Jack with me to my weekly radio show for the next seven months. I chose his nighttime music carefully. Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert, Bill Evans’ Live at the Vanguard, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Andras Schiff’s ECM recordings of Beethoven’s piano works. For the past year his CD player has contained two discs of Slack Key Guitar music. Every time my Mom visits and lies with Jack to help him get to sleep she falls asleep, wobbling down the hallway a few hours later murmuring how peaceful his music is.

Pollack, the man

I actually think this one is kind of funny. Kudos, Hack.

I have never explicitly had a “music time” with Jack like The Hack does in his book. We have listened to the radio, and to CDs as a background at home or in the car. Many times listening in the car we have heard different things than we would hear at home. The first time I noticed Jack really getting into a song came at eleven months when “Identity” by X=Ray Spex started playing in the car. I looked in the mirror and there was Jack, doing some sort of elbow throwing from left to right, or maybe a modified car seat twist. It was awesome. Other songs followed, things that would make him smile, then dance, then eventually ask to hear the song again and again. “Yellow Submarine” remains a favorite, “Eleanor Rigby” too. One afternoon at the Children’s Museum he was playing in the water table and singing when another parent looked over and said, bewildered, “He’s singing Yellow Submarine?” I told her he also does “Rigby,” right down to the strings. He has enjoyed songs by Outkast, LCD Soundsystem and the MC5. Sophia likes anything she can dance to—a favorite memory was seeing her smile while listening to Coltrane Live at the Vanguard. She smiled widest when Eric Dolphy came in and that tickles me to this day.

Pollack & son

But, you know, the kid could turn out okay, despite his dad. (Which is what we all hope for our own kids.)

Working for so long around music, loving music for so long and finding my connection to it increasingly thin due to work, parenting and life in general, I take great happiness in thinking about my kids and music. I hope to influence their likes and dislikes, to spot the shit from the shiny songs. I know that this earnest quest is doomed for failure, at least in the short term. (By short term I mean the next 15-16 years) There will always be pop pap that kids like and that parents shake their heads at. A DJ buddy of mine likes to tell me about his daughter listening to Hannah Montana in the car. But, he explains, she has Dvořák at the end of the CD. I hope that by exposing the kids to music at an early age they come to love it, as I do, and understand that all music is always right and never wrong. Let your kids like what they like. Don’t be a Hack.

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3 Responses to “Never Mind The Hack”
  1. Thanks for this post….a former music student, flautist and composer, I could never have music on in the background because I always started to analyse it the minute it came on. When the kids came along I chose silence because I needed my mind to be still.

    Of course, you can’t just stick them up in a silent tower so no seductive music comes by on a white charger to carry them off. It came anyway, and it did steal them away. First it was in the car, now they have it everywhere. My brain is busy again, charting bass lines, adding harmonies, and they devour any new material (Currently Cheryl Cole) voraciously. As you say, music is always right.

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