Let begin today’s entry by clarifying some things. I got an e-mail this morning from someone I don’t know. It wasn’t very nice, and I can summarize it thusly: “Who the hell do you think you are trying to be a rock star, you stupid poseur?”
Really, that’s not a bad question, and the answer is, I don’t know. But there also seems to be a misconception, among the seven people who care, that the Neal Pollack Invasion is amateur hour. Not entirely true. Jim Roll’s latest album, Inhabiting the Ball, was named one of the Top 10 albums of 2002 by the music editors of Amazon.com, on a list that included Beck, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, Wilco, Peter Gabriel, and Robert Plant. Jim is a professional musician who’s toured all over the world with his own band. Dakota Smith has played with Calvin Johnson from the legendary indie rock band Beat Happening. And while I’ve played only two shows with my own band, I spent a good part of my last book tour fronting other people’s bands, with generally fun results. I also recorded a spoken-word album with Jon Langford of the Mekons, one of the great rock bands of all time. So even though we don’t know exactly what we’re doing, we know what we’re doing in general. With the exception of our drummer, we’re not a bunch of kids thwacking away at their instruments.
Even if we were, so what? And so what if I want to put on rock shows? The world is a horrible mess right now. We’re on the brink of a catastrophic war. Our economy is being pile-driven into the ground by stupid tax cuts for the rich; immigrants are being forcibly detained without lawyers; and every last acre of national park is in danger of getting bulldozed. Then there are the evil terrorists who lurk around the world waiting to kill me, and everyone else, if they get the chance. We live in a society where abstinence is considered the best way to fight AIDS, smoking pot is considered a crime on par with involuntary manslaughter, and the government asks us to serve our country by spying on our neighbors. Is it any wonder that I want to jump around, scream into a microphone, and break things once in a while?
I should have saved that rant for my blog, but now I feel a little better and can actually talk about rehearsal. Dakota’s roommate was studying at the library tonight, so we were able to plug in our instruments. Dakota got stuck at work until 8. Jim and I played his Xbox while Daniel pounded away in the other room. He was obviously enjoying himself, like a puppy that had spent all day in its crate.
Dakota came home and we ran through our 10 songs. They all went smoothly on the first run-through, except “Jenny in the Car, 1972,” which is supposed to be a parody of a Springsteen song but we played it too fast and it ended up sounding too punk rock, so we decided to drop it. Also, Dakota’s attempt to cover “Roadrunner” fell flat when he realized that he didn’t know the lyrics. The rest of the songs went incredibly well. After one song, an extended Velvet Underground-style jam called “Vein,” Daniel said, “Dude! That was awesome!” I had to agree. We sounded remarkably like a rock band.
I wasn’t ready to give up on “Jenny.” Jim said that maybe we could do it acoustic. He started strumming, and I sang along. It still didn’t sound right. Then I had an idea. I said, “You know how Springsteen narrates sometimes in concert? Like, ‘It was late one night in the summer of 1970? We were all broke, me and little Stevie and Southside Johnny …’ “
“Who’s Southside Johnny?” Daniel said.
Oy. I started narrating in that style, and then eventually Jim came in with his guitar, and then gradually the other musicians did too, and the song kept rising, in a perfect parody of a Springsteen concert. But it was also kind of exciting in its own right, and my voice got louder, and then I shouted “Ho!” Spontaneously, Jim and Dakota and Daniel started rocking out, and we all sang the chorus together over and over again:
Jenny Jenny, Jenny Jenny Jenny Jenny Jenny, Jenny Jenny Jenny
So hungry and so free
I haven’t got a job
I’ve just got you and me!
I swear, it really was good. And funny, too. It was 9:45 and we’d rehearsed for almost two hours. We were ready for the show.
TOMORROW: The Neal Pollack Invasion rocks Austin to the ground.