Neal Pollack Takes On America

Neal Pollack Takes on America
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Intro

Neal welcomes a Venice Beach regular into the McSweeney's nation
Neal welcomes a Venice Beach regular into the McSweeney’s nation.

After 8 years working as a journalist writing Joseph Mitchell styled pieces for the Chicago Reader, Neal Pollack decided he wanted a bit of a career change. And so with the help of Dave Eggers, the author of the best seller A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius and the driving force behind the literary journal McSweeney‘s where many of the pieces in Neal’s book first appeared, Neal published his first book, The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. The deal was this… McSweeney’s would front the money to print the book, and all profits after printing costs would go directly to Neal. But it also meant that besides the help of McSweeney’s one part-time employee and an intern, Neal was completely responsible for promotion of the book. There would be no advertisements, no agents, no promotion department to push the work on bookstores… and so, Neal took to the road…

Related Links

www.nealpollack.com
McSweeney’s Website
Neal Pollack Archive on McSweeney’s Website

Background

This piece arrived as an email pitch from Jonathan Menjivar in Fullerton, California. Since Transom.org didn’t fully exist yet and we needed material to get it cranked up, we helped him out. Our idea is that we’ll try to help sometimes if we can find the money and we’re excited by the idea. Most of the time, we’ll just take your work as you send it, because you’re so darned good.

This is Jonathan’s first ever radio piece, his first encounter with whole process — interviewing, editing, scripting, narrating, etc. etc. He was kind enough to let us inside his process and, if you’re new to this too, you may find it instructive. Read his email chronicle of the piece — from the pitch, to the road, to the production, to the tech notes.

Jonathan followed Neal Pollack (the first author published by McSweeney’s Press) on his book tour… which traveled to bars, punk clubs, a Venice Beach “weight lifting demonstration,” Neal’s hotel room in Vegas, and his parent’s house, among other stops.

The piece itself is still a work-in-progress, with some fat parts, some rough mixes. We intend to complete it for broadcast as part of the “Hearing Voices” series, and its final form will depend on its final broadcast home.

But we wanted to put it here on Transom.org at this point in its life. It is a picaresque tale, a bit longer than what would likely end up on the radio. You can listen to it in chapters. There are bonus sidebars. You can read Jonathan’s email and listen along the way. It’s an Internet kind of thing. It will be interesting to see how it evolves into radio.


To: transom@transom.org
Subject: Piece
Date: Thu, 12 Oct 2000 09:19:41 PDT

Dear Folks at The Transom,

I know you guys aren’t quite up and running yet but I have an idea for a piece that is somewhat time sensitive and so I’d like to see about getting it underway. I am a completely amateur radio reporter with very little experience. I’ve been volunteering at KCRW since February and I had an idea for a short story that I think would work great on…

More on the creation of this piece:
The Intro | The Pitch | The Road | The Production | Tech Notes


The Pitch

A hitherto private email exchange, made open in the public interest, we hope.

NOTE: We debated about whether or not to include this. Finally, we thought that since this site is about the Transom, after all, it was proper of us to look at the journey across it. The following email exchange is that.

This piece is one of our first, so the rules that govern it (particularly our ability to support Jonathan’s meager expenses and to help develop the piece) are special because we wanted to seed the site with new work from a new producer, and well, what else were we going to do?

Nothing in this email should be, I don’t know, thought of as policy or cited as anything official. Jonathan, particularly, is being quite obliging by revealing his part of the process. It was a private communication, and we’re making it public because we imagine it might be useful to someone somewhere someday.


Dear Folks at The Transom,

I know you guys aren’t quite up an running yet but I have an idea for a piece on All Things Considered that is somewhat time sensitive and so I’d like to see about getting it underway. I am a completely amateur radio reporter with very little experience. I’ve been volunteering at KCRW since February and am currently talking with Julie Snyder about a story of mine that may run on This American Life.

But in the meantime I had an idea for a short story that I think would work great on All Things Considered. Neal Pollack, author extraordinaire has just released his first book and will soon swing through Southern California as part of his nationwide book tour. Pollack’s book, “The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature,” is the first published by McSweeneys Books, a segment of Dave Eggers literary venture that has brought us the fantastic literary journal Timothy McSweeneys Quarterly Concern literary journal.

In true McSweeneys style, the release of Pollack’s book is breaking barriers. McSweeneys is spending no money to advertise the book relying instead on a small ad in the latest issue of McSweeneys and their website, McSweeneys Internet Tendency, to promote the book. Printed for speeds sake in Iceland where McSweeneys is regularly printed, Pollack’s book is being sold in a gorgeous hardcover edition complete with a built-in ribbon bookmarker for a mere $16. Eggers is also taking a revolutionary approach in that he is taking zero of the profits for the book, all of which will be forwarded directly to Pollack.

But where the story really lies is in Pollack himself. “The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature” is a hilarious parody of several ego-inflated authors from Gore Vidal to Hunter S. Thompson. Parts of the story will involve recordings of Neal’s readings during his book tour. And this is where I think it really gets interesting. Neal’s book tour is…well different. Thus far it has included stops at many a bar in these fine United States as well as a sandwich eating contest and here in Southern California will include a stop at Venice Beach for a “weight lifting demonstration.” I will be attending all four events here in Southern California taping Neal’s readings and conducting interviews both with him and audience members who show up to witness the wild man in action. If Neal can help me make the connection, I may interview Eggers as well.

I know All Things Considered is seeking pieces for its “Changing Face of America” series and I think a piece on an author who is breaking barriers in the publishing world and promoting his book following the indie-rock model will prove funny and interesting. I’ve contacted Neal about it already and he is very excited about the possibility of appearing on All Things Considered.

I appreciate your time and look forward to hearing from you.

Jonathan Menjivar


Very interesting, Jonathan.

We’re busy being born here, but maybe we can work something out. It’s probably best to talk rather than email because I don’t know if I could stand to write all those conditional clauses.

I want to hear more about what you want to do, how you’d do it, and what you need.

I’ll call you or you call me.

thanks,

Jay


Jay,

After I received your email today I gave Neal a call. He’s basically given me free reign to follow him around while he’s here and record, record, record. So I think the nature of the piece really depends on what sort of things happen and what kind of moments I can get on tape. I would love to do a piece that strayed away from a standard NPR piece. We can talk about ways you think the piece should go and where other than the transom might be a good place for the story to call home.

-Jonathan


Jonathan,

Have you done any of this sort of radio work before? how about other kinds of work? Not that it really matters, I just wonder.

-Jay


I’m still extremely new at this. Though i decided about two years ago I wanted to work in public radio I didn’t start volunteering at KCRW until this year and didn’t get a tape recorder until this summer. Like I said, I’m currently working on a piece for TAL so I’ve been schooled in their method of contructing a narrative. I’m still conducting interviews for that piece and will start writing the script soon. I’ve been learning digital editing as well working with one of the producers of “Good Food” at KCRW. I can tell you that I’ve read nearly all I could get my hands concerning radio production. Other than that there’s just stuff I did in school. I was an American Studies major and wrote lots of stuff for classes and the Student Association Newletter I edited.

Jonathan


Give me a sense of reality here, so I know the options.

– What gear do you have besides the cassette recorder – Do you have access to any facility that can dub for you…say, putting keepers on DAT? – Where were you thinking of editing? – Do you know how to edit?

Often, in this sort of situation with my old “Life Stories” series, The Jonathan Character will select the good parts and draft a script which we’ll edit together. Then the Jay Figure gets all the elements in hand and does the final mix here.

But this is kind of a pilot for Transom.org and I have no need to cleave to old ways. We could also try to find you a place to work in LA (NPR’s Bureau? KCRW? a friend’s studio/workstation? I also have some contacts I could work, linkages I could try to make)

So, our choices range from me trying to find you a place to work in LA to sending the whole mess to me and working long distance. Or in between. Anything is possible, but I need to be careful of time and money.

thoughts?

-J

p.s. You might want to try the free version of ProTools (Mac or PC) which should be available any day now at www.protools.com.


I’ve been waiting for weeks now to see that free version of protools become a reality. Thanks for letting me know about it though.

Well, I let Neal know about the conversation you and I had about the direction the story should go in. Here is what he had to say…

>"That sounds like a great idea. I am highly in favor of true
>documentary work, and I hate the standard NPR voice. Please feel
>free to take any and all artistic liberties.
>"However, I must warn you: When I am not on stage, my work largely
>involves bickering with my wife Regina about fascinating topics such
>as "who farted?" If that's what you want, that's what you'll get.
>That said, life in L.A. should be interesting the four days I'm in
>town, and you're more than welcome to come with us to Las Vegas
>afterward as well."

Joking about fart jokes aside, I think it’ll be great to capture Neal as everyday man and contrast that with his onstage persona and make for some interesting radio. Like I said before, he’s a funny and entertaining enough fellow to carry the piece.

Also, I’m in the process of trying to borrow the necessary equipment from KCRW to close mic Neal and be out of his way at the same time. I should have no problems securing that stuff but I’ll let you know if I need you to make my plea more legitimate.

I’ll keep you up to date with any other details should they arise.

Jonathan


I’m in. What do you need?

-Jay


If you can somehow manage to scrape up the funds so I can go to Vegas with Neal I would be eternally indebted to you. I’d need money for one night’s hotel stay and either the short flight back to L.A or bus fare. If you give me the go ahead I will give you the cheapest quote I can find which hopefully won’t include traveling with chickens in small cages, which I am not sure ever happens in reality but is always the marker for economy travel in bad films. I think I’m ok in the equipment department.

Jonathan


sounds plausible. Give me a quote. Save the chicken line in case you narrate.

-Jay


All right, here’s the options…

Lodging: Stardust (Where Neal is staying): $80.00 Stratosphere: $49.00 Algiers: $55.00

Flight Back: $80-90

Greyhound Back: $33.00

I don’t know about you, but it makes more sense to me to go with the combination of the higher priced hotel and taking the bus back than staying somewhere different than Neal and wasting the money on the flight. The long bus ride back may give me the time to sit back and assess the madness of being on tour w/ Neal. And I think Greyhound has a strict no-chicken policy.

Jonathan


Bingo. do it.

And it makes me feel like some kind of cut-rate, internet Ben Bradlee. Get on that Greyhound, son, and GET THAT STORY…. I say, pointing to the far horizon.

If you end up feeling there’s a narrative story in there, which includes your perspective, be sure to use the tape recorder (on buses, for example) to record your own thoughts. In fact, we might use that actual tape, but even if we don’t, it’s useful to have the notes.

Just close-mic yourself and keep an audio journal.

-Jay


This sounds fantastic. All parties involved seem to be very excited. I talked to Neal this evening and he’s very excited that I’ll be following him to Las Vegas. He was also very excited about the idea of having that second tape recorder you mentioned. Please forgive me for the use of the phrase “very excited” three times in one email…no other one seems to fit.

very excited and anxious to get underway,

Jonathan


How very exciting indeed!

We’ll talk soon, in an excited way!

-jay

More on the creation of this piece:
The Intro | The Pitch | The Road | The Production | Tech Notes


Reports from the Road

Neal Pollack

We agreed that having Jonathan send back email reports from the road might be useful in structuring the piece later on. Judge for yourself.


Jonathan,

I like the way you write about this. I think you write like an honest reporter of events, with your own sensibility appropriately inserted.

I think you should keep writing — maybe in emails to me — about everything you saw or noticed or think. Your impressions of the whole experience, of Neal, of his co-horts and fans, of the crowds and events… everything.

I am beginning to suspect it will become our narrative thread, between bursts of Neal, who I imagine bursting, though I have never met him.

Fear not, I have a feeling this is going to be good.

Trust me, though you have never met me.

ONWARD>>>>

-J

p.s. Did you get the Cub Reporter’s Kit yet? Check your mail. It’s a Sony TCD-5M cassette recorder, an Electro-Voice re-50 mic w/ short cable, some cassettes and a long cable…but not a boom/stand. It would be too heavy. You can rent one, or even buy one from radio shack. But why do you need it? To record his act? You can also tape your mic to the stand that’s already at the location. A stand is useless for general interviewing. You can make a boom from a long stick and use Gaffer’s tape on the mic.


Jay,

All right, first report. Last night was an open mic event at this bar called Club Mesa. We met up at this sushi restaurant and had dinner with Neal’s wife Regina and “Commie Girl,” a columnist from the OC Weekly who helped Neal plan parts of his L.A. tour. Stories of the road and journey thus far were shared and recorded at the dinner table. Neal dived into the topic of how difficult this whole McSweeneys book publishing thing really is, that despite the appeal of doing it via this indie method, it definitely has its drawbacks. Basically the fact that seeing as how McSweeneys has never published a book before they don’t know what they’re doing in a lot of ways and Neal and Regina are having to just eat the cost of things right now and hope that the money comes rolling in later. I’ll get him to go into that topic in depth later.

So Neal literally sells the books out of the back of his car. He’s got a box full of books and a backpack and change is made out of his wallet. Last night he sold 8 books. And this was supposedly not a disappointment. Neal thought the reading went well. He relied on some of his more bawdry material for the bar crowd. “I Have Slept with 500 Women” was the biggest hit of the night. I have some fan reaction as well…people who approached Neal timidly and expressed their joy with his work.

But it was a bar, it was loud and we had little time except for when we stepped into the “smoking room” to talk in an environment that any assemblance of quiet. I’m not sure how all of this material will work out in the editing process, I know it’s nearly impossible to edit when there is background noise. Don’t worry though, I’ll make sure we have some moments where we can have some actual quiet sit down interviews. Some of the next events will include more normal book store type events and so the recordings should be clearer and less chaotic. Neal is great though Jay, everything I would’ve imagined and a great subject. Even though I’m slightly intimidated to be doing a story on this scale, having it be about Neal makes me confident it’ll turn out well.

If you want to talk I’m at work until 3 today. After that I’ll be in and out of the house today and tomorrow.

Jonathan


Night #2: Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena…

Met up with Neal and Regina and Neal’s brother-in-law in the parking lot of Vroman’s. They asked me if I had been in the store yet which I had not. Apparently the day had been one of gentility for them complete with lunch at a country club and a trip to the Huntington Gardens.

Vroman’s was the cap…no,no…the fine wig that completed their image as genteel gentleman and ladies. A bookstore where Neal remarked their were more items on sale than books. Neal’s reading took place in this room full of cards, stationary books, and stamps. Next door was the children’s room full of stuffed animals and toys where Neal said he wished he was reading. The place stunk of cinnamon potpouri and needless to say was no Club Mesa.

The bookstore employee in charge of helping out Neal warned him that book collectors were expected to show up and that rumors were flying around that Neal was really Dave Eggers (A reporter for the San Diego Tribune made this mistake a couple of weeks ago and had a nasty response written to him by Neal’s mom…details at nealpollack.com). One of those book collector types in glasses and a neatly buttoned-shirt even asked me, “I’ve heard that Neal Pollack is actually Dave Eggers. Is that true?” I just told him Neal was right there and he should ask him himself. It was a strange scene to witness. Like some grown-up twisted version of a comic book or a G.I. Joe figurine collector, except, not as normal as those guys.

The reading began and Neal read the introduction to his book. Lots of smiles and small laughs, but not quite enough to suit Neal. He also read “An Interview w/ My Sister Who is a Lesbian” with Stacy Keenan, former child star from “My Two Dads.” Apparently they had met at the Sundance film festival where Neal was on assignment to get into as many parties as he could. Looking to spark things up, Neal began walking around the room, picking items off the shelves and describing how much he liked them, giving detailed descriptions of these awful cheesy scenes and mentioning how much they retailed for. The stamp section also fell victim to Neal as he described one stamp with an image of an overweight women with her jacket open as “The happy prostitute.”

A question and answer session followed with Neal using a puppet from the kids room next door to answer questions as Dave Eggers. More questions were asked of Dave than Neal and each time, Neal performed a spot on impression of Dave answering questions and detailing how he had been transformed into a puppet after a reading in New Orleans and had to spend the rest of the tour with Neal’s hand up his ass or in a drawer. Eggers gets mentioned so much and I wonder if Neal ever gets irritated. That yeah it’s great to be working as part of the McSweeneys family and publishing the book in this manner, but in the end, there’s this giant shadow of Eggers over him. Neal signed the about 30 books that were purchased, writing funny, specific lines in each one and then wearing the puppet to sign the books as Dave Eggers. Neal suggested Stacy and his brother-in-law sign books. Stacy signed almost everyone’s book with, “Stacy Keenan: Neal’s sister who is a lesbian.” Neal’s brother-in-law signed three.

I’m not sure that this crowd, a supposed more literate and educated crowd got the work much more than the crowd at Club Mesa did. There were more nods and smiles this time around, but you have to wonder if people are partly into Neal because of the McSweeneys connection and the marker of hipness attached to that instead of the plain fact that he wrote this really funny book full of this intelligent criticism of the world that Vroman’s stood for. Neal says he doesn’t care if people get it at this point, he doesn’t have time to worry about that.

Neal wants me to follow him to Arizona with him and meet his parents. He’s reading at his old high school with his mom. It would surely make for an interesting addition to the story. I have enough money with the check you sent to cover the $90 flight back but I’d want to get your approval before I spent you money that way.

Jonathan


Day #3…Venice Beach, CA

Though I have come to expect it at this point, I’m still amazed at how fly by the seat of your pants this whole tour is planned out. I told Regina how remarkable it was that all of these readings have turned out so different, different audiences, different levels of readiness. And she said yes, they’ve all been different. And it’s making Neal really tired. It’s like a six week long improv show with little room to stop and take a breath. Not only are they doing their work on their own, but the tour is so much of an experiment that I sort of imagining them collapsing when it’s all over in a week.

So at Venice, Neal met up with another person he had met via e-mail who was helping him with this portion of the tour. She had promised to deliver a weightlifter for a demonstration and deliver she did. At first it seemed a little scary. No weightlifter was willing. The guy responsible for monitoring the weightlifting area was unsure what Neal was all about, saw my recording equipment and started saying that we needed a permit to be in the area. With a total of about 3 people there for the reading at the time it was scheduled to start, things did not look good.

Neal ensured the Venice employee we were all completely harmless, a weightlifter was found, and about 25 people showed up. Neal did his now standard intro, “My name is Neal Pollack. I’m the author of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, the inaugural book from McSweeneys press.” Weightlifting ensued along with discussion of technique and accompaniment was provided by King Kukelele, a local ukulele player and performance artist who has attended all of Neal’s readings so far. Neal asked if there were any questions and a black homeless man in the crowd asked, “I wanna know where my forty acres and a mule is at” and started heckling Neal accusing him of writing a book full of white supremacy. Neal diffused the situation and the reading began.

He read from “My Life at Sea” and the crowd as always is the case was all smiles. Neal asked at one point if anyone had any water and a homeless stoner kid in the audience quickly dashed off and returned with a bottle of water within one short minute. Neal offered to pay for the water, but the guy refused. After the reading was over, Neal insisted and the guy asked for $1 for the water and $10 for the pot he was going to buy. Neal gave him a dollar and Regina gave him one more. The fellow who had earlier been accusing Neal of being a racist sat at the front of the audience smiling wide the entire reading and thanking Neal at the end for making him laugh so much his side hurt.

Neal says these are the kind of people he hangs out with all the time, the sort of people he calls friends in Chicago. And I believe him. More and more it is becoming apparent that Neal is not some wild Neal Cassidy type figure but just a really nice intelligent guy who is trying to do some good in this world. It sounds so cheesy to say but it’s true. The whole point of the book is too lampoon bad journalism and I know it’s because Neal cares, and wants people written about in an intelligent and honest way.

Oh yeah…he sold about 20 books and unless he can convince the people at the next bookstore reading to lend him a box, he’s only got three for the reading in Vegas. We’ll see what happens.

Jonathan


Tonight is a reading in Santa Monica and then it’s off to Vegas tomorrow. Tempe is Mon. night and Scottsdale on Tues afternoon. I’ll be out of contact email-wise on those days. But I’ll keep writing these daily reports as if I were sending them to you on email.

I’ve attached a sound file…part of the thing at Venice just to give you an idea of what’s going on. I have no idea if this will be used but it might give you an idea of what’s going on. The sound quality is bad cause I have some problem with the sound program I haven’t been able to figure out. The tapes themselves sound clear. Let me know what you think.

Jonathan


Jay,

All right I’ve got time for one more report before we take off today…

Last night was really just a standard reading. It took place in Midnight Special, this lefty independent bookstore that is one of the few interesting places left on the largely corporate 3rd St. Promenade. The evening opened with some friends of Neal’s performing a parody of 50’s advice manuals. They were very well dressed conservative women claiming to be the authors of a book entitled, “How to Marry the Man of Your Dreams” or something like that. Even with the dangerous inclusion of domestic abuse jokes the piece was clever enough to work well.

Neal than took the podium with a copy of Rolling Stone in hand. Neal drew everyone’s attention to the cover of the mag which featured a manly looking Al Gore with a larger than the average crotch. “It is Easy to Take a lover in Cuba” and “The Burden of Internet Celebrity” by request. A question and answer session was dominated by planted hecklers, one who asked Neal “Survivor” related questions and Shilo, the woman I first met at Club Mesa accused him of impregnating her.

But the interesting part of the evening came afterwards at the party that was supposed to occur at this very L.A. restaurant “More” just a few blocks from Midnight Special. Dana, who had set up both the event at Venice Beach and in Santa Monica had miscalculated exactly how long the reading would last and hadn’t booked a room until 10:00, nearly half an hour after we were there. While waiting in line for ice cream, Neal called his Mom and Dad and told them for the first time that I would be coming along. And so, according to the pattern of Neal’s life that has become apparent at this point, we stood outside. Stood outside eating a cheese plate and garlic-soaked olives. Not at all glamorous I tell you.

Once inside, we cleared out the birthday party full of Banana Republic well to do L.A. types and enjoyed some drinks. The highlight of the event, radio story-wise, came when Neal invited these fans at the party to bring their instruments into the restaurant. They had been and the reading in Venice and had told Neal about their band. So with an acoustic guitar and small drum in hand, “We Are Scientists” performed a modified version of their song “Mothra Vs. We Are Scientists” with a rocking version of “Neal Pollack Vs. We Are Scientists.” It is going in the story in some manner, I guarantee. And oh yeah, then Christopher Penn showed up and sang some songs with the band. Crazy stuff I tell you.

All right off to Vegas. And yeah, I wouldn’t mind narrating the story…it should be fun.

Jonathan


Jay,

Well, I have returned safely from the wilds of the Southwest unscathed but with a damn good story. There are far too many details to lay out here. Don’t worry, I kept recording, kept writing.

Las Vegas was all it should be, Neal running around like an excited child and concerned father at the same time. After two 99 cent margaritas Neal’s reading in his hotel room almost resulted in him taking his clothes off. Regina stopped him and instead only a shirt came off. The four other people in the room didn’t seem to mind at all.

We had lots of discussions in the long car rides to Vegas and Phoenix and Neal and Regina engaged in the type of fights that come after 2 months on the road together.

Monday and Tuesday was the big homecoming, meeting Neal’s parents and friends and returning to his alma mater, Saguaro High. The kids he spoke to in classes were extremely enthralled and many books were sold.

I also met tons of people who are anxious to hear my story when it’s done. I know transom.org will have its own publicity machine but I can guarantee a big audience will come from the wacky assemblage of people that are McSweeneys fans.

Now comes the real work. I have a real idea how the piece will work but things should really come to life in the next week as I log the tape. Can you send me a sample script? I have a vague idea of what they’re supposed to look like, but if there is an established format, I’d like to work within that.

Thank you again and again Jay. I had the time of my life…really.

If you have any concerns at this point, please let me know.

Jonathan


Jay,

I have a vague idea about the beginning and ending. Basically the way I perceived Neal in the beginning and then discovering who he was and what he was really all about. And I think I wrote the end of the script at the airport waiting for my plane home after talking to Neal’s dad Bernie who basically thinks the book is no big deal. Neal’s parents put me up when I was in Phoenix so the money you already sent me was enough to cover all the costs of the trip.

Jonathan

More on the creation of this piece:
The Intro | The Pitch | The Road | The Production | Tech Notes


The Production

NOTE: After Jonathan got back from Arizona, we talked about production. How to dub, log, edit, structure, mix, the whole world of digital audio workstations and software, etc. Jonathan was brand new to all of it. I wondered if he’d like to write about what it’s like entering this world, naked. He wrote back….


>==============
>
>Jay,
>
>I'd be willing to write a piece about digital editing. I'm no expert, but I suppose that's the perspective you're looking for. There are lots of bits about digital editing out there that I sought out myself, but still...I had this feeling before I dove into things myself that it was simple and required little investment, which I suppose is true if you're doing basic single track pieces. I know that those articles were written like a lot of things on the web about public radio tend to be in an effort to democratize public radio and make it more accesible to new voices, which is something that inspired and excited me and I fully appreciate. But I can't help but feel it was misleading in some way. That in order to create pieces that will sound like the things you hear on the air, you've got to be willing to invest some time and money and really know what you're doing before you tackle it. Maybe I'm just being a little too picky about the details but it does make sense right? Maybe I just found a perspective for the piece...
>
Jonathan
>
>============
>
>Jonathan,
>
>urg. Guilty. you're absolutely right. Because people like me are zealots, we want to believe in the idea of a nation full of untold stories and in the power of having those stories shared. (Even as I write that, I still believe it.) So, we send out an invitation. We make it sound like it's fun and important and pretty easy. But we leave off the fine print. We forget to mention that YOU have to be a little bit of a zealot too.
>
>Welcome to the club.
>
>-Jay
>
>==============

When I heard Neal was coming to town, it sounded like a good idea: stick a microphone in his face and follow him around for a couple of days. From his writing I could tell he was going to be funny and engaging and I knew something at least slightly interesting was bound to happen. Neal said yes, Jay said it sounded interesting and before I knew it, I was recording the story. Neal said I had to come to all of four of his Southern California readings. Then he said, I should come to Las Vegas with him. I said yes to which he said, “You should really come to Phoenix and meet my parents too.” So I did.

What resulted was a little more than 23 hours of raw tape, all of which had to be logged. A total of 136 pages which didn’t include the parts where I recorded Neal reading from his book which I left out since they were already in print in his book. While doing research myself about how radio stories were put together, logging tape always sounded like it was the most tortuous but necessary part of the process, something akin to pulling out a near mouthful of perfectly fine teeth to make way for dentures. But it was then, sifting through the words as they ran through my ears and onto the page that a picture of the story that might one day be first became apparent.

I should also say that I did very little standard interviewing while I was taping. I didn’t have to. I had read every review and article about Neal and had lots of general questions prepared, but Neal likes to talk, and each day he was meeting people like Commie Girl, Dana, and his parents who had lots of questions of their own about how the tour was going. So I just sort followed him around and let others ask the questions for me, interjecting here and there when I needed details. The only material in the story that was generated by any real question and answer period is the scene in the car on the way to Las Vegas where Neal and Regina are talking about McSweeney’s and Neal’s place and affect on literature. It was a product of the fact that I’m still really new at this and haven’t developed my own working style yet and the fact that each day I spent with Neal he was really busy just trying to get the event together. But it ended up giving the story a different feel. Neal sounds like he’s talking to friends rather than a reporter because he is. It lets him reveal facts about the tour in a way that I hope stays with the flow of the more verite parts of the story. That being said, I don’t have any idea whether it’s a good way to work, it’s probably not. But it worked for this story.

Once I had logged the tape, it was clear that the story had grown into something much larger than the 5-7 minute feature piece I initially envisioned. I had enough material to take the story 5 or 6 different ways and I chose what I thought was both the easiest and best way to tell the story. Using a chronological structure gave it a more interesting diary-like feel and also conveniently split what was a whirlwind week into these nice, smaller individual stories. I wanted to give a sense of what it felt like to be Neal on tour as it happened; make listeners feel the chaotic nature of the tour at those times when it seemed like it was on the brink of falling apart and also let the audience in how little Neal seemed bothered when it didn’t seem to work out. I also had some reporting to do to ensure the story made sense to people who had no idea what Neal or McSweeney’s was about. Finding a way to do that subtly, a way that might also give me an avenue to say some of the things I had noticed about Neal’s tour was the biggest difficulty I encountered in putting the story together. I’m still not quite sure whether it works the way I intended it to or if it was the best way to present the story.

The whole time I was recording in situations that were less than ideal, in bars and at the beach with lots of wind blowing. I was scared that it would be completely uneditable. Some of it almost was. The nature of this story meant that I sort of had to record it in this manner, but trust me, do whatever you can to disregard my example. Read up on all of the technical articles about recording you can get your hands on (like Jay’s on this site) and practice until using your equipment comes as naturally as reaching to scratch an itch. If at all possible, record in quiet situations. When you sit down to edit it will make you much happier.

But even with all of the setbacks my recording situation had placed on me, I can say that ProTools can work magic. I did my editing on an iMac. I had done little sound editing before I began the story. What I had done was watch one of the producers of Good Food, our local food show at KCRW, as she edited pieces for the show. That show is edited using a different sound editing program but it’s basically the same concept no matter what program or platform you’re using. If you can, find someone who can show you the basics too. It’s one thing to read about digital editing but actually watching someone in action who has the skills down is invaluable.

ProTools looks intimidating because it is. I still don’t know what half the functions are for. And because the manual is written with music production in mind, seeking out answers there is even more scary. But do it. Read the manual, the answers are there. Like anything else, it requires lots of time just playing around with all the different functions before it becomes second nature. Find someone who knows what they’re doing to help you as well, and once you do, don’t be afraid to ask them questions. Take this excerpt from an email exchange between Jay and I for example:


>===============
>
>Jay,
>
>What's the best method for putting sound underneath narration? I
>was just lowering the gain on that section and doing crossfades to
>make the transition smoother but is there a better way?
>
>Jonathan
>
>==============
>
>Regarding volume and fades, you need to put the tracks in "volume
>automation" mode and you can record fades while you play (using the
>mouse like a mixer fader, one track at a time), or by drawing the
>fades in Volume view, pulling the volume graph line up and down.
>
>Jay
>
>===============

After that email from Jay, things made SO much more sense. Though figuring out things on your own has its merits, ask when you need to. I put together the first version of the story using the method I described in the email with disastrous results. It sounded awful and did some pretty permanent damage to the sound files. Permanent enough that when I wanted to revise the story, I had to go back and redo about 50% of the work I had done putting the story together the first time around.

Know this fact as well. You will probably get frustrated. Listening to the same piece of audio over and over again as you try and make an edit sound natural will do that to a person. Going into this process of putting together the story, I thought that because I knew how to tell a story and report in print, I’d have no problems applying those skills to doing a radio story. On the contrary, doing my first radio story felt more difficult than any of the serious academic work I had spent the last couple years of my life doing. I had to really bathe myself in sound, sort of learn to swim in it, before I felt comfortable enough to use it effectively as a storytelling tool. But doing a radio story can be incredibly fun, I feel like I had the experience of a lifetime doing this one. Hearing the end product, and then realizing that other people might as well…there’s really no other feeling that can compare.

More on the creation of this piece:
The Intro | The Pitch | The Road | The Production | Tech Notes


Tech Notes

Thinking it useful, we’re going to start giving process and tech information for each piece. You can post follow-up questions in the discussion board.


In the field, Jonathan used an Audio-Technica AT835b mic and a Marantz PMD 222 cassette recorder he bought on Ebay. He recorded his narration on the same gear, under a homemade blanket tent. He got free version of ProTools running on his Imac and bought a Acomdata external FireWire hard drive to hold the session and audio files.

He did all the production himself, with some email advice from us. He sent rough mixes along the way for comment. We received the final version here and found it needed some level fixes. We didn’t do any re-mixes (That’s all Jonathan), but we did even out the levels, give it a dose of compression at about Ð6 with the WAVES L1 Ultramaximizer (fabulous dynamics tool, a plug-in for ProTools), some light EQ for intelligibility (roll-off below 75 hz and slight boost at 3500), and made a few more cuts here and there to get it under 30 minutes.

More on the creation of this piece:
The Intro | The Pitch | The Road | The Production | Tech Notes


Hearing Voices
This piece was created with help from HearingVoices.

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  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Neal Pollack Takes on America

    Author : jay allison
    Date : 03-07-2001 on 07:19

    To date, the pieces on Transom.org have been made by people who at least had crafted a story before or who had pushed the Play and Record buttons with the eventual result of something on the radio. They may all have been trying something new, but they weren’t exactly new themselves.
    Jonathan Menjivar got his Marantz from Ebay and took a flying shot.

    He ended up with a half-hour piece, no small feat, even if it does have some fat on it and a rough fade or two. He wrote it, voiced it and mixed it. He found resources on the Internet (TAL, RadioDiaries, Radio College, here), managed to get the Free ProTools installed on his iMac and bought an external hard drive to put the sound files on, getting advice from the Digidesign website. He figured how to get audio from his cassette machine into the computer and back again.

    He convinced his subject, Neal Pollack, to trust him. He hit the road.

    When he got back, he had to figure out how to organize all his tapes, how to pick the good stuff and write to it, how to make it sound like a decent radio piece and also sound like HIM, how to do justice to his subject.

    He recorded his narration on the Marantz PMD-222 cassette recorder with his relatively-cheapo Audio-Technica 835B microphone under a blanket (“On the day I recorded narration it was raining. So in order to block that sound out, I built a sad, sad homemade studio/tent out of two chairs and a couple blankets; a skill I perfected as a child. In any case, it blocked out the rain and took out some of the echo that was present other times I had recorded the narration”)

    Jonathan pretty much proves the point of Transom.org. Even as he was learning himself, he was okay with others listening in. Check out the background stuff he wrote (“The Road”, “Production”, etc) linked from his Show page. Listen to the first radio piece he ever made, “Neal Pollack Takes on America,” and talk about it here.

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    This has gone long enough without replies

    Author : A Knight
    Date : 03-07-2001 on 15:00

    Lemme just dive right in. I liked it. I liked it alot, actually. Though I’ll start with the things that I didn’t like.
    I don’t know who Neal Pollack is, nor do I know who Dave Eggers is. McSweeney’s sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place it. After having listened to the piece, I know that Pollack wrote a book and that Pollack is a brave and funny guy, but I know nothing of his writing (other than it contains references to drugs and/or drug use based on the school segment). I know that Eggers is somehow affiliated with McSweeney’s. McSweeney’s, I have learned, publishes stuff, but not books, except for this one.

    In other words, the piece could have done a better job at letting me know some information about these people/institutions. (thanks to the various links I was able to figure out all of my answers after the fact)

    What I love about it (other than the great characters in it, especially the ever changing Pollack) is the fact that it has been left fairly open and malleable for public radio. TAL could add scoring and some editing and it would sound like they did the whole show with in house production; Morning Edition could make some big cuts and combine clips of it with an fresh interview of Joseph or Pollack; etc.

    Good Job, Joseph

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:Neal Pollack Takes on America

    Author : Michael Poirier
    Date : 03-07-2001 on 15:49

    I just finished listening to this and I really enjoyed the piece. The segment in the hotel room had me in stitches, and I think moments like that are what make radio such an engaging and entertaining medium. I can’t imagine conveying the fun and fervor of that event nearly as well in print or video or whatever…
    However, A Knight just wrote about one thing that did concern me with the piece. I think it does take for granted that the listener has some knowledge about McSweeneys and Eggers, particularly in fleshing out Pollack’s love/hate relationship with his publisher, so some more backgrounding here is probably necessary. Just a few sentences about McSweeneys might better reveal the proper context for Pollack’s literary philosophy and his conflation/rivalry with Eggers.

    One aspect I myself might have done differently is in the choice of readings. Pollack’s "Poem" is indeed hilarious and mock-pretentious, but I think the stories in his book itself are actually more illustrative of the unique brand of parody Pollack is a master of. Maybe selections from the "Introduction" or "My Week at Sea" would better highlight the kind of self-inflated pseudojournalism Pollack loves to shred. Just my opinion here of course, but I don’t think it would hurt to let the listener hear just how funny Pollack is when he explains that "If there is one rule in writing, it is this: I am the best."

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Sidebars…

    Author : Michael Poirier
    Date : 03-07-2001 on 16:05

    Wow. Just listened to the sidebars. That Christopher Penn thing was just…wierd…
    Anyway, there was one line in the "Canada" segment that I would love to see make it into the next version — when Pollack says "This isn’t how George Plimpton gets treated when he comes to Santa Monica, I can tell you that!"

    I think that one quote sums up so much of what is going on Pollack’s writing and in his tour. It puts him into the familiar literary context he is lampooning, while simultaneously contrasting the unique circumstances of his own quirky book tour with those other writers. I think it’s great sound that could fit almost anywhere in the piece, and I think that one quote illustrates many of the themes the piece is getting at (thus saving the narrator some of that burden as well).

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:Neal Pollack Takes on America

    Author : larry
    Date : 03-07-2001 on 20:58

    It’s really neat to hear a piece at this stage where it’s okay (it is okay, isn’t it?) to make suggestions. This is good material. It just seems to start a little slow, is all. The only reason we have to care about Neal is a) he’s a fun guy and b) he’s written a good book. We never do get much of the book, though; we have to assume it’s interesting because Neal turns out to be interesting. But his most interesting bits don’t come at the beginning. The scene in the Las Vegas hotel room, where he introduces himself, let’s us know he’s on a book tour, and then gets loopy, comes at the end: why not move it to the beginning? I think it would grab the listener, and then the narrator could take us back to an earlier part in the tour and do some explaining. Speaking of the narrator, we don’t really hear him having much of a relationship with Neal (is there tape?); he more often drops in like a traditional arts piece reporter. Which is fine, but if the narrator’s going to do that, why doesn’t he give us some of Neal’s book while he’s at it? I really did want to know more about the book.

    Anway, great job so far… look forward to hearing more….

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:Neal Pollack Takes on America

    Author : jay
    Date : 03-07-2001 on 21:21

    Yes, editorial notes are welcome, by all means. Always. That’s the idea. Even if a producer feels his piece is finished, it’s legitimate to dissect it here. It’s a Master Class type o’ thing.
    these are all interesting suggestions. AKnight is right that it has been left "malleable" so that it can be tailored to suit whatever program adopts it as part of the "Hearing Voices" series, which is where we found some budget to develop this.

    Some of the context stuff — what is McSweeney’s, who is Eggers, what is Neal’s book — could be handled in a long-ish intro. Jonathan drafted a "host intro" on the Show page which would have answered some of these questions if you’d heard it on the air. Still, the book itself feels like it’s missing.

    Interesting notions about including parts of the sidebars (I agree about the Plympton line) and fooling with the order. A straight chronology is a comforting structure, though, especially when you’re sorting out hours and hours of tape for the first time in your life.

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:Neal Pollack Takes on America

    Author : jonathan (producer)
    Date : 03-07-2001 on 22:17

    first off, thanks everyone for taking the time to listen to a half hour piece on the internet…and then taking the extra step to say what you think about it. i really appreciate it.
    about the issue of explaining mcsweeney’s and neal more…i think jay is right that we can deal with it in the intro. maybe adding or changing a few things there might help alleviate any confusion.

    the order of the piece. i think my concerns here go back to some of the stuff about the nature of documentary work that was talked about in scott carrier’s topic. how much do you bend the facts of what really happened for the sake of story? i guess i felt like because it was a tour, that laying things out chronologically was the only way it could be done. but i think larry is right. it’s probably best to start off with the more captivating material and wind it back around. though i didn’t see it too clearly when i was putting the story together i think that could be done and explained away in the narration honestly and with ease.

    more of neal’s book. again, i kind of saw things as having to be one way or the other. either the story was going to be readings from his book OR it was going to be all of the stuff of the tour that surrounded it. but i think i could manipulate things just slightly so that there was a more healthy dose of the two.

    also larry, there isn’t much tape of interaction between me and neal. even though i had a mic in his face all the time, i was kind of trying to stay out of neal’s way and let him do his book tour thing. i was also afraid in a way that if there was too much interaction between neal and me in the story it might alienate listeners from what is admittedly already a sort of obscure topic. i thought that people who weren’t mcsweeney’s fans might get turned off if there was too much interaction. basically it comes down to the fact that i’m a neal pollack fan and i didn’t want that known thinking that it might negatively affect the story…that it might make it feel…i don’t know…a little too much like that movie almost famous.

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:Neal Pollack Takes on America

    Author : jay allison
    Date : 03-08-2001 on 10:58

    jonathan (03-07-2001 22:17):
    basically it comes down to the fact that i’m a neal pollack fan and i didn’t want that known.

    Speaking as Jonathan’s editor, we did indeed play away from that fact, but, ultimately, it’s there. You knew he was a fan, didn’t you?

    Should it be hidden entirely? Is that a lie?

    Should the fact be bumped up and made more obvious? Or should listeners get to decide for themselves what they think of Neal?

    But Jonathan’s guiding their perceptions anyway, isn’t he?

    Could you come away from this piece with a negative impression of Neal, depending on your beliefs?

    Do you like Jonathan’s quasi-objective, give-the-facts narrative role in a piece about Neal, or would you prefer to hear *his* story?

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:Neal Pollack Takes on America

    Author : larry
    Date : 03-08-2001 on 16:27

    you know, the stance of the narrator is really the toughest part of this piece to think through, isn’t it? Of course we know the narrator is a fan of Neal’s, otherwise he wouldn’t bother with the tour, but it’s not acknowledged in the piece; so I guess the "neutral reporter" comes to feel a little troublesome, a little off-tone somehow. It’s not that we need to hear Neal and the narrator partying together (and since there’s no tape for that, we won’t). But what about a really straightfoward approach in the narration? Like, "there’s this writer whom I really like, and
    this magazine maybe you’ve never heard of but I think you would dig it and I’m following him around….etc." The narrator doesn’t have to pretend to be just another arts reporter on assignment, does he? A while back Scott Carrier did a piece on a filmmaker, Trent Harris, whose work he really liked, and as I recall he just said so and urged people to take a look at some unkown film; it wasn’t a problem.
    Geeze you’ve done so much work on this piece already, and such good work, maybe it’s criminal to suggest rethinking something fundamental.
    But maybe it wouldn’t be that hard to rethink if the aim was just to be more natural in the narration; that would come naturally, no?

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:Neal Pollack Takes on America

    Author : Nannette
    Date : 03-08-2001 on 17:06

    to me it goes together with the writing that’s missing. I’d like to hear about the writing that moved Jonathan to follow Pollack. Otherwise, as a fellow beginner I’m immensely impressed, but as a listener I am left with my imagination at the beginning of what could be an infinite number of mirrors, each containing a different author saying in succession, "No, *I’m* the real true blue author raging against the machine.Those other guys are more established and it’s bogus…"
    Which guy should I believe unless I know at least one reader has been deeply affected, or unless I can be touched myself?

    Or…What’s wrong with being like Almost Famous? you even have the older [scuzi, slightly middle-aged] writer figure in correspondence with you… and there you went on a rollercoaster ride with these guys…( and with Jay and your equipment). It could be fun to mix in the adventure you emailed about. To me that’s an interesting story. I can identify with you more than wtih Pollack because I don’t see Pollack at the beginning, when he decided to embark on this. I don’t hear about specific home friends of his, for example, so I must take your word for it that he’s a real unassuming guy who assumes he is important to literature. I can’t get that from his reading about the barrio.
    Will others get something about the ways latin references are made presumptively in mainstream literature (are they?) or will some people be offended by the latin references without latins present?
    I’m rushing here and perhaps a little rough. The upshot is you’ve left me curious and impressed with the huge project. Congratulations
    And I wouldn’t open with the hotel scene. That would be an invitation to laugh at Pollack before we get to know him. Later, we’re more likely to laugh With him.

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Neal and Jonathan

    Author : Paul
    Date : 03-08-2001 on 21:34

    jay (03-08-2001 10:58):
    Do you like Jonathan’s quasi-objective, give-the-facts narrative role in a piece about Neal, or would you prefer to hear *his* story?

    I think that partly depends on what his story is. Jonathan, one thing that I always like in a radio piece is the moment of surprise, where either the reporter or the subject has his or her expectations subverted. I thought it was going to be this, but it turned out to be that. I think those moments are interesting on a basic human level. (Though perhaps I just love formulaic narratives; that’s another possibility.)

    Anyway, that’s what Jay’s question above made me wonder — were there moments of surprise for you that didn’t make it into the piece? Did you expect more than four people to show up in Neal’s hotel room? Did you expect him to be nicer? Meaner? More ironic? Less ironic?

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:Neal and Jonathan

    Author : jonathan
    Date : 03-09-2001 on 00:22

    Paul (03-08-2001 21:34):
    Did you expect more than four people to show up in Neal’s hotel room? Did you expect him to be nicer? Meaner? More ironic? Less ironic?

    I know that element of surprise thing is definitely part of the TAL formula and if they’re interested, I think the piece could be bent in lots of ways to fit that. There is that moment of surprise I had after the Venice event that’s actually included in the emails I sent from the road. Something about me realizing that Neal wasn’t a Neal Cassidy type figure but just a nice guy trying to do some good. That was actually included in the narration of the story at one point but Jay and I talked about it and once I really thought about it sounded really gushy. I’m a sap sometimes but I thought that being a sap in the piece would really turn off people who weren’t Neal or McSweeney’s fans.

    Yes I did expect more than four people in Vegas. Does that come across in my narration? I really did expect a lot of people to show up and I felt bad for Neal when only a few people did. But he turned what I thought was going to be a dissapointing night into one of the best parts of the story. Would including that revelation give that scene more depth?

    I expected Neal to be loud and funny…which he was. But he’s also a really caring and intelligent guy even if you have to sift through occasional obnoxius behavior to find those things. But I didn’t find him to be ironic at all. Even though his book is parody driven, I think it’s 100% genuine and irony free in some ways.

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:Neal Pollack Takes on America

    Author : jay allison
    Date : 03-09-2001 on 07:29

    McSweeney’s has graciously acknowledged Jonathan’s work
    http://www.mcsweeneys.net

    [A first-time radio producer named Jonathan Menjivar was unfortunate enough to accompany Neal Pollack to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Phoenix last fall. Click here for the results. Jonathan has come up with a brilliant and not always flattering portrait of America’s Greatest Living Writer. The piece also features the first-ever performance of the unpopular song "Neal Pollack vs. We Are Scientists." We thank Jonathan, who is recovering nicely at the Betty Ford Center, for his efforts.]

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    irony and disappointment

    Author : Paul
    Date : 03-09-2001 on 07:39

    jonathan (03-09-2001 00:22):
    Yes I did expect more than four people in Vegas. Does that come across in my narration? I really did expect a lot of people to show up and I felt bad for Neal when only a few people did. But he turned what I thought was going to be a dissapointing night into one of the best parts of the story. Would including that revelation give that scene more depth?

    My personal answer to that question would be yes, definitely. In fact I think you could use that scene to create two moments of surprise, one sad, one happy: first, that you expected it to be a crowded room, big deal, you just drove across a desert to get there…and then there are four people. Disappointment. This tour sucks. What are we doing here…But then it turns out that Neal doesn’t really care, he turns it into a great time, and that makes you realize (maybe) that this tour isn’t really about selling books, it’s about something…else.

    Or something like that. I don’t want to put revelations in your mouth. But it sounds from your description above like you did go through both of those moments there in Vegas, an emotional low and then a high. If you allow that emotional swing to enter the piece, both through narration and tape, I think you’ll capture the listener’s attention and emotions more.

    But like I said, or started to say, above — that idea of surprise and change being important elements of narration seems so natural to me, I sometimes forget that not every listener (or reader) thinks it’s as essential an element as I do.

    jonathan (03-09-2001 00:22):
    I didn’t find him to be ironic at all. Even though his book is parody driven, I think it’s 100% genuine and irony free in some ways.

    I think that’s a really interesting idea, and it might give you a way to do what some other listeners were suggesting, above — to give some context to the book for those who’ve never heard of Neal Pollack (or McSweeney’s).

    You could explain that it’s a book of parody, that it’s labeled as ironic by some critics (and fans), and here’s why…but you’ve come to understand that Neal doesn’t think of it that way, and here’s why you believe him.

    And of course, formulaic old me would like it even better if you came to that realization in the course of the piece — e.g., if when you’re on Venice Beach with the hipsters watching ukeleles and weightlifters, things are feeling pretty ironic, but by the time you get to that nice final speech in his high school, you’ve concluded that he’s more earnest than ironic.

    Of course, it might not have actually happened that way. But if it did…mmmm, sweet.

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:Neal Pollack Takes on America

    Author : Zack
    Date : 03-09-2001 on 12:55

    I thought this was a wondeful piece. I’ve been a fan of McSweeneys for a long time, ever since I stumbled onto this: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/2000/01/17faq.html . I’m still trying figure these guys out, and that’s the fun of it. It seems Jonathan is participating in the same process and enjoying it as well.

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:irony and disappointment

    Author : jonathan
    Date : 03-10-2001 on 08:48

    I think I said somewhere in all that writing I did about the story that when I was done recording the story, it looked as if there were about ten different directions the story could go in…and it looks like it’s still that way.
    Paul I really like the suggestions you’ve given. You’ve proven your skills as a great editor again. When I say that I mean you haven’t put words in my mouth, but you’ve ordered and organized the wide range of feelings I was experiencing on the tour into a clear narrative. thanks.

    But I still think it all depends on who, if anyone, is interested in airing this story. Making those changes might make the piece more interesting to some (including me) but it might also mean the piece ends right here…that it won’t see another life on the actual air. I guess we just have to wait and see.

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    NY Times

    Author : jonathan
    Date : 03-11-2001 on 08:32

    It’s been a long time coming, but Neal has made the big time…
    http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/03/11/reviews/010311.11shafert.html

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:Neal Pollack Takes on America

    Author : Jen
    Date : 03-12-2001 on 20:04

    I think the consensus among the comments points to, perhaps, a technical error?
    When listening to the story, under "Hear Entire Story" button, the piece starts out with "This is the first thing I have with Neal Pollack saying anything on tape."

    It does not start with the introduction that is on the webpage (which is quite explanatory and would frame the whole story perfectly.)

    Is this how it’s supposed to be Jonathan and Jay?

    Jennifer

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:Introduction

    Author : jay allison
    Date : 03-12-2001 on 21:25

    Jen (03-12-2001 20:04):
    Is this how it’s supposed to be Jonathan and Jay?

    Yes, but now that you mention it, someone should have voiced the intro and stuck it on the front of the piece. I just figured that people would read it on the "Show" page, so it wasn’t necessary.

    We have learned a lesson here today.

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    The Subject Speaks

    Author : Neal Pollack
    Date : 03-13-2001 on 08:21

    I thought Jonathan did a terrific job. I gave him so much access to my tour because I’ve worked as a journalist myself for years, and I know that the more access a reporter gets, the better his or her story becomes. If Jonathan had wanted even further access, Regina and I would have done what we could to accomodate him.
    I have few criticisms of the piece itself. I should take singing lessons, first of all. The only thing I wish is that J could have included more of the characters he met while on tour with me. When you’re on the road, the people you meet make up the majority of your experience, and I would have liked to have gleaned a better sense of that, particularly in the LA segments. But other than that, I am so pleased.

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:The Subject Speaks

    Author : jonathan
    Date : 03-14-2001 on 09:53

    Neal Pollack (03-13-2001 08:21):
    I should take singing lessons, first of all.

    I think it’s important to note that Neal never considers that he should just STOP singing. Also at nealpollack.com there’s a new link that will let you watch a video of Neal singing "Wild Thing" in Toronto.

  • REPOST

    3.26.01

    Reply
    Re:Neal Pollack Takes on America

    Author : Raquel
    Date : 03-14-2001 on 19:04

    Hello folks.
    I want to chime in becaue I really enjoyed Jonathan’s piece. And I admire the fact that he pitched the story to Jay Allison. More importantly, he got encouraging advice and guidance – and a check. (!)

    The keys to pubradio success: talent, drive, and intelligent self-promotion?

    I use my microphone and a razor every day… But it doesn’t make it any easier to follow up on a complex story idea that I love. It’s so hard to stop thinking about imitating established styles and just get some tape. We talk and think and listen, but pressing the record button is the biggest challenge. It was so inspiring to watch a fan of innovative sound stories get out and do one. Congrats Jonathan and thanks to Jay!

    ~~Raquel

  • Amy Silverman

    4.05.01

    Reply

    My introduction to transom.org came when my friend Neal Pollack arrived at my home in Tempe, Arizona for a book party with a box of books, his wife Regina and a very young guy with a very long mike. Neal hadn’t mentioned Jonathan — our communication had been sporadic, mainly about how it was unseasonably rainy in metro Phoenix, which meant no tiki torches for the party — and no one introduced Jonathan, so after the marshmallow roast (Neal’s other party request, aside from candy corn) I cornered Jonathan in the kitchen and wrested the transom.org story out of him. Actually, he volunteered the info — along with Jay’s email — happily.

    All that said so you understand that while I don’t come at this with any more radio experience than that of The Listener, I am well-versed in Neal Pollack. Old family friend, fellow alt-journalism person. (I write for Phoenix New Times, where Neal and I both grew up; until recently he was at the Chicago Reader.)

    Having just finished putting my own first radio piece together, I listened to Jonathan’s with new respect. Here are my comments to him:

    Jonathan, you did a fabulous job — (and, thanks to you, I now know how hard it is to put these pieces together, so consider the compliment as heartfelt)! I also know how hard it is to take them apart — so consider my comments with a big, huge grain of salt.

    I’ve read the comments on the transom.org talk page, and i tend to agree with those who say they don’t really get a feel for what the book is about, by listening to your piece. I’m at a disadvantage in a way because I know exactly what it’s about, and what Neal’s about….but let me take a stab at this.

    I’ll take it from a journalistic angle, since that’s what I do (or try to do). This was a great piece for radio (as opposed to mine; trying to tape action in a nursing home is tough!). But as for the story-telling: Pollack, Eggers and McSweeney’s are extremely difficult to explain. Here are some suggestions.

    First off: You do need to explain up front what this is all about, or you’re going to lose listeners early. From a truth-telling standpoint, I admire the fact that you follow a strict time narrative — in other words, each scene follows the other as it did in real life (with editing, of course). But I think it hampers
    you quite a bit in the story-telling. I know some people on transom.org think an intro to the piece would take care of this, and perhaps it would, but the story should stand on its own, too, in my opinion. I’d approach it differently, and mix up what you’ve got in
    order to tell the story in a way that makes sense; you can explain to the listener that you’re jumping around, time-wise, without bamboozling him/her. (I wonder what Jay thinks of this….)

    For example, I think it’s not til the road to Vegas that Neal and Regina really explain (or try to; I personally think they fail) McSweeneys. And the stuff at the very end with Neal and his mother (although I might lose it altogether, as they were clearly
    performing for you in an annoying, cloying way — something you did a remarkable job of avoiding in almost all of the piece) gets at what Neal’s doing — vis a vis the performance art stuff….But it’s way too late.

  • Amy Silverman

    4.05.01

    Reply
    part two of my ramblings

    (THIS IS PART TWO OF MY MESSAGE — I COULDN’T GET THE WHOLE THING ON THERE AT ONCE. AMY)

    At some point toward the middle Neal also gets at some of the explanation of McSweeneys — and reveals himself, which, frankly, as his friend makes me cringe, but as a journalist makes me howl — with that bullshit comparing himself and Eggers to Andy Warhol and Tom Wolfe. (I honestly can’t tell if he’s kidding or not, but you should be able to discern it and point it out to the listener; remember, though, that Neal and Dave make fun of exactly the kind of journalism my publication, Phoenix New Times, does, so maybe I’m a little sensitive on the topic.) In any case, you need to not only explain Pollack, but Eggers and HIS schtick waaaay before you get to that — otherwise your listener will just be scratching his head. The joke about Eggers and Pollack being the same person is totally lost otherwise.

    I know this takes away some of the spontaneous joy you want the piece to have, but you’ve got to let people in on the jokes first. And that leads me to my main problem, which is really more about McSweeneys, Neal and Dave rather than your radio piece, but i think it could be
    cool to capture this in your piece:

    Neal and Dave are all about the inside joke. They don’t care if you get it or not; they’ll keep writing their books and posting their stuff on the web no matter what. But you, as the radio documentarian, have to explain and then cut through that BS to get to those readers who are not dumb, but not in on the joke. You do that a tiny bit, maybe by accident; you need to do it more. In my mind, it’s the story here.

    (OK, now, bear with me on this next part. This could only be my opinion/observation, but if it rings true with you, maybe it’s a way to explain why you wanted to do this piece and who this book/movement is for):

    You never really identify who the prototypical Pollack/McSweeneys reader is.

    It’s YOU, Jonathan! Twentysomething, cerebral, sharp-witted guys (from what i’ve seen, virtually ALL guys — Regina and Neal’s mom don’t count) who love Neal’s humor — from the literary rants to the
    unbuttoning pants in the hotel room — the whole thing. Case in point: my living room, the night of my book party for Neal. These random 20-something guys show up at the house of someone they don’t know, a whole hour early, and hang all over Neal. One of them actually saw Neal in Seattle (his home) and then flew to Phoenix to see him again. They’re groupies, he IS their Tom Wolfe, their Andy Warhol….Screw Neal’s family and their friends; none of them really got it at all, although they laughed at the jokes and there was some Phoenix humor they all got; they were just there being nice to Susan and Bernie. (Neal, don’t kill me — I’m sure you’ll read this.) It’s those young guys like you, Jonathan, who make McSweeneys what it is. Neal and Eggers are just slightly overgrown (and overblown) versions of you and these other guys. You relate to them. It’s almost like a fraternity. Look at the mcsweeneys.org writers — just about all 20-something guys. Neal touches on it a tiny tiny bit in your piece, but unless you’re looking for it, it’s lost.

  • Amy Silverman

    4.05.01

    Reply
    part three

    (OK, THIS IS EMBARRASSING. EITHER I CAN’T FIGURE OUT HOW TO WORK YOUR DISCUSSION BOARDS, OR I’M WRITING TOO LONG. LIKELY BOTH. LAST PART, I PROMISE. AMY)

    I know it’s taboo in much journalism to talk about yourself (unless you’re Neal Pollack!) but what we need in your piece is what drew YOU to McSweeneys, to Eggers, to Pollack. Why YOU think it’s a phenomenon worth exploring or a joke worth exploiting — or something in between; obviously it’s got some of these elements for you or you wouldn’t have poured your heart and soul into making a radio piece. I don’t know if you have any of this in your dozens of hours of tape, but what about some of these groupies talking about what THEY like about Neal? I just got uncomfortable in that Pasadena bookstore — Neal being goofy, those people not getting it (even if you say they were holding back laughter, my guess is it was embarrassed laughter —
    like the pratfall joke you made, very astutely)– I know what was going on, but others may not. You need to explain it up front.

    Neal’s right, the McSweeneys thing and the Neal thing is a cultural phenomenon (albeit microscopic) and it’s hitting a very important group. But (I know I’m beating a dead horse here) you’re not doing this piece for people like you. Your listeners aren’t going to know
    anything about this stuff. You’ve got to take them by the hand and explain why you, Jonathan, are so intrigued, and why there’s this
    underground following of McSweeney-ites….The rest will follow.

    I hope my ramblings made some sense.

  • Jay Allison

    4.05.01

    Reply

    What a thoughtful and thorough analysis! Another Transom T-shirt has been earned.

    I’d be interested in the McSweenys Fan perspective on that critique. Any present? Or Neal… are you about?

  • jonathan menjivar

    4.10.01

    Reply
    Neal Speaks

    Neal can write books but sometimes he can’t do certain things…like figuring out how to post on the transom boards. So he asked me to post the following:

    "Amy. You have betrayed my true nature. Run me over with your pickup truck of critical thought. And you’re right about a lot of things, but not about all. While it’s true that the majority of my audience are 20-somethings, and many of them are male, they do not comprise the entirety of this little world. Eggers has a lot of female readers, for various reasons, and I have a small share myself. There are also a number of people who fall outside of the age bracket, both older and younger. I think those people who respond to McSweeneys do so because it has energy, and not because they feel as though they are in on some inside joke. At its best, and it is not always at its best, McSweeneys does something that Big Publishing cannot; it creates literary culture. We have parties, we throw entertaining live shows, we hold contests for our readers. While some of this may be bullshit, most of it is simply out of a sense of fun. Why should being a writer not be fun?

    So I quit my "legitimate" journalism career to be a kind of traveling literary clown. So what? I was bored at the Reader, and not moving forward as a writer in the way I wanted to. This is nothing against the Reader, but I’d had enough. I was tired of the artifice, so I thought I’d spin my own.

    Every journalist and every writer creates artifices and has pretensions. Of COURSE I don’t think I’m Andy Warhol. For pity’s sake."

  • jonathan menjivar

    4.10.01

    Reply
    Once Again Ladies and Gentleman…Neal Pollack

    1. My book doesn’t target alternative weeklies. I aim higher, at glossy magazines. Alternative weeklies are not the problem; while they may vary widely in quality, and many of them are about as "alternative" as VH1, they generally tend to be engaged in their communities and are, at least, lively. I worked for the Reader for seven years, and have written for the New York Press and currently have a books column with the Philadelphia Weekly. So obviously, I do not disdain the weeklies. No need to be defensive there, Amy.

    2. Regina points out that there are, in fact, a LOT of female McSweeneys readers, that there are a lot of McSws readers in their 30s, and that there are a lot of teenage McSws readers. The guys that showed up at your party were a statistical average, perhaps, but not much more. Also, you’d be surprised about my parents’ friends, many of whom do, in fact, get the joke, particularly since they’ve known me a long time. One of the guys came up to me after the party and said, "the Jewish ladies were a nice touch." I thought, no, dum dum, they are not a nice touch, they are friends of the family, and they are at the party to support me, not to serve as your entertainment. To suppose otherwise is cynical beyond belief.

    That is all.

    NP

  • jonathan menjivar

    4.11.01

    Reply
    Let’s rethink this

    OK Amy, since no other McSweeney’s people have stepped up to the plate and Neal has had his say, allow me to respond.

    First off thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed critique. I agree that the piece needs restructuring and that it needs more of me in it in order to try and explain the McSweeney’s phenomenon and I will certainly use your comments when it comes time to revising the story.

    But I DON’T think that McSweeney’s is really some twenty something boys’ club. I think that like the impression that they’re all about irony and the inside joke (something dressed earlier in the boards with Paul Tough), there is a misconception that McSweeney’s is this fraternity just playing at literature. I even had that impression going into the story. But I must say that after being on tour with Neal and taking the time to catch up on the vast amount of McSweeney’s stuff out there, I don’t think that perception is true. It’s two biggest stars so far are men and the guys at your party certainly represented a percentage of the McSweeney’s audience. But the people I met on Neal’s tour (some of whom I mention in the emails to Jay)who were his biggest fans who took the time and effort to help plan Neal’s tour and promote his book were women; women either closely approaching or into their thirties.

    I think the misunderstanding is a fault of my reporting. I know from the criticism on the transom boards and some I’ve received in private emails that the piece sets Neal up in some ways to be a bit of drunken clown. I know he’s not that, as would McSweeney’s fans, but the people who have never heard of McSweeney’s wouldn’t. I think in restructuring the piece, my voice that every wants to hear could be used to combat those misconceptions. You know like, "McSweeney’s and Neal are not just overblown frat boys playing some big ironic joke…and here…let me tell you why they’re not." I think the legacy of pranksterism associated with Might (Egger’s previous, now defunct publication) has followed McSweeney’s and the fact that they refuse to play by the rules has led to a misrepresentation of what they’re about. Maybe Neal and McSweeney’s aren’t doing anything significant, but what they are doing is honest and real. And even if it is funny and silly and even stupid at times, it’s good. Neal’s book may not be read by many people 50 years from now, but so what.

    If this post sounds defensive, forgive me. I just think it’s the truth.

  • Amy Silverman

    4.11.01

    Reply

    Jonathan: I don’t think you sound defensive at all! And your own self-critique is right on. I do think that perhaps I jumped in and offered my own opinion of McSweeney’s when what I should have done was urge you to share YOUR opinion of McSweeney’s — whatever it may be.

    More on that in a minute.

    But first, I don’t think I accurately expressed my own opinion of McSweeney’s, et al, so let me start there first. I don’t mean to suggest that McSweeney’s is not worthy, or that Neal and his book are not worthy. They’re a collective phenomenon, and that’s fascinating. We don’t have enough phenomena (I think that’s a word) in our culture. That said, I still do believe that much of what McSweeney’s does, and certainly much if not all of Neal’s book, is satire. So inherently, it’s all about the inside joke, even if all the smart folk out there are in on it. That’s OK. It’s not bad. It doesn’t mean that the work doesn’t have literary value. And it’s not bad to agree to disagree on whether we like it, based on personal taste. Just because McSweeney’s is not my favorite doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate its greater value. And to say that 20something guys seem particularly into it is not meant as a slam, or a fraternity reference. Somehow, you, Jonathan, don’t strike me as a fratboy. I didn’t think it was the bathroom humor as much as the smart humor that drew those guys like you in….THAT said, I still think those 20something guys at my house were fascinating. I didn’t mean to say that those are only Neal’s only fans, but any fans that act the way they did are intriguing — even if they’re 60-year-old Jewish ladies. BUT as the listener, I’d rather hear from fans who have no connection to Neal other than through their pure McSweeney’s/Neal fandom — no matter what their age and gender.

    Now, I’ll readily admit that while I pull up the McSweeney’s site most every day, and I have read Neal’s book (and Eggers’ book) and was present for one event on Neal’s tour, I must totally defer to you on all matters Neal/McSweeney’s. You are the expert. You’ve done the legwork. You’ve earned the right to interpret this stuff for the listener.

    To that end, what I was trying to tell you in my obviously clumsy way was that I think the piece would be better if you could boil down what — in your opinion — this stuff is all about. And yes, if that means raising what you think is a stereotypical, shallow observation that this stuff only appeals to 20something guys like you, then great. Do it. THEN knock it down and tell us why that’s wrong, and then tell us what it’s really about. Not what Neal thinks, necessarily, although his opinion has its place, but what YOU think. I know in an earlier post you mentioned that you were trying to be the objective journalist, but your opinion is far more valuable than objectivity in this case. (The reason I chose to work for the much-maligned alternative weekly genre instead of a daily newspaper is because I don’t believe there is such a thing as pure objectivity in journalism — even the way you place a comma can influence the reader’s feeling about what you’re covering. I didn’t want to pretend.)

    So go for it. You’ve got our ears. And again, really, I’m in awe of your work. It’s a lot easier to fire off about this stuff in a chat room than to create it as radio!

  • Andy Knight

    4.11.01

    Reply

    IMHO, I think you can avoid the subject of stereotypical McSws/Pollack/Eggers fans in your story completely. You will be introducing McSws/Pollack/Eggers to the vast majority of listeners. You should probably concentrate on explaining why these people are worth the listener’s time, not reasons why the listener may not relate to the subject.

    If you set up the perception of a demographic and then spend the rest of the show refuting that perception, the non-McSws listener will still come away with the perception of a McSws demographic. The reason is 2 fold: #1 You aren’t objective in this story and therefore won’t have credibility in this regard. You are a McSws/Pollack fan, and no matter how hard you try, that fact will shine through. #2 Once you bring up outside sources, you give those sources extra power. They are Ghosts, and they are indestructible. They aren’t speaking for themselves, so the listener isn’t given the chance to hear the humanity and fallibility in their voices. You give the detractors power by letting the listener know that not only do the detractors exist, but their point of view is strong and valid enough to be mentioned.

    If I mention to you that some people say I have no fashion sense, and I swear to you that I am a snappy dresser and that my friends say I’m a snappy dresser and even have me help them shop for their wardrobes, having not seen the way I dress for yourself you will assume that I, and my friends, have no fashion sense. It’s called ‘poisoning your own well’, and it’s the same reason that McDonalds never mentions their competitors in their ads. McDonalds is #1, and they won’t validate their competitions existence by mentioning them. They spend 100% of their ad time on self-promotion, not fighting what people may say about them (same with Coke).

    Promote the hell out of McSws/Pollack/Eggers. Focus on introducing all the things you love and admire about these folks to people who have never heard of them. The listener will decide whether or not McSws appeals to them.

    i Yes, I _do_ have horrible fashion sense. (And Neil! I ordered your book from McSws last month and it hasn’t shown up (hell, the Credit Card I used has already expired)… Deciding not to make the same mistake twice, I ordered McSws #6 through tmbg.com. This is how you treat your new fans?)

  • Jay Allison

    5.14.01

    Reply
    Backstories Galore

    Here is an interesting footnote which arrived in Transom’s email box, posted here with Gadi’s permission

    =============
    I came across the Neal Pollack show on transom.org and thought you and Mr.
    Menjivar (his e-mail address is not listed) might be surprised to read an
    account of what really happened at Pollack’s Venice Beach reading, regarding
    the homeless man accusing Pollack of white supremacist teachings. It might
    provide some interesting background color. It’s all true, I’m told.

    You can read the article — and Pollack’s response — in TRAGOS online >>>

    Pollack’s response: http://tragos.org/issue2/letters.html

    Original article: http://tragos.org/issue1/pollack.html

    Best,

    Gadi Dechter
    editor, TRAGOS Magazine
    http://tragos.org

  • jonathan menjivar

    5.15.01

    Reply
    For the record

    Interesting background color maybe, but not really a surprise at all.

    I think it should be noted as well that everything we hear from Gucci in my story, except for his praise for Neal at the end, came before this incident happened. All of it was unprovoked and I believe, Gucci’s genuine reaction to witnessing Neal’s spectacle. My story originally contained the scene described in the Tragos piece and now I’m especially glad we cut it. Good call Jay.

    And for the record. If you’ve read the Tragos piece…I myself am not a pasty white boy and take offense to being described as such.

  • James Crossley

    7.09.01

    Reply
    I always wanted to write a sniffy letter to the editor . . .

    I meant to post something here before, questioning why the Phoenix Pollack party wasn’t mentioned at all in the piece (I wondered if the hullaballoo of such an event made taping difficult), but having belatedly read Amy’s comments, I’m nearly compelled to respond.
    Whatever one’s opinion about journalistic objectivity, facts are facts, and Amy has exercised poetic license with some of them. I quote:

    Case in point: my living room, the night of my book party for Neal. These random 20-something guys show up at the house of someone they don’t know, a whole hour early, and hang all over Neal. One of them actually saw Neal in Seattle (his home) and then flew to Phoenix to see him again. They’re groupies, he IS their Tom Wolfe, their Andy Warhol….

    Although this paragraph suggests that I, a Seattle resident, was one of the random guys who showed up an hour early, I was not. I know the hostess, and am known by her–in truth, I was mailed a special invitation to attend her soiree. I did see Neal at a reading in Seattle, and did fly to Phoenix, but not exclusively to see him again–I was primarily interested in seeing my good friend Tricia, who is herself a close friend of Ms. Silverman and attended the party at my side. And I’m flattered about the demographic cohort into which Ms. Silverman has placed me, but I must confess that I’m well into my 30s. There were a pair of college students on break who arrived at her house unexpectedly–if it’s fair to say that any partygoers can be unexpected at an event that was presaged by an open invitation on a popular, nationally-known website.

    I believe Amy (if I may call her that even though she’s cast aside years of mutual acquaintance to refer to me as a "random guy") has miscast the circumstances of that evening to serve her theory that the popularity of McSweeney’s and its affiliated authors is deep but narrow and aberrant.

    OK, the strain of pretending to be so aggrieved has proved too strong. I just wanted to join the chorus of those who don’t think that McSweeney’s, or Pollack’s appeal is intentionally limited to an audience of cognoscenti, especially not one consisting of hip, wiseass twentysomethings. I will say that these writers may appeal most strongly to former wiseass twentysomethings, those who grew up on the smart but often shallow snarkiness of David Letterman and Dennis Miller. David Foster Wallace (who’s been accused of using the same knee-jerk irony to titillate the same kind of audience) has written pretty eloquently on the difficulty of writing anything that’s intelligent and sincere simultaneously, and I think Neal’s trying to do just that, succeeding more often than not.

  • Andy Knight

    7.09.01

    Reply

    Sincere? Man, I must have bought an alternate version of his book. Well, I guess I could say that he is sincere in his insincerity, but that would bring me that much closer to believing in Feng Shui.

  • James Crossley

    7.11.01

    Reply
    Any excuse to prattle on

    I was going to expand on that "sincere" comment, but I figured I’d already gone on long enough. What I meant to imply, I suppose, was that almost all of Neal’s fakery is in service of good old fashioned satire–he’s not just making flip remarks at anything that moves, he’s making fun of specific things he finds objectionable. We obviously can’t take the persona he adopts with a straight face, but in his book (and especially elsewhere, when he’s writing comically but more obviously as himself) it’s usually pretty clear what his true feelings are about most things. He was a protester at W’s inauguration, for example, and wrote about carrying a sign saying "Minor Literary Celebrities Against Fascism." That’s funny (subject to personal opinion, of course) but not terribly ironic, and the sentiment it expresses is sincere. I dug these remarks up from his own website:

    Q: Was your "affinity group" meant to be ironic?

    A: No. There was certainly humor, and silly humor, but humor is often used in protests. I called for this group to come together because I wanted to march with people who were angry and open-minded, but who otherwise might have felt that they didn’t fit under the big tent of
    protesting. Most of the people who joined me were first-timers, but they didn’t come to be ironic. They came because they are opposed to George W. Bush and his policies, and also thought that they could have fun.

    You could sum up the whole Eggers/Pollack/whoever project by stealing from that paragraph. "[H]umor, and silly humor . . . open-minded . . . didn’t come to be ironic. They came because they are [smart (yes, I’m equating opposition to GWB and his policies with intelligence)], and also thought that they could have fun."

    This high-toned discussion is all well and good, but it doesn’t answer my question. How come the party at Amy’s house never showed up in the piece? Was it strictly an editorial decision–i.e., my friends and I are too boring for radio–or are there technical problems that made it tough to get good sound?

  • jonathan menjivar

    7.11.01

    Reply
    wow, who knew people still cared

    This high-toned discussion is all well and good, but it doesn’t answer my question. How come the party at Amy’s house never showed up in the piece? Was it strictly an editorial decision–i.e., my friends and I are too boring for radio–or are there technical problems that made it tough to get good sound?

    No, you and your friends weren’t boring that night. There was good material that I wanted to use. Neal having a pinecone ceremony being just one those funny things. But some things had to go and unfortunately the stuff from Amy’s party was the first victim. I can’t really say why, maybe the humor was just too Arizona-centered, but it didn’t speak as well to what was happening on the tour and what Neal is about as other stuff.

    And incidentally. The manner in which I was forced to record Neal that night, sticking my mic in his face and pushing in and around people is pretty much the way I had to do things the whole tour. The only thing different about that night was I got to do it with a beer in my hand the whole time.

  • Andy Knight

    3.03.02

    Reply
    Neal Pollack on public radio

    PAST, and PRESENT.

    AND, he’s on tour again preparing for the release of Poetry and Other Poems and promoting the paperback version of The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature and the 3CD boxed set of his readings. Tour info can be found right HERE. If you go, be sure to bring plenty of plastic sporks to toss at Pollack in random intervals.

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