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9:20 am | 05 November 2004 | neal pollack: SEXY BEAST

Though it is a sad fact of the world, it appears that My Imaginary Boyfriends, the short-lived but wildly successful 'zine of which I was co-editor, is no more. With that in mind, I'm reprinting here my oft-stupid interview with Neal Pollack, the greatest living american male writer, for your reading pah-leasure. Kisses! clm.

It was a balmy spring day in 1931 when I met Neal Pollack.

Ford Madox Ford and I were sitting at a corner table at the Dôme in Montparnasse. I had just trounced him yet again at our weekly chess tournament and had begun to sweep his forfeited sous into my décolletage for safekeeping when a shadow fell over the table. A long, tall, thick shadow. Neal Pollack loomed. I was late for my gig at the Folies Bergère, so I tried to brush past him without a second glance. It was not to be.

“Hold it, ma p’tite fille,” he said. “Your ‘zine. I have heard its wonders extolled from Gstaad to the Song Tra Bong. Interview me, I beg of you.” His voice shook slightly as he spoke, and his eyes flashed with a strange fervency. I let out a semi-exasperated sigh.

“D’accord,” I said, negligently. “Meet me at the Café aux Deux Magots next Vendredi.”

The following is what came of that sort-of-momentous meeting.

CLM: What are your thoughts on feminism & that whole ball of wax?

NP: I've never really considered feminism a ball of wax. But that's an interesting way of looking at it. Actually, there's a huge cultural backlash against the gains of feminism in our popular culture, with intermittently funny bullshit like The Man Show, Maxim, and Coors Light commercials, which present all women as artificial fetish objects to be worshipped by fat, stupid slobs. That said, I like girls jumping on trampolines, too. I'm only a human being. More insidious are the Bush Administration's cutbacks in money for daycare programs and its war on hourly wage-earners, many of whom are single mothers. I can't even imagine what it's like to be a single mother in this economy. So while I'm annoyed sometimes when women are referred to as "girls" on reality television, and while I'm ashamed of myself for looking at the Maxim centerspread with a lusty eye, I think feminism should and rightfully does focus its efforts on the troubles of working mothers and on the Republican right's relentless assault on reproductive rights. So yeah, I guess you could say I'm a feminist.

CLM: MIB’s very first issue was reviewed by USA Today, which is pretty good considering it's eight pages of photocopied letter-sized paper (not even a particularly fancy bond or anything) folded in half. Still, we are not publicly celebrated enough. Since you managed to propel yourself into dizzying international prominence (infamy?) in a remarkably short period of time, do you have any wisdom you'd like to impart on the subject?

NP: Be loud and be persistent and have something to say. Never turn down a request for an interview no matter how small the publication may seem. I saw somewhere that Ryan Adams made a statement that he was only going to talk to major music magazines from now on, that the small magazines, zines and website that made his career in the first place were no longer important to him. Now, I don't care about Ryan Adams, and I realize that at some point if you reach a high level of success you have to be selective, but to me, the key to getting yourself known is to meet as many people as possible in as many ways as possible. And if you do get known, don't disrespect the people who got you there. Because most people don't get written up in USA Today right off the bat. It takes years of hard work and help from hundreds of people, who help you because they think you're cool. You really shouldn't ever make them think otherwise.

CLM: What are you listening to/reading/watching right now? (Now as in during this part of your life, not this very moment.)

NP: I have a novel coming out in the fall about the history of rock n roll, which has nothing to do with what I'm listening to right now except that the research I did for the book influenced my aesthetic. For the first time, I'm looking a little below the surface of the culture to find good indie rock. Right now, there are some really good, fun punk bands, largely based in the west, who are touring around just under the radar of the mainstream media. I can't name them all, but two of my favorites are The Epoxies and The Briefs. I also saw Pretty Girls Make Graves recently and thought they were phenomenal. So much energy. There really is a lot of good rock n roll floating around right now. It's the best time I can remember. As for movies I've seen and enjoyed lately: Donnie Darko, 24 Hour Party People, One Hour Photo, Scotland, PA, Spirited Away, Igby Goes Down, god, I sound like a profile on Suicide Girls. I don't get to the theaters much, actually, so I do a lot of renting. Every summer, I see about a half dozen brain numbers, so by the time you read this, I'm sure I'll have seen X2, The Matrix Reloaded, and Hulk, just like everyone else. And as for reading, I read all kinds of stuff. I have two Jim Thompson novels on my nightstand, and I just finished the new novel by Michel Houllebecq. I read the new Richard Price, which was pretty good, and also Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loating on the Campaign Trail '72, which I read about every four years. Also, I really want to recommend a novel called What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg. It's about a bygone day in Hollywood and was written more than 60 years ago. But it's still the best take on entertainment and literary careerism I've ever read. Balzac's Lost Illusions is good, too, but everyone recommends that.

CLM: Since you started with an "indie" audience through McSweeney's, was your subsequent embrace by the mainstream strange at all? Did you identify with the snarky hipster audience, or with Ma 'n' Pa Average America?

NP: I don't know that I've been embraced by the mainstream. The mainstream watches CSI and listens to Toby Keith. I've had a widening of my audience, though, and I think that's good. While I certainly identify with snarky hipsters, being one of them myself, I also hate the "indie" idea that your work ceases to mean anything once people outside a select circle start paying attention to it. I got an email from a guy who said he no longer respected me because I published an article in The Stranger, which is a weekly newspaper in Seattle. That mindset makes no sense to me at all. I get far more thoughtful criticisms from "average" Americans, whoever they might be. I think that a certain segment of people were ready for an oppositional humor writer from a younger generation. Michael Moore and Al Franken, god bless 'em, are baby boomers. My minor popularity, and, I don't know, Jon Stewart's major popularity, are signs that people seek mainstream voices that can dissent, but with a sense of humor. Not to compare myself with Jon Stewart, but it's a similar sensibility. The left is too strident and they sound like the right but with different politics. All you have to be to criticize the evil empire that is the Bush Administration is slightly off-center, which is where I place myself.

CLM: Why do you hate David Foster Wallace? He seems so retiring and unoffensive. I mean, yeah, he's really boldly arcane, but I like him.

NP: I don't hate David Foster Wallace. Sometimes I make fun of him a little. But I make fun of all writers, because all writers are ridiculous.

CLM: How did you get to be so sexy? Is it something in the water? What the hell IS it? Can I have some?

NP: I won't answer that question except to say yes, you can have some.

CLM: Which is stronger: reality or the imagination?

NP: I can't say which is stronger, but I've always preferred imagination. For years, I worked as a reporter, trafficking in reality. I wouldn't trade those experiences or articles, but I'm so much happier and more fulfilled now that I'm living in an imaginary world. I develop a lot of relationships with people I meet on email, and all those relationships are imaginary to some extent. I wouldn't say I prefer them to "real" relationships, but they are often just as nice.

CLM: Who are your imaginary girl and/or boyfriends?

NP: I have a huge crush on the actress Rachel Weisz, who I imagine to be beautiful and charming and difficult to seduce, except by me. Then there's always my first love, the 1976 version of Lynda Carter, who I think I might have a shot at if I could travel through time. And now, of course, there's you.

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