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January 9, 2007

Book Notes - Neal Pollack ("Alternadad")

I love Neal Pollack. His acerbic pop culture observations have always made me laugh out loud, and I have anticipated every book of his greatly. The concern I felt for Alternadad's subject matter (becoming a father) was quickly dashed when I read an excerpt of the book in the New York Times magazine least year.

As Pollack chronicles the courtship and marriage to his wife, their pregnancy, and the raising of their child, he not only amuses but also examines the impact of this big change on their lives and social outlook. His observations are poignant and often informative, I now now more about natural childbirth alternatives than a childless man should, though the information will surely come in handy some day. This is a book all parents should read, a guide to raising indie kids while staying cool at the same time.

For a taste of the book, read Salon's excerpt of the circumcision chapter...

In his own words, here is Neal Pollock's Book Notes entry for Alternadad:

My son Elijah and I currently have two different soundtracks. There’s one for the car, and then there’s Music Hour. When we’re driving, which we’re doing a lot here in Los Angeles, the music tends to be lyric-based. Occasionally, some rock and/or rhythm will break up the driving singalong, but not often.

Our favorite car albums include Tom T. Hall Sings Songs For Children, from the early 70s, which is mostly comprised of songs about animals from an imaginary place called Fox Hollow. These animals include Lonesome George The Basset Hound, who, through some twist of lyrical happenstance, ends up singing on the Johnny Cash variety hour. It’s appropriate that Johnny Cash comes up, because we also have a Johnny Cash album in our six-disc rotation. That’s the Johnny Cash Children’s Album, re-released last year by Columbia Records. Some of the songs are about the usual Johnny Cash topics: Dead dogs, dead grandfathers, and dead bear hunters, but there’s also a great counting song, a fun alphabet song, and a weird little song about what it would be like to have a pet dinosaur. The third most favorite album is Roger Miller’s Greatest Hits, which sound like songs for kids but are actually about jealousy, poverty, and getting drunk on moonshine. The one exception is “You Can’t Roller-Skate In A Buffalo Herd,” which has been delighting kids for decades.

While our car soundtrack somewhat resembles singer-songwriter night at the Bluebird Cafe, Music Hour at home has more of a Cavestomp edge. I initiate Music Hour when Elijah needs to get his ya-yas out, and therefore the songs tend to rock a little harder, and run a little shorter. So I’ve put together a program of Garage Rock For Kids. I try to choose songs from Elijah that will be about stuff he likes: Animals, monsters, superheroes, and outer space. Fortunately, the annals of garage rock are full of such songs.

This may not be exactly a soundtrack to my book Alternadad--when Elijah was younger and not entirely full of beans, I mixed in some folk music, a cover of The Rainbow Connection here, some Patsy Cline there—but it’s certainly a soundtrack to my current life, which is an extension of the life I describe in Alternadad. When Elijah’s out of the car, he’s not happy unless he’s thrashing. Here, then, is a rundown of our current lineup:

--Surfin’ Bird—The Trashmen. This classic, second only to Wild Thing in terms of popularity, is a perfect song for kids. It’s fast, crazy, and lyrically innocent. Plus there’s the great bridge where the singer flaps his lips nonsensically. When the song kicks back in, Elijah looks ready to jump out of his underwear.

--Ring Of Fire—Social Distortion. A slight exception to Music Hour rule, this slightly longer and slightly more rockin’ version of the Johnny Cash staple makes Elijah go nuts. He dances around with his thumbs in the air, making up his own lyrics. His favorite goes, “I fell in to a burning ring of ice cream.”

--Twistin’ To The Moon—The Neanderthals. This band, a side project of the legendary garage-rock outfit Los Straitjackets, is according to its legend comprised of unthawed cavemen rockers. Elijah disdains their album of drag-racing songs, but he absolutely loves The Neanderthals In Space. Twistin’ To The Moon is the opening song, complete with “Blast Off!” sound effects. Perfect for kids.

--Skylab—The Neanderthals. A slightly slower song from the same album. Elijah likes twisting his arms slowly while it plays, a technique he also uses during the album’s covers of Space Oddity and Across The Universe. He also calls it “Skylash,” which I find pretty cute.

--Purple People Eater. A Neanderthals cover of a song that rivals Monster Mash for the decades of cliched joy that it’s brought to kids.

--King Kong Stomp—The Groovie Ghoulies. This Sacramento band specializes in punky monster songs. Some of their stuff is too punky and not enough monster for Elijah, but this one pulls it all together.

--SOS Elephants—Les Sans Culottes. The oldest surviving Music Hour song, this classic is about elephants that escape from the Paris Zoo. It has enough changes of pace to keep kids entertained throughout its four-plus minute run time.

If I can get Elijah through all these songs, it usually means he’ll go to sleep easily enough. Even a four-year-old gets tired from dancing hard to a dozen plus songs, some of them played multiple times. Or maybe he’s not the one who gets tired. Maybe it’s me. But it’s amazing how much easier it gets to dance for an hour if you do it almost every day. My son is adding years to my life even as he’s taking years off. The precarious edifice of parenthood rests on such contradictions.

see also:

Neal Pollack's website
book tour appearances
Salon excerpt from Alternadad
Los Angeles Times review
New York Times review
Popmatters review
Gothamist interview

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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