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New York Observer
Bob Pollard: Almost Famous
On a recent afternoon, Bob Pollard stopped by Other Music on East Fourth Street. For the vinyl-listening, vinyl-wearing set that shops there, it was the equivalent of Michael Jordan stopping by the N.B.A. Store unannounced for a pair of sneakers. "Oh my God," one young woman in the psychedelic section was heard to whisper to a male friend.
"Oh my God," he replied.
Mr. Pollard, the mild-mannered frontman for Dayton, Ohioís Guided By Voices, is kind of an indie god. He hit it sort of big in the early 90ís with crappily recorded but tuneful songs like "I Am a Scientist" and "My Valuable Hunting Knife." But Mr. Pollard is most semi-famous for his fecundity: He has written about as many songs as Mr. Jordan has scored points. On the day in question, heíd already dashed off seven while sitting in a Starbucks near the Flatiron Building. "I got a couple Krispy Kremes in me," he told The Transom. "I drank a cup of Starbucks. I got buzzed watching the weirdoes walk byóthatís my favorite thing to do in New York." He wrote his ideas in a little notebook, one after another; songs with names like "Everywhere With Helicopters" and "Air and Also a World."
Lately, heís been hoping one of these will hit it big. Top 40 big. Heís been hyping his bandís 12th album, Isolation Drills, all around the country, and was currently hyping it in New York. "One of our best towns was Orlando," he said hopefully. "If they like you in Orlando, they like you everywhere." But so far, Guided By Voices hasnít made a peep on the Billboard charts. This pisses Mr. Pollard off. He talked angrily (and a little enviously) about groups in the Top 10. Matchbox 20, for one, has a No. 5 hit in "If Youíre Gone." "I hate that fucking band," Mr. Pollard said. "How does shit like that get anywhere? Where does it come from?" Heís never heard the song, so in order to mock it, he had to make up his own version: "If youíre gone, man / What will I do? / If youíre gone," he sang. "It means a lot."
So Mr. Pollard has good reason to like Other Music. They have no albums by Matchbox 20, and about 10 by Guided By Voices. "I love this store," he said. "They have lots of good stuff." Itís a world where heís as big as it gets.
It took the 43-year-old Mr. Pollard a long time to get this somewhat big. He kept his job as a fourth-grade teacher until 1994. His taste for Other Music musicóthe Go-Betweens, Godz, the Bevis Frondódidnít get him far in southwestern Ohio, where hardcore bands like Dementia Precox ruled.
But he has never entirely fit into the New York scene, either. He knows some areas of rock well, but as he combed through the display rack, Mr. Pollard couldnít find a single album heíd heard of. "Tipsy?" he asked, pointing to one. "You like that band," he told The Transom with a shy grin. And pointing to another: "Grandaddy. You like Grandaddy." Mr. Pollard, however, was having a hard time finding something he liked. What about Other Music best-seller the Magnetic Fields? "I donít like the way that guy sings," he said of Stephin Merritt.
Mr. Pollard eventually settled on IV by the Fucking Champs, an instrumental trio that he wasnít too familiar with, but that had been recommended by one of his labelís publicists. "It looks pretty good," he said. Suddenly, he was sounding like a Top 40 producer as he read the back cover: "Good song titles. You can tell a lot of times whether an album is good by its cover."
But as hard as he may be trying, Mr. Pollard isnít in danger of losing his indie cred. As he was leaving the store, a young woman in black came in. "Oh my God," she muttered.