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By Andrew Monko
Robert Pollard bellies up to the fountain of youth
As a feisty lad, then school teacher, indie rock star and parent. Robert Pollard has unique qualifications to comment on the topic of youth. Now as heís about to release the final album in Guided by Voicesí long history (or so he says), we ask him to focus the hindsight goggles and throw down some elder wisdom.
Assuming that you agree that age is a state of mind, how old do you feel mentally and how old do you feel physically?
I tell people that I mentally quit growing when I was 15. So Iíve been 15 for quite a while. But Iím 46 and physically, Iím starting to feel it brother! I used to run a lot. It I could get myself back into running shape I think Iíd be OK. I feel 35, physically, maybe. 15 mentally.
Whatís the best and worst part of youth?
The best part is not having to be fully responsible yet. Youíve just got to go to school and at the time, you kinda think it sucks, but now that Iím older and look back those seem like the carefree days when I didnít have anything to worry about at all. The bad thing is people tell you what to do. I had a certain amount of freedom, though, as well as rules. When I was really young and the Beatles were young I couldnít have long hair because my dad wanted me to be an athlete. Of course, no drugs, no smoking. Pretty much no sexual exploration. The good thing is that youíre exploring at that age, youíre learning. But people hold you back from exactly how much you can explore.
What about being young in a broader sense, like when you just start a band or some big endeavor?
The thing is, when I was very young, I saw the Beatles play on Ed Sullivan, and that was the big revelation, the big lightning bolt - thatís what I wanna do. I never thought that was in any way possible, but I still kinda wanted to do it, so I faked it. When I was in art class in freshman year, we pretended we were a band and made T-shirts and album covers, but none of us knew how to play instruments. We wanted to do it, we just didnít know how to go about it. Eventually I bought a guitar and learned how to play it. It took a long time, thatís part of the reason it took so long for Guided by Voices and for things to happen for us. I was 36 years old when we broke.
So ignorance is a liability of youth?
Yes, and youíve got so many choices and people telling you what you can and canít do, and in a lot of families like mine, youíve got this vicarious parenting where they want you to do what they do, so youíre confused. I was impressed with the athletes and wanted to be like them, but I was also impressed with the guys that rebelled, the guys that I thought were cool who were into music and art. I was split between so many different peer groups - I hung out with the athletes, I hung out with the hoods, the "freaks" and also the brains.
What did the freak accent sound like?
(Does a stoner voice) You know what Iím talking about, they rub their fingers through the back of their hair, the freaks would have the pants that are real baggy in the ass, and it always seemed like they had an inch of Pepsi in the bottom of the bottle. Iím kind of stereotyping, but it came from when I was in 7th, 8th and maybe 9th grade. Most of these guys were like hoods - they were kind of violent and dirty and scary and they wore German crosses and shit. Then I guess they discovered pot a couple of years after that and became mellow and went to concerts and got really fucked up.
So their speech mixes a slouchy surfer and Appalachia?
Exactly! Total hybrid of those two types. And they went to a lot of concerts. If youíve seen Heavy Metal Parking Lot, it was like that. I went to the concerts also. I was a jock and a lot of the freaks liked me because I wrote the music column for the paper and knew what I was talking about. We were into Led Zeppelin, UFO and Blue Oyster Cult. So the freaks liked me because at least I rocked. When I was in my freshman year of college, I joined a heavy metal band called Anacrusis. We played this party and we kind of kicked ass, and the freaks came up like, "Dude, I didnít know". Wow.
What was your favorite age when you were a kid?
My favorite age was when I was 12, I think. Back in little-league baseball and when the summer seemed like it would go on forever. There was puppy love and all that bullshit. Sex hadnít really come into play it was almost better, more innocent times, right before puberty. When I started sprouting pubes, thatís when I stated bumming out.
So what was the most rebellious thing you did as a kid?
I was looking at albums in a store, probably in 8th grade, and I wanted one really badly and I put it in my bag with stuff Iíd already bought. I got busted so they took me to the office and my parents came down and they finally let me go. I thought, "Iím going to jail". Thatís probably the worst thing I ever did, was to steal occasionally.
What about your own kids?
My kids are good kids, I donít quite get it. Theyíre really smart. Erica goes to the University of Tennessee , Bryan graduated from University of Dayton. I never had any problems with them. Theyíd occasionally lie a little bit Ė but kind of white lies. I donít know how rebellious that is.
Whatís right about youth today that wasnít before?
They seem to be more concerned with whatís going on in society and politically aware. When I was young, I didnít care too much about politics and what was going on - I just lived in my own little world.
What kind of advice would you give young bands?
You gotta make music interesting again because thereís too much formula now - try to break down the rules and start over. There are four or five different types of music and if you donít fit into that the industry doesnít support you. We werenít worried about "making it" we were interested in playing music to ourselves in the basement, because we enjoyed it and we had a good time. Thereís too much emphasis on young bands on wanting to make it, to get a contract, to be on a record label - thatís not realistic. Play music because you love it.
Did you ever find yourself contradicting yourself with the guidance youíd give your students or your own kids, compared with your life or with Guided by Voices?
I didnít preach to much, so I couldnít contradict myself too much. I remember my dad made us go to church and Sunday school. Eventually my mom was like, ĎYou donít go, so they donít have to go - donít be a hypocrite.í So I made sure I never really told them they needed to do things so they would develop into independent thinkers.
What, if anything. do you miss the most about teaching?
I miss being around kids and the 10-year-old mentality. I was inspired by them, because theyíd come up with these pretty strange ideas. I read fairy tales to them and theyíd come up with these simple, yet totally off-the-wall, ideas. Thereís a certain kind of wisdom there.
What similarities do you find between teaching and GBV?
Iím still dealing mainly with youth! Itís still my job to mix things up and make things interesting enough to hold their attention, on an album or at a show. Itís pretty much the same thing, Iím up in front and Iíve got to keep their attention if theyíre going to be entertained or educated. Except, I can drink now.
So if there was a fountain of youth, would you drink? If so, to what age would you return?
The only way I would go back to being a kid is if I had my knowledge now. If I drank from the fountain of youth I think that might be erased. Iíd love to go back to being 12, but as long as the fountain of youth erased my pressures and fears: of the draft, getting a job or driving a car or whatever.
Whatís the first thing you would do after you drank?
If I still had my knowledge, Iíd probably go back and try to hook up with a couple of the girls who intimidated me back then. I was shy of girls, but Iím not now.