Rock ’n’ Roll All Night, Yoga Every Day

When he first started a band, Neal Pollack was full of expectations. Today, his music just brings him a lot of joy, in the moment.
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When he first started a band, Neal Pollack was full of expectations. Today, his music just brings him a lot of joy, in the moment.

Ten years ago, I started a band. We made loud, stupid, angry comedy rock, played shows to mostly tiny crowds, and recorded an album (on a bankrupt label), that sold 400 copies. A disastrous nationwide van tour left me with an empty bank account, a torn meniscus, and a near-addiction to Vicodin. There were some good times, too, but mostly, like Iggy Pop once sang, no fun. The project collapsed, and I was staring at the bottom of a deep well.

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Soon after, just in time, I took up yoga. The sutras talk about samskara, or negative sense impressions that cause suffering. Well, I had samskara up to my eyeballs. The drugs, the drinking, the stress, and my plainly rampant egomania filled me with unhappiness. It was time to mellow out and leave my febrile dreams of the rock ’n’ roll life behind.

This happened gradually, but it definitely happened, and I was happy to feel the changes. My body grew stronger and more flexible, and my mind grew clearer. By degrees, I became a happier person. That's often the result when you practice yoga. But there was one problem.

I missed the music.

Everyone around me seemed to be grooving to Michael Franti and MC Yogi and Jai Uttal. A massive kirtan festival bloomed in the California desert like a thousand cactus flowers. My life became a musical miasma of sugary devotional chanting and one-note invocations to gods I didn't believe in. When I heard teachers telling me to "rock my asana," I abstained, because I didn't trust their taste. I'd seen The White Stripes play in a basement and Joe Strummer fronting The Pogues. I knew what real rock looked and sounded like, thank you very much, and it didn't much resemble the yoga I'd grown to love.

Then, miraculously, the rock returned to my life. A year and a half ago, I moved back to Austin, Texas. Quickly, without any real effort on my part, the band reunited. A local record label agreed to re-launch our album. We recorded a new song. And we got booked to play two relatively high-profile gigs during South By Southwest.

In most ways, this has nothing to do with yoga. None of the guys in my band practice, nor do they have any interest in doing so. I did change one lyric in one song so I could make fun of Bikram, and I referred the head of the record label to my yin teacher to help him rehab from knee surgery, but that's been the extent.

But in other ways, this revival has everything to do with yoga. When my band incarnated the first time, I was full of hopes and dreams and fears. This expectation generated mega samskaraand made me very unhappy. Now, though, I'm approaching every rehearsal and every step without expectation. I'm merely enjoying the experience, feeling the wail of the guitars and the drums vibrate my bones, laughing with the guys, drinking a beer. I'm creating something, no matter how pointless and silly.

Living in the moment, without expectation, is the essence and soul of yoga, no matter what you're doing. Now, when I'm playing with the band, I'm filled with a simple joy, with the unique sensation of being alive. That may or may not have an effect on the final product. But if you're one of the about 50 people who will see The Neal Pollack Invasion play this year, I recommend not standing too close to the stage. We can get kind of loud and I've been known to spit beer.

Also, I can guarantee there won't be any kirtan