Viking hillbilly musician poet Michael Dean Odinn Pollock talks about the words and the sound of words

"Music and poetry walk hand in hand."

Michael Dean Odinn Pollock: Life Is A Learning Process 

Composer, writer, poet, producer, performer and multi-artist Michael Dean Odinn Pollock has worked on both sides of the Atlantic for over 35 years. Michael was born in California on an Air Force base and presently resides in Reykjavik, Iceland. In 1989 Michael went to study at The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at The Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He studied with Alice Notley, Anne Waldman, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs.

He is the author of the chapbooks "Bohemian in Babylon", "The Martial Art of Pagan Diaries" and "No Short Cut to Paradise" and working on his 1st novel. Michael and Daniel (The Pollock Bros.) co-created, performed, and recorded with Utangardsmenn, who in year 2000, were named Best Icelandic Rock Group of the 20th Century. Michael co-produced and performed on the CD "Kentucky Roots" (with Jazz Poetry legend, David Amram) as well as producing and composing music for Ron Whitehead's CD "I Will Not BowDown".

He performs solo, with his brother Danny, as The Pollock Brothers, and with Iceland's poet Megas. “Michael Pollock is a poet with universal roots, rhythm, daredevilry beat, rock n roll INTERIMAGINATIONALITY. Michael has what it takes and he just doesn’t fit. Working in a literary climate where reinvention is taboo, freedom of expression prohibited NEW BLOOD is necessary for the survival of Icelandic poetry LET IT BLEED.” Megas says and continue “Michael breaks down the walls surrounding the ivory towers of state monopoly licensed word mongers. He doesn’t belong. He is elsewhere. His vision points out the direction of awareness, an open road instead of the blind alleys that the approved ones wander up and down glorifying their limbo. WHEN FREEDOM IS OUTLAWED ONLY THE OUTLAWS CAN BE FREE.”

Michael Pollock's solo CD "WORLD CITIZEN" and group record "The Viking Hillbilly Apocalypse Revue" was released on Published In Heaven Audio Records. Michael lives in Reykjavik , Iceland and is presently recording his 3rd Album with multi-instrumentalist Siggi Sig. Michael Dean Odin Pollock knows his way round the neck of a guitar and the barrel of a pen alright!                                   Photo by Eddi Jónsson

Interview by Michael Limnios

What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas most frequently?

The creative process is ongoing all the time. I am always at work on the next poem, lyric or song 24/7 (24hrs. a day, 7 days a week). It’s an internal process that begins before I reach for a pen or guitar. Just about anything can trigger inspiration , a look in a person’s eye , voices drifting through cafes or airports, a group of ravens having a conversation, the wind banging on my windows and doors, the sound of waves lapping at the shore. Sometimes I get ideas, hear music in my dreams so powerful and vivid that it wakes me up and I will not get back to sleep until I write down the chord sequence, basic melody and sometimes words will come to me as well.

What have you learned about yourself from you writing poems and music?

Life is a learning process. I feel that through my ability to create it has allowed me access to deeper levels of thoughts, emotions, and consciousness. You have to dive to get the pearls.

"I have been creating most all my life; it is as necessary and natural as breathing to me. I am grateful for this gift which has not only enriched my life but saved my life more than once it has instilled a sense of wonder, joy and purpose in my Life Journey." Photo by Jeremy Hogan

How would you characterize the philosophy of Michael Dean Odin Pollocks poetry?

I don’t think I have any particular philosophy per se in my poetry or adhere to any category. I allow myself to be wide open to explore different methods and styles of writing; I feel that is a basic freedom and privilege in creating. A writer should leave no stone unturned. To quote the poet Iggy Pop "Curiosity killed the cat and satisfaction brought him back. The only valid rule concerning creative writing is that there are no rules”.

What has been the relationship between music and poetry in your life and writing?

Music and poetry walk hand in hand. What came first? The word or the sound of the word? Sometimes  might be writing something and I suddenly get lost for words , if I lay down the pen and play the guitar for awhile more often than not the music will trigger the word flow and vice versa. I have been creating most all my life; it is as necessary and natural as breathing to me. I am grateful for this gift which has not only enriched my life but saved my life more than once it has instilled a sense of wonder, joy and purpose in my Life Journey.

What do you think is the relationship of rock n roll, blues and jazz to poetry?

At this point in life I sometimes have a difficult time categorizing different kinds of music, it’s all music to me whatever you may want to call it. As for the relation between poetry & music in general I find that they are One poetry is music - music is poetry. I love mixing different styles of music and poetry and to my delight I’m hearing more of that being done today. Anoushka Shankar for example has mixed together Classic Indian Music, Classical European Music, Flamenco and Techno with amazing results. I hear everything as music including the clock ticking on the wall, cars passing by on a rainy day. When I write down poems, prose or anything it is essential to me that the words sing. We are a song the universe is singing. 

"Life is a learning process. I feel that through my ability to create it has allowed me access to deeper levels of thoughts, emotions, and consciousness. You have to dive to get the pearls." (Photo by Örninn Össi. Michael and Siggi Sig at The Melodica Folk Festival, Reykjavik)

Why do you think that Blues continues to generate such a devoted following?

Blues is raw, passionate and honest music. It addresses basic human feelings that are Universal.  I have been in countries where most people might not speak a word of English but if I play and sing a blues song people immediately feeeeeel what I’m saying. When I listen to Robert Johnson or Son House sing and play its for Real it has a very deep effect it’s not just a pose or a performance its miles away from much of the superficial, disposable music I hear played on the radio today. The Blues is here to stay.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

I feel blessed to have had so many great life experiences. I have met and worked with some great artists and I feel like I’ve learned something from everyone I’ve met in my life journey. Witnessing the birth of my three sons definitely sits at the top of the scale far as life experiences go and who I have met. Two of them have grown to be great musicians themselves but to give you one example in regards to your question. In the 1980´s I was fascinated by music from Morocco and Middle Eastern Music.

I was very interested in how I could apply some of this music to Blues and Rock n Roll. Summer of 1990 I met a guitarist from Mali his name Ali Farka Toure. I had never heard him play before so he invited me to his concert that evening and hear him play. It was a revelatory experience. As I watched and listened to him play he answered all the musical questions I had been juggling in my head. I still apply what I learned from that night to my playing and composing to this very day. I remain eternally grateful to Ali Farka Toure for that.

"Laughter comes relatively easy to me and I don’t take myself too seriously, sometimes upon rising from sleep just looking into the nearest mirror can get me to laugh." (Photo by Jeremy Hogan, Michael plays guitar with David Amram plays Piccolo and Frank Messina)

Which memory from David Amram, Ron Whitehead and Honeyboy Edwards make you smile?

Just the mention of these three great artists brings a smile to my face. One thing I found that all three of these men have in common is they all have a great sense of humor; they are all passionate and sincere about their art. They are all great teachers, story tellers and have a great ability to inspire others to create.

David (Amram) and Ron (Whitehead) still walk the earth and continue the great work and will continue to do so up to their last breath.

Honeyboy passed away peacefully in his home in Chicago just a few years ago. We had plans to do some concerts in Iceland that summer; I miss the great conversations we had in person and on the phone. He was one of a kind. His work will live on for a long time. Playing with Honeyboy and watching him play certainly made a better guitarist out of me.

What is the best advice ever given to you and what advice would you like to give to the new generation?

If you want to go into the music business read thoroughly any contract someone hands to you and consult a lawyer before signing anything. You need the skin of a Rhino, the patience of a mountain and a cast iron liver to survive the precarious waters of the music bizz otherwise you will be eaten alive by sharks and spit out.

Get a Road Manager that eats nails and shark fins for breakfast, is built like King Kong and will tear the head off any club owner that tries to cheat you on your pay. I´ve received a lot of good advice from good people along the way.

I can mention two right off the top of my head. My grandfather William Bryan Pollock and I were very close and he taught me early on to Never Give Up he said those words should not be in my vocabulary. I hung out with a poet named Jack Collom summer of 1989. Jack once said "Michael you must be ruthless in your art." In general I would advise the younger generation to dare to be yourself, develop the courage and stamina to realize your dreams, become the change you want to see in this world. Love and Hate are highly contagious. Choose the path of Love. World Peace begins in our own hearts.

"Our planet is rich with many diverse cultures and nations and I feel everywhere I go I find that we have more in common as human beings than differences, we can learn much from each other in this New 21st Century World Community." (Michael and Ron Whitehead, Photo by Jinn Bug)

What are your hopes and fears for the future? What has made you laugh lately and what touched you emotionally?

I cannot say that I am a man that lives in fear. When I was four years young I sat by a pond watching older kids having a good time in the water but I hadn’t learned how to swim yet. I stood up, looked at the water and felt fear so I jumped in and learned how to do the dog paddle real fast. This incident pretty much underlines my attitude growing up and overcoming fear. Being a natural born optimist I do have hopes for the future, planet earth and its inhabitants. I hope we continue to be aware of environmental issues that now threaten our continuing existence and continue to apply our attention to developing and applying new clean energy technologies. It touched me emotionally to recently see several countries taking the initiative in applying new energy resources and becoming aware of the long term detrimental use of fossil fuel and nuclear energy.

Laughter comes relatively easy to me and I don’t take myself too seriously, sometimes upon rising from sleep just looking into the nearest mirror can get me to laugh.

You have been traveling all around the world. What are your conclusions?

I have traveled quite a bit I was born in a family that moved & traveled frequently. I definitely abide by the quote "The journey is the destination." There is always so much more to see and experience. I believe traveling is an excellent educational experience, because of my travels far and wide I think it has instilled in me a higher level of respect for other cultures and a deeper level of understanding and compassion for mankind. Our planet is rich with many diverse cultures and nations and I feel everywhere I go I find that we have more in common as human beings than differences, we can learn much from each other in this New 21st Century World Community.

What’s been your experience from Naropa University? Are there any memories from Anne Waldman, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Harry Smith and Dianne Di Prima which you´d like to share with us?

In 1989 I was feeling an inner urge and encouragement from local poet friends to progress from writing poetry and lyrics to writing prose and short stories as well. I had been aware of The Naropa University for some time and I decided to sign up for a summer session of their writing program "The Jack Kerouac School Of Disembodied Poetics." I figured if you want to be a good pool player, guitarist or writer then hang out with and observe the best. It was a great experience I did started to get published in several literary magazines as my skills improved. There was a large group of up and coming and internationally known artists in attendance. I made friendships that remain intact to this very day. I signed up for workshops with Anne Waldman, Allen Ginsberg, Harry Smith, Alice Notely, Bernadette Meyers, William Burroughs and several others. I found Anne Waldman to be a powerful, energetic, teacher and spoken word performer. She ran The St, Marks Poetry Project in New York at a very young age and went on to establish the writing program at Naropa with Chögyam Rinpoche and Allen Ginsberg in 1974.

I was fortunate to be staying in the same apartment building with Allen Ginsberg, Dianne Di Prima and William Burroughs so we met frequently. I related somehow very strongly to William Burroughs we hit it off immediately. I found him to be an impeccable gentleman and one the funniest and most intelligent men I had ever met. In many ways, dress, manner and practical folk wisdom he reminded me of my Kentucky grandfather who came from a similar era. Burroughs has had such a wide range influence on film makers, writers and musicians of the 20th and 21st Century. In many ways he was a seer-prophet of things to come in the 21st Century. You may not want to live with him but I found Harry Smith to be a delightful eccentric character. I wrote an article about our encounters for U.K. magazine Beat Scene run by Kevin Ring which I highly recommend.

I was aware that Harry was a pioneer in film making and a musical anthropologist. I had heard his recordings of The Kiowa Peyote Ceremony for the Smithstonian Institute, he was the first white man allowed to attend those ceremonies and recorded the music. I was glad to see that before he passed over he was awarded a Grammy Award for his triple LP Collection of obscure North American Folk Music that had a powerful influence on contemporary artists including Bob Dylan.                      Photo by Eddi Jónsson

"I allow myself to be wide open to explore different methods and styles of writing; I feel that is a basic freedom and privilege in creating." (Photo by Marlon Pollock, Master Musician Muhammad Attar with Michael in Joujouka, Morocco)

Are there any memories from The Master Musicians of Joujouka you would like to share with us?

I decided in 1973 that one day I would visit The Master Musicians in Joujouka. That dream came true the 1st time I visited in June 2008. The people of Joujouka are always in my heart. I have seldom experienced such friendliness, respect and hospitality as I did in Joujouka. As a musician it was an incredible experience for me. The musicians played morning music, afternoon music and as the sun set in the hills they would increase the energy, music and dance. These men start at a very young age and play relentlessly around the clock music for every occasion. On the first Full Moon in June we all gathered for the all night Boujeloud Fertility Festival. The musicians played for hours some of the greatest most powerful intense acoustic music I’ve ever heard in my life. The sheer skill and stamina of the musicians was amazing.

On my second visit 2009 with my son Marlon we were guests in the home of Master Musician Muhammad Attar. Upon arriving and showing us the beautiful luxurious guest room he sat down for a glass of mint tea with us. I knew that he had traveled a bit so I introduced him to my son and asked him " Habla Espaniol? " he shook his head No, I then asked "Parle Vou France? " again he shook his head no so I asked " Do you speak any English? " he leaned back and laughed then looked us in the eyes and said " I Speak Musique."

What from your memorabilia (books, photos etc.) would you put in a time capsule?

By choice I am not a man of many possessions and growing up I was never much of a collector, I don’t even have an anywhere near collection of all of my own work. Around 1998 I did begin to purchase metal box´s and started collecting poems, prose, journals, stories, correspondence , photos, posters, postcards, Cds, magazines, news clippings etc.

In my archives I have for example a rare vinyl copy of the spoken word LP "Dead City Radio" signed by William Burroughs, a novel "Little Boy blue" signed by Edward Bunker and a signed copy of a great book by Honeyboy Edwards which I highly recommend "This World Don’t Owe Me Nothing.”  Around year 2000 I contributed over two hundred pages of correspondence between Ron Whitehead and myself to Ron’s archives stored in The University of Louisville, Kentucky. I reckon if I was a jet plane my archives are my black box a record of my journey that I look upon as a family heirloom to be passed on to my sons and generations to come. Photo: Honeyboy Edwards, Michael Pollack and Michael Frank in Iceland 2006.

Make an account of the case of poetry and music in Iceland. How do you describe the local scene?

Considering the population of Iceland it’s amazing how many good writers and musicians we have.

Icelandic people in general are well read and poetry is in their DNA. Not everyone publishes their work but I’ve encountered so many people from all walks of life who write poetry. As for the music scene it is vibrant more diverse and alive than ever. You can find Icelandic musicians on any given day playing live just about every kind of music you can think of I just wish the rich and greedy would stop closing our best venues to build hotels to accommodate the high rate of tourism in Iceland. I am not surprised to see so many Icelandic artists and bands becoming well known on the international music scene. 2014 is looking good in Iceland. A lot more International Music Festivals are taking place now; this year and the release of recordings of Icelandic musicians are ranging in the hundreds. This is a good time for art and artists in Iceland.

Michael Dean Odinn Pollock @ IMRadio

Photo by Ingólfur Júliusson

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