Dude of Life was born at Connecticut’s Taft School in the early 1980s. Steve Pollak was partying there one evening with Trey Anastasio and some other friends when the transformation occurred. Pollak recalls, “I entered the room clad in a tapestry, goggles, and a hat. Then I started spewing out utterings the nature of which remain shrouded in mystery. The next thing I knew, I was knighted the ‘Dude of Life’.” In the days that followed, the Dude would reappear from time to time to lend vocals to Anastasio’s high school group, Space Antelope. The pair maintained their friendship over the years, and Pollak later contributed lyrics and songs to Anastasio’s band, Phish, including “Run like an Antelope” and “Suzie Greenberg.” Pollak has also appeared on stage with Phish dressed in full Dude of Life regalia.
All the while, Pollak continued to compose songs on his own. These tunes graft his own delightfully skewed observations onto melodies and arrangements influenced by his idols: Iggy Pop, David Bowie, and the Beatles (his “Lucy in the Subway” riffs on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”). “I had been working on these songs over an eight-year period,” recalls Pollak, “so one day I just said to Trey, “Why don’t we go into the studio?’. So we practiced for a few weeks, and then we recorded the tunes. It was a blast.” When the disc was released in 1994, Pollak assembled the first Dude of Life band and mounted a tour. Over the ensuing years, the group has had a number of incarnations as various players have stepped in to lend a hand (including a number of Burlington luminaries and alumni of the group Shockra). While on the road, Pollak won a number of new supporters; one result of this was the Dude’s appearance with moe. at that group’s 1996 Wetlands New Year’s Eve show, during which they performed Pollak’s composition “Pete Rose.”
In 1997, Pollak undertook a collaboration with the band Great Red Shark (one indication that these performers were kindred spirits was the fact that the group was named after the car in Hunter S. Thopmson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). Great Red Shark, which features the spirited guitar work of Clif Mays, has built its own reputation as an improvisational outfit. Through all of this, Pollak has continued to don the same set of goggles that he wore on that fateful day ay Taft. “I’ve always been true to my own heart,” he says. “If I’m entertained by it, then my hope is that other people will be too. I think there should be a sense of fun and celebration involved, or what’s the freaking point?”
Crimes of the Mind (1994). This collection of Pollak’s compositions features arrangements and performances by Phish. The eccentric imager of “Dahlia,” the opening tune, is melded to a catchy chorus. Other notable songs include the pulsing title track, the amusing ballad “Ordinary Day,” and a vigorous “Self” (which not -too-coincidentally sounds like Phish’s “Chalkdust Torture”.