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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lucking Out: A Terrific Book


I've enjoyed reading James Wolcott's new memoir Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York. I didn't know seventies New York. I knew eighties New York. But Wolcott takes me back there with stops at Max's Kansas City, CBGB-and the New York City Ballet.

There are four subjects covered at length: Film criticism and Pauline Kael (subject of an intriguing new bio by Brian Kellow; punk rock; ballet; and literary criticism. Wolcott saw all of this and participated in a great deal, from one of several roachy 'man cave' apartments in and near alphabet city. Remember in the 70s New York was moribund, bankrupt, broke. There's the infamous Daily News Headline: Fored to New York: Drop Dead, when the hope of government assistance, not for a bank but for the world's greatest city was blown off. Ford wasn't re elected (or elected once!) New York City today glitters, and shuns those of us not pulling down a high six figures.

Never mind. It was great to be there. (It was great to be there!). Wolcott sets out the age perfectly:

You might see Balanchine himself strolling toward the State Theater,
his head and neckerchief jauntily yachting across a choppy sea of mundane heads belonging
to non-geniuses patronizing the sidewalk. It was an inspiring sight, just knowing he
was briskly alive, Bernstein was alive, Martha Graham was alive, Agnes de Mille was
alive--they hadn't forsaken us.

These and Patti Smith, the Ramones, Tina Brown (later and not happily) Robert Christgau, the Velvet Underground-they are encountered vividly and shared with a reader still thrilled and incredulous by the New York that was. Lucking Out ends eerily on the night John Lennon was killed ( December 8, 1980--where were you?). The seventies were really over.

Thank you, James Wolcott for so excitingly reminding me what i just barely missed.

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