cover image Lucking Out: 
My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York

Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York

James Wolcott. Doubleday, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-385-52778-1

Grunge, glitz, and gossip decorate this lively, catty memoir of Manhattan’s Me Decade creative ferment. Vanity Fair critic Wolcott (Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants) arrived as a college dropout in 1972 and scored a writing gig at the Village Voice—a snake-pit of feuds and nude editing—that inducted him into the city’s hippest scenes. Chief among these was the punk-rock incubator at the bar CBGB, which affords him vibrant portraits of Patti Smith, the Talking Heads, and other punk luminaries against a backdrop of Hells Angels. Wolcott cameos celebrities from Bob Dylan and Gore Vidal—he doesn’t so much drop names as spike them like a running back in the end zone—to the glamorous, squalid city itself, with its crime and crazies and open-air gay trysting. Wolcott’s hip, closeup yet detached narrative falters during worshipful scenes of his mentor Pauline Kael, the New Yorker movie reviewer who elevated criticism to “a higher power”; his reminiscences of dishing and cackling with Kael at screenings and soirées feel claustrophobic and dull. While his commentary on the cultural commentary sags, Wolcott’s take on New York’s culture itself, from schlubby porn impresarios to diaphanous ballerinas, is entertaining and evocative. (Oct. 25)