I Love This Dirty Town
James Wolcott recounts his coming-of-writerly-age in Gotham
My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York
by James Wolcott
$25.95 List Price
James Wolcott is a carefully absent presence in his memoir of writing his way through the ’70s, despite the trademark right-in-your-ear chattiness of his writing style. The acerbic critic—now best known as a blogger for Graydon Carter’s luxe Vanity Fair—reports in his recollections of New York when it was allegedly fun that he always seemed underdressed for the uptown ballet, overdressed for downtown at CBGB. He was half wanderer-in, half walker-on, and sometimes the guy on the wall watching everyone dirtying the pretty things.
In his reconstruction of the vaguely dangerous ’70s heyday of the East Village, he’s surrounded by people who’ve toked and snorted more illegal substances than he has, and usually done their hair more outrageously. He doesn’t even get laid much. Not only did he fail to take the obvious down-and-out ’70s East Village career path and become a hooker himself, he never even hired one.
It all begins with an account of Wolcott’s arrival at the Village Voice in 1972—something that will probably be of genuine interest only to an incredibly small circle of media historians. He was a boy from the sticks of Maryland, a third-rate student at a fourth-rate college, and deeply enamored of Norman Mailer. He arrived at the mother of all alt-weeklies with the endorsement of Mailer (Wolcott had written praise to the literary pugilist, and flattery always works). Jill Johnston, Richard Goldstein, and lovers-turned-enemies Robert Christgau and Ellen Willis were the “sixties scene-bursters” who were supposed to “inherit or hijack in slow motion the intellectual-journalistic
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