Tom Carson revisits a great critic's sprawling career decades after the two of them came up together in the creative world of late seventies New York.
Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs
by James Wolcott
$30.00 List Price
It would be a considerable exaggeration—and possibly misleading in other ways as well—to say that James Wolcott and I were ever friends. But we did get thrown into each other’s company a lot for a while there in the late ’70s. I was struggling to make a splash in the Village Voice’s pool of juvenile freelance rock critics, and he was the paper’s foremost young Turk—one soon to be Christianized, you might say, by Harper’s and then Vanity Fair. Even though he’d graduated from riffing it up in Bob Christgau’s music section to a slot as the Voice’s attention-catching TV columnist, he still went to a lot of punk shows.
Anyone who was there can tell you that nothing on God’s black-velvet earth was duller than waiting for the headliners to show up. Johnny Thunders obeyed no clock except heroin’s, and his coevals weren’t exactly goaded by the spirit of Chuck Berry’s “Ring, ring, goes the bell.” Since we had to kill time somehow, Jim and I fell into the habit of chatting about our other shared interests, mainly writing (lots of Mailer) and movies (lots of Peckinpah). I learned to steer clear of venting my disenchantment with New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael once I found out, seemingly later than everyone else in New York, that Wolcott was her star protégé.
Came a night when a woman we both knew sailed past us at Irving Plaza and then reversed course to veer harbor ward. “You two must be such great pals,” she keened at us. “I always see you gabbing away a mile a minute at these things.”
I was feeling gaudy on one beer. “Oh, no!” I said cheerfully. “We really don’t like each
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