Welcome James Wolcott, (VanityFair) and Host TBogg (blog TBogg)

[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book and be respectful of dissenting opinions. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]

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

For over forty years James Wolcott has surveyed and described the topography of an ever-changing American cultural landscape, equally at ease when discussing film, television, books, music or dance; were he a baseball player, he’d be what they call a ‘five tool player’. The fact that he has become a more-than-somewhat-popular blogger and political observer is just icing on the cake.

Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York is Wolcott’s own remembrance of things past, of dropping out of college and heading off to the big city to try his hand at the writing game:

How lucky I was, arriving in New York just as everything was about to go to hell. I had no idea how fortunate I was at the time, eaten up as I was by my own present-tense concerns and taking for granted the lively decay, the intense dissonance that seemed like normality. Only F. Scott Fitzgerald characters (those charmed particles) feel the warm gold of nostalgia even while something’s unfolding before their enraptured doll eyes. For the rest of us, it’s only later when the haze burns off, that you look back and see what you were handed, the opportunities hidden like Easter eggs that are no longer there for anybody, completely trampled. To start over as a writer then was to set out under a higher, wider, filthier, more window-lit sky. A writer could still dream of climbing to the top, or at least getting close enough to the top to see who was up there enjoying themselves.

Fondly nostalgic without ever descending into weepy misty water-colored memories, Lucking Out is populated with a who’s who of the 70′s culture explosion when a new breed of critics reinvented the rules, rock and roll collapsed inward upon itself and reemerged angry and raw, and porn stuck its head out from behind the peepshow curtains and found out that the time was right to come out and play with the non-raincoat crowd.

Beginning with the literary force of nature that was Norman Mailer whose letter of recommendation put Wolcott on the road to what should have been perdition, we also encounter Mailer’s bête noire Gore Vidal, Alfred Kazin, Groucho Marx (describing Marilyn Monroe as having “square tits”), Clay Felker, Robert Christgau (the “self-proclaimed, scepter-wielding Dean of American Rock Critics” working the kitchen like June Cleaver while wearing only a pair of red sheer bikini underwear), Ellen Willis, Paulene Kael (whose presence permeates almost every page and to whom an entire section is devoted), Lucian Truscott IV, Joan Didion (wickedly eviscerated and hung out to dry by Kael), William and Wallace Shawn, Al Goldstein, Ed Asner, James Toback, Harold Brodkey, Andrew Sarris (whose entourage played the Sharks to Kael’s Paulette-Jets in a critics dance of death), David Lynch, Suzanne Farrell, Alene Croce, George Balanchine, Gelsey (“A name that falls in the mind’s ear like a sprig of mint”) Kirkland, Ugly George (a paleolithic Joe Francis armed with a shoulder-mounted camera and a perpetual hard-on), Tom Verlaine, John Cale, David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, The Ramones, Lester Bangs, and of course, Patti Smith, with whom I will stop and share this moment in the spotlight:

…Patti already had her stage persona pencil-sharpened into a self -conscious, couldn’t-care-less wild child, playing with her zipper like a teenaged boy with a horny itch, pistoning her hips, hocking an amoeba blob of spit between songs, scratching her breast as if addressing a stray thought, and during the incantatory highs, spreading her fingers like a preacher woman summoning the spirits from the Père Lachaise graveyard where Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde were buried to rise and reclaim their former glory.

If you weren’t there, Lucking Out is as close as you will ever get…

118 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes James Wolcott, Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York”

BevW December 4th, 2011 at 1:53 pm

James, Welcome to the Lake.

TBogg, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

TBogg December 4th, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Hello, New York City and other less consequential podunk towns! Are you ready to rock!

Yeah, me neither.

Everyone please welcome Mr. James Wolcott, critic nonpareil, suave and sophisticated urbanite, and all-around nice guy for agreeing to hang out with us this afternoon.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:01 pm
In response to TBogg @ 2

I am here and the Giants are behind, not that I care, deep down.

dakine01 December 4th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Good afternoon James and tbogg!

Wish I had read this book and could contribute to the discussion but I was just a Kentucky country boy when all this was going on (though I would read stories that would make it out to flyover country and wonder just how crazy NYC was at the time)

James, do you ever look back and wonder how you survived to make it this far?

Elliott December 4th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Welcome to the Lake

I guess you’d do it all again? ;)

A tasty delicious book

TBogg December 4th, 2011 at 2:04 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 3

I say we make this 200 comments talking about the divinity of Tim Tebow, then go out for a round of Mr. Pibbs

Tracy December 4th, 2011 at 2:04 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 3

But where do you stand on Tebow? Our esteemed host may be softly sobbing into Fenway’s ears about now.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:06 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 4

I have a peculiarly slothful work ethic that’s kept me in good stead. I procrastinate a lot when it comes to writing but I’ve never been pulled astray in terrible wrong directions–never had a drug or drink habit, never got involved with the wrong crazy person, and, this pure luck, never had a health setback that threw me off track. Never had the sort of trauma that others did either–such as getting mugged or worse (knifed, beaten up).

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:07 pm
In response to Tracy @ 7

I’m still trying to figure out where I stand on Mark Sanchez, who sometimes shows up at a bar I go to that’s very popular among NY bloggers.

TBogg December 4th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

For all of those joining us, Mr. Wolcott has graciously offered to talk, not only about his wonderful book, but if you want to talk Herman Cain, Naomi Wolf, and the imminent destruction of life on earth as we know it… he’s your huckleberry.

dakine01 December 4th, 2011 at 2:07 pm
In response to TBogg @ 6

How big would the explosion of Tebow’s head be if he had experienced ’70s NYC?

CTuttle December 4th, 2011 at 2:08 pm
In response to TBogg @ 6

*heh* We’re still having fun on your latest Teblooding post…!

Mahalo, James Wolcott for taking time to be here at the Lake, and, all your work…! You’re truly a legend…! Mahalo, Tbogg for hosting…! *g*

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:09 pm
In response to dakine01 @ 11

NYC was a very heathen town then.

PeasantParty December 4th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Ooooo! Huckleberries!

Well then, let’s talk about Naomi Wolf and the word war going on with her.

TBogg December 4th, 2011 at 2:10 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 8

I think the most pressing question of the day is: Why only “semi-dirty” and by ‘semi-dirty’ is that like 60% ? More?

Inquiring minds want to know…

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Naomi is a very interesting phenomenon, yet oddly tedious.

I have seen her go from feminist femme fatale to earth-mother to Rosa Luxemburg while managing to keep her hair full and fluffy.

I once saw her on stage at the Los Angeles Book Festival when she was in full earth-mother mode, walking back and forth like a motivational speaker, even pausing to ask, “Am I right, ladies?” She seemed ready for her own Oprah-ish show. Now she’s trying to out-Arianna Arianna.

oldnslow December 4th, 2011 at 2:13 pm
In response to TBogg @ 15

Perhaps more like ‘Semi Tough.’

Good afternoon, James Wolcott and thanks for hosting TBogg.

dakine01 December 4th, 2011 at 2:14 pm

James, as I said earlier, I have not read your book but do wonder, have there been many autobio titles better than Lester Bang’s Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung“?

I bought and read it based on the title alone and always thought it was a tough one to top

tomallen December 4th, 2011 at 2:15 pm
In response to TBogg @ 15

Kinda like how nude is “semi-nude” or erect is “semi-erect”? Do you know it when you see it? Or just research a lot to be an authority? :-P

elisemattu December 4th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

So now my fave place to come and learn about the political mess is now a great place to hang out and schmooze with big time cultural figures.

S-w-e-e-t!

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:16 pm
In response to TBogg @ 15

“Semi-dirty” because I didn’t plunge headlong into a lot of the things others did. I didn’t do drugs at CBGB’s, which put me in a distinct minority on most nights, I didn’t hit the mats at Plato’s Retreat, despite its reputation of offering a fine buffet (much as the Hustler Club is said to have a helluva steak restaurant), and even though I was familiar with Times Square I never went full William Vollmann, if you know what I mean. I held back, an observer.

Tracy December 4th, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Mr. Wolcott,

Gelsey Kirkland or Veronika Part?

Roger Ailes December 4th, 2011 at 2:18 pm

In Lucking Out, you write (and I paraphrase): “Today, Fist-Fuckers of America sounds like the name of whatever group Newt Gingrich is fronting at the moment.”

Ripped from today’s headlines.

My questions: (1) Are New Yorkers still sexually active, or do they just read about it in the Post?; (2) Will there be an audio book?

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to Tracy @ 22

Do you mean as dancer or goddess?

Elliott December 4th, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Did the this book come from journals or recollections?

How long did you work on getting it to the editor?

gunsbeforebutter December 4th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Hey James,

Since TBogg brought up both 70′s porn and Herman Cain, do you think Cain’s just stuck in a prior era or is he cutting edge?

Tracy December 4th, 2011 at 2:22 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 24

Yes.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:22 pm
In response to Roger Ailes @ 23

I don’t know if there’s an audio book or not–I should check. As long as I don’t have to do it–I hear recording an audiobook is exhausting.

From my sorties to the Jersey shore, it seems that there is a lot more going on there sexually than in NYC, where workaholism and worry about money have taken a toll. And Internet addiction seems to have sapped a lot of libido.

Then again I’m on the Upper West Side, not exactly the sexy part of town.

hardtoport December 4th, 2011 at 2:23 pm

My experiences with 1970′s NYC is purely tangential. I hung with a guy who’d make mysterious forays into Worcester, MA (sniff) for a few days and then disappear back to the city. He was very much into the music scene in the city at that time. Would always show up with a few interesting albums and I credit him for exposing me to Lou Reed, NY Dolls, Ramones, and a few other names that are now permanently lost to broken synapses. He was a big Skillet and Leroy fan, though. Had a few of their most memorable ‘dialogues’ committed to memory.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to Elliott @ 25

Mostly from recollections. Wish I had kept a journal. But I had a big inventory of Village Voice clips etc to go through that helped me chart the chronology.

meepmeep09 December 4th, 2011 at 2:23 pm

I’m sorry I have not read your book,* but I do have a general then-vs.-now question about NYC. I’ve seen some mourn the good ol’ days of NYC, and all the culture offered then, including for people with limited means, and that today’s NYC is largely an ‘urban Disneyland for millionaires’ (or statement with similar sentiment). Others counter by noting the bad crime and run-down/decayed neighborhoods of those days, and how things are much safer and cleaner now.

I assume the truth lies somewhere in between, but in your opinion, does one view come closer to the truth than the other (assuming I’ve characterized the views accurately)? And is it politically possible to have the best of both NYCs?

*h/t blogger Jon Swift, RIP, PBUH.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I think Cain is in the Age of Male Prerogative, which seems to be eternal.

TBogg December 4th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

When I go for walks around my quaint seaside neighborhood, I usually listen to my iPod with the feeling that it’s providing a soundtrack for my life (NWA’s Fuck the Po-lice, excepted). I get the feeling that Herman Cain has a continuous bow-chika-wow-wow loop running in his head.

Maybe that is why he can’t adequately answer questions: because of the background noise…

tomallen December 4th, 2011 at 2:26 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 32

The Victorians thought the same thing, right up till the end.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:27 pm
In response to TBogg @ 33

I also think he has the executive mentality of I’m the boss, I shouldn’t be bothered with questions while I’m admiring that fine…well, never mind.

I’m sure he thinks he can just delegate whatever annoys him to someone else to handle.

oldnslow December 4th, 2011 at 2:28 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 32

Now I can’t wait to read your piece on him in VF.

gunsbeforebutter December 4th, 2011 at 2:29 pm

I’d like to see your Sarah Palin columns adapted as a Broadway show. Tragic comedy or musical or spoken word?

Phoenix Woman December 4th, 2011 at 2:29 pm

So this is the sort of New York that Imperator Rudy gets credit for cleaning up? (Even though it was Bratton that did the heavy lifting in this regard?)

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:29 pm
In response to oldnslow @ 36

I’ve done things online but I won’t be doing anything for the magazine; he’s over now.

I have to write about things that MATTER, like ABC’s Revenge.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Thanks, but again I think she’s done-for too. She now seems like a figure from the recent past, though Gingrich’s rejuvenation shows that there’s always another comeback possible.

mswinkle December 4th, 2011 at 2:31 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 35

James Welcome

You can hardly blame cain for thinking that. Clinton past was kept more or less covered up when he ran for office, and so was JFK. Still waiting for former girlfriends of the current POTUS to come forward. I am sure they could make a buck or two with their stories.

Suzanne December 4th, 2011 at 2:31 pm

i love this book! thank you mr wolcott for writing it and fdl for hosting it today!

this book makes me wish i had been in new york in the 70′s

oldnslow December 4th, 2011 at 2:32 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 39

4:30 (central time) and I get my first good laugh of the day. Thank you.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:34 pm
In response to mswinkle @ 41

If Obama has any former girlfriends to come forward, what would they be waiting for? In any event I don’t really care what a politician does sexually as long as they’re not trying to legislate morality for the rest of us. Every marriage can have its own arrangements…whatever. Cain’s problem was that as an executive he seemed to have crossed the line with sexual harassment, which is a Bozo no-no, as we kids used to say.

Phoenix Woman December 4th, 2011 at 2:38 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 40

I was always surprised that Giuliani didn’t fall for her brain-damaged porn star take on the Sexy Librarian trope. Now that would have been a ticket — Rudy/Sarah in 2012!

gunsbeforebutter December 4th, 2011 at 2:38 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 44

In any event I don’t really care what a politician does sexually as long as they’re not trying to legislate morality for the rest of us

I’d like to see a Department of Leather Whips and Thigh-High Boots, but that’s just me.

Any thoughts on Occupy Wall Street?

CTuttle December 4th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 40

With Cain merely ‘suspending’ his prez campaign, outside of the overt grift(Federal matching funds), that still positions him to relaunch it, considering how early it is in the hunting season…!

oldoilfieldhand December 4th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Thanks Tbogg for hosting. I enjoy the Tebloodletting.

Mr Wolcott,
I enjoy your prose!
Were you ever in the same room with Greenspan and his Mom, Ayn? How could your New York have been so different from theirs? Was it just the number of floors above Central Park?

Michael Hiltzik December 4th, 2011 at 2:40 pm

James Wolcott and Tbogg, my two favorite social commentators, together in one place! It doesn’t get any better than this. James, I was just tryhing to track down my favorite Wolcott lead of all time from (I think) the NY Review—something about Edie Sedgwick have reigned as the queen of New York piss-elegance. Question: Was today’s cheap celebrity mongering germinated by the Warhol factory, or do you think we would have come to this state anyway?

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:40 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 45

Rudy ran one of the most perplexingly lousy presidential campaigns of recent times. Politically, he is not a stupid man, but boy what hubris can do.

gunsbeforebutter December 4th, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 47

Which begs the question: Cain has his “Women for Cain” website. Is there a “Women for James Wolcott” site also?

mswinkle December 4th, 2011 at 2:42 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 44

If Obama has any former girlfriends to come forward, what would they be waiting for?

Lol

In any event I don’t really care what a politician does sexually as long as they’re not trying to legislate morality for the rest of us.

While i agree with this the problem is if a politician has stuff hidden in a closet it makes them open to blackmail/manipulation etc by those that know about his closet

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:46 pm

It would have happened anyway, because of TV; Warhol was simply a silver mirror with a warped reflection. But he had an instinctual sense of the paramount modernity of celebrity that his detractors didn’t have, and his work has outlasted their damnings. (I’m thinking of Robert Hughes’s famous attack in NY Review of Books.)

As for Edie Sedgwick–the late New Yorker writer Veronica Geng once told me that she saw Edie at a party and that she was even more luminous in person, that even the most glamorous photos didn’t do her justice.

The photo of Edie and Andy posing together with the Empire State Bldg backdrop is one of the most iconic 60s shots ever.

meepmeep09 December 4th, 2011 at 2:46 pm

Regarding Cain, Michael Tomasky actually read his book (his review is in NYRoB). What came out of Tomasky’s reading is that Cain is supremely narcissistic, giving no credit whatsoever to the civil rights activists who undoubtedly opened so many doors for him. That provides further explanation of why the teatards love(d) him so.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
In response to meepmeep09 @ 54

I read Cain’s books too, but Cain’s lack of credit doesn’t make him that much different from any other black conservative. They pay their obligatory nod to Martin Luther King and then they turn their back on everybody and everything else connected with the civil rights movement.

Bionic December 4th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
In response to mswinkle @ 52

While i agree with this the problem is if a politician has stuff hidden in a closet it makes them open to blackmail/manipulation etc by those that know about his closet

I always said putting Jeff Gannon in the White House Press Corps was a huge message to any insider who didn’t go along with the push to war.

bigbrother December 4th, 2011 at 2:52 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 30

Was in The Big Apple in 1970. A DFHer wandering the country. The Village, The Filmore East with Frank Zappa and the Mother’s of Invention. Teenagers wore mini shirts and poets were into Ferlinghetti, Thomas Dillon and Bob Dylan was pretty popular. Drugs were taking over alcohol consumers as an option. The environment was not all that threatening and the culture like the Bay Ara was creating new music, art and lifestyles.

Bionic December 4th, 2011 at 2:53 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 55

I read Cain’s books too, but Cain’s lack of credit doesn’t make him that much different from any other black conservative. They pay their obligatory nod to Martin Luther King and then they turn their back on everybody and everything else connected with the civil rights movement.

But doesn’t every conservative think they’ve hit the proverbial triple? (h/t to Molly Ivins)
Otherwise how can they steal anything they can lay their hands on with a clear conscience? They deserve what they have unlike anyone else.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 2:54 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 57

They were all out of Ferlinghetti by the time I arrived.

Michael Hiltzik December 4th, 2011 at 2:55 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 53

I’ll have to look up that Hughes piece on Warhol in the NYR archives. On a related note, I think it was your essay or talk about Dwight Macdonald* that sent me to the collection of his essays recently published by the NYR…His review of Cozzens, attack on the Websters 4th and the revised King James Version, his evisceration of Norman Cousins Inc…Who would you point to today who is that willing to speak up for intellectual standards without worrying about being disinvited from the party circuit? (You and TBogg excepted, of course). And just so I don’t forget–I’ve already read Lucking Out, thought it was fabulous….
*Post revised to correct spelling of Macdonald’s name, as his shade would no doubt haunt me for getting it wrong

CTuttle December 4th, 2011 at 2:57 pm
In response to Bionic @ 56

…a huge message to any insider who didn’t go along with the push to war.

And here we are with same misbegotten PNAC/WINEP crew beating the very same War Drums…! 8-(

Santayana must be spinning in his grave…! *gah*

hardtoport December 4th, 2011 at 2:57 pm

I pray to Tebow that Charles Pierce does not show up….we’d have a critical mass of top-shelf snark that could implode the internets into a black hole of Cheney-like darkness.

Speaking of Herm…I’m a little dissapointed that we didn’t get to vet his business acumen a little more. I wanted to know how a guy takes a $300MM asset and rides it into a $30MM buyout opportunity in 30 months. And just who would risk $30MM of capital with the Herminator running that show? Discovery would have been comedy gold.

Elliott December 4th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

How many cats do you have? I suspect you are as devoted a pet parent as TBogg (even tho he has dogs which I hear are somewhat popular)

I was sorry to read about your Jasper. Have you always had ocicats? I hear they are naturally good-natured.

EDIT: actually I read that

bigbrother December 4th, 2011 at 3:01 pm
In response to CTuttle @ 61

CT How is the new encampment going for Hilo?

Mod Note: While the conversation is free flowing, please try to stay close to the topic(s) as a courtesy to our guest and host.

TBogg December 4th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 55

A large part of Lucking Out is devoted to Pauline Kael, whose work I first became acquainted with in college when I took a class in Film as Literature and the professor gave me a copy of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,telling me it was where to start.

Given the resurgence of Kael as a topic of discussion these days, any comments on Brian Kellow’s biography of her since you probably knew her better than most everyone?

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

See, here’s the thing: Macdonald was still always invited to the party no matter what he wrote. People aired out their differences at parties, sometimes to point of fisticuffs, more often just with rude interrogations, such as Alfred Kazin’s question to Lionel Trilling, “Can’t you do something to control your wife?” A less courtly man than Trilling might have decked him.

Speaking of Trilling’s wife: Norman Mailer once broke the ice with Diana Trilling at a dinner party by asking during a conversational lull: “So what do you have to say for yourself, smart cunt?”

She was so shocked she started laughing and they became friends, or at least friendly.

Something like that happen today (and I’m not recommending it), and it would be The Scandal, like the hole in Pauline Kael’s blouse, a Page Six item, coverage in NY Observer, Gawker, Jezebel, the whole shebang.

There aren’t those kinds of parties now–literary parties are staid and mostly opportunities for everyone to commiserate about the State of Publishing, how their agent never calls them back, etc.

CTuttle December 4th, 2011 at 3:03 pm
In response to bigbrother @ 64

The 17th we’ll be actually Occupying…! I’ll talk about it at lln if ya want…!

RevBev December 4th, 2011 at 3:04 pm
In response to TBogg @ 65

PS. Brian just on NPR…

gunsbeforebutter December 4th, 2011 at 3:06 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 66

So Twitter would have been a hit in 70′s NY?

TBogg December 4th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Twitter is the Algonquin Round Table of the, well, whatever era we’re living in. The only difference is that they let just anyone through the door these days. Jacket (and pants) not even required.

RevBev December 4th, 2011 at 3:10 pm
In response to TBogg @ 70

But is there a Dorothy Parker? There are so many “who cares?”

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 3:11 pm
In response to TBogg @ 65

I haven’t yet read the Kellow book, except in snippets. Knowing that we’d be coming out the same time spooked me–I was concerned that he’d have details that I’d neglected, that I’d look at something and go, Oh man I completely got that wrong. And I knew I’d be in the book (he interviewed me for it), and I’m not crazy about reading about myself. I’ll get to it before the New Year.

What I’ve heard from some readers is that Kellow is very good on Pauline’s earlier, pre-New Yorker life, which is less known, but once she gets to the magazine it’s a lot of recapitulation of one review after another.

This is the problem with writing about a writer, you have to proceed through their body of work and find yourself recapping reviews of this book or that, etc.

Someone I know was commissioned to do a biography of Norman Mailer and was stumped by the prospect of climbing the mountain of all those titles Mailer did. Not to mention doing the round by round recapping of his marital and extramarital life.

UncertaintyVicePrincipal December 4th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

I’ve been working on an idea for a piece called Panic in Cupcake Park. Once littered with syringes, now the park is strewn with little wrappers blowing around like paper tumbleweeds, and so on. You may even know which park I’m referring to. Speaking of the 70s, can you say a word or two in general about NY now and then?

TBogg December 4th, 2011 at 3:22 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 72

One thing that made me sadly nostalgic for the good old days of seeing movies was your evocation of going to theaters where you could see double bills of scratchy copies of Shoot The Piano Player and The 400 Blows one night, and then El Topo and something else as equally bizarre the next. Youngsters these days (by which I mean my daughter) don’t have those communal cultural experiences anymore when the 32-screen multiplex is showing something-Apatow on 12 of the screens and the older theaters are boarded up and closed because one screen is not enough and rents are too damn high.

Siun December 4th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Like Suzanne above, I love this book … I remember NYC well from the time. Such a treat to have this account which does it justice … Thank you Mr Wolcott!

hardtoport December 4th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

To expand on gunsbeforbutter’s question @ 69 –

What social commentators/critics/opinionists of the pre-internet era (60′s/70′s/80′s) do you think would have leveraged this communication platform best? Worst? I’m thinking in terms of not just instant communication and broadcast, but reaction to the medium’s feedback loop?

grishaxxx December 4th, 2011 at 3:26 pm

Re Pauline: I started with “I Lost It…” – I was in HS and it had just been published in paper – and fell for her. Finally met her in 1972 (she was giving two guest lecture classes at MIT – we had labs, btw, the nights before: “Earrings of Madame ‘d” one night, “The lady Eve” the other). Besides being tiny and sounding like your Aunt Rose, what struck me in the discussion sessions was her generosity to even the most pompous or – in my case – jejeune question. She listened. And the classes went at least an hour or two over schedule – nobody wanted to leave, and she stuck with us.

Siun December 4th, 2011 at 3:28 pm
In response to TBogg @ 74

Spent a lot of the 70s at the New Yorker and espthe Thalia doing just that … Still miss it!

gunsbeforebutter December 4th, 2011 at 3:28 pm
In response to TBogg @ 6

James, a kid named Bob Ostertag lived down the street from me way back in the day. Bob tells rollicking good stories of making music with Fripp, Eno, Frith and other like minded cats in 70′s NY. Did you have the chance to check them out?

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to TBogg @ 74

The repertory theaters had a truly cave-like atmosphere and it was often a shock to see certain films later in a decent print and realize, “Oh, there isn’t meant to be a sickly green tinge to interiors.”

One story I didn’t put in the book was the week after Elvis died one of the revival houses had an Elvis double-feature and as I was entering, the rockabilly singer Robert Gordon (formerly of Tuff Darts) was exiting, his eyes still moist with tears.

He must have been the first person ever to cry at It Happened at the World’s Fair.

CTuttle December 4th, 2011 at 3:33 pm

James, what’s your thought’s on Bloomie’s Napoleonic designs…? ‘I have the 7th largest Army’ etc…!

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 3:33 pm
In response to hardtoport @ 76

I think, paradoxically, those writers who suffered most from writer’s block. Who would have been liberated from the weight of working on a major essay and could just fire individual bullets. Someone like Dwight Macdonald, for example.

I also think that someone like Mary McCarthy would have taken to Twitter, with her lethal one-liners.

One thing to keep in mind was that in the 60s and 70s writers and intellectuals and critics were on television way more often any are today. And subsequently became way more famous than their counterparts today.

Rex Reed, John Simon, Truman Capote, Vidal, Mailer, Buckley–there were on TV a lot. They didn’t need to platform themselves because they had a mass-media stage to play on.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 3:33 pm
In response to Siun @ 75

Thank you!

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 3:35 pm

No, I had a chance to meet Eno through the Talking Heads and I couldn’t because I was on deadline. Damn those deadlines! Though I did meet Eno later.

grishaxxx December 4th, 2011 at 3:37 pm

We had the Clark in Chicago – and Doc Films at UofC, which really filled up the rep for me! – but I guess the closest we get to that experience are some of the marathons now.

RevBev December 4th, 2011 at 3:38 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 82

So true and so sad….those people had a great presence and great conversation quite often…..Do we just not have that kind of “voice” anymore? Or just no formum, as you say?

gunsbeforebutter December 4th, 2011 at 3:39 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 82

writers and intellectuals and critics were on television way more often any are today

I wonder what those folks would think about today’s Reality TV world…

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Quick way to compare 70s Manhattan with 80s: compare the look and tone of Sidney Lumet’s Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon with his Garbo Talks of 1984, where the city is enveloped in a pastel haze and the grit and grime have been vanquished, as least on screen.

gunsbeforebutter December 4th, 2011 at 3:40 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 84

Probably for the best since Bob’s stories scared me!

grishaxxx December 4th, 2011 at 3:41 pm

In media res – but I also love both you and TBogg as writers and honest men who make me laugh, and therefore keep me sane. Cheers to you!

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Capote would probably love it as spectacle, Mailer would probably examine it as a species of narcissistic exhibitionism that owed something to Cassavetes’ films. Vidal–well, he would regard it as part of our Roman decline and fall.

I was invited to see Gore when he was last in NY and then it turned out that he had checked out of the hotel early, finding his visitors irksome.

When you’re 85 or so, you find just about everything irksome.

Siun December 4th, 2011 at 3:45 pm
In response to grishaxxx @ 85

I’m in Chicago nowadays and there are still some options like Doc films but I miss places lime the Thalia where any given day I felt bored, I could find a double feature that was .. Well in at least *some* way worth seeing. Doc films at least captures that dark slightly grimy sensibility though while say the Siskel Center is always so … Clean.

grishaxxx December 4th, 2011 at 3:46 pm

I think GV started that attitude WAY earlier….

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Afterthought: And remember the talk shows in the 70s were done before live audiences, who would sometimes shout abuse at the guests, as happened to both I.F. Stone and Mailer on the Cavett show.

Charlie Rose is taped practically in a crypt–no cameraman, the camera is operated by robot remote–and if any such outburst occurred on Letterman they would probably stop taping and edit it out. TV is much more sanitized and hermetic now.

TBogg December 4th, 2011 at 3:50 pm
In response to Siun @ 92

Out in our neck of the woods (not that we have “woods”) all we have as alternative are the Landmark Theaters (who took over that last repertory house, The Ken) and they tend to long-run foreign film engagements. A double bill these days might not mesh with our check-my-iPhone-every-2-minutes Red-Bulled short attention spans era.

hardtoport December 4th, 2011 at 3:51 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 82

Thanks for the response, James.

I’ve often wondered how the world would be today if we had the same internet infrastructure in place in, say, 1968. Not just politically, but socially. It would make for an interesting “what if” work of fiction.

I’m sure it’s my parochial temporal bias, but the late 60′s/early 70′s was such an incredible time for the arts, it’s a shame that the internet wasn’t there to chronicle it…I’m thinking of specifically of digital recording and Youtube. I saw a recent video of George Frayne (the Commander) doing “Stems and Seeds” and thought it was a damn shame that all we have left is a glimpse of the tail end of an era that brought so much fun into our lives.

gunsbeforebutter December 4th, 2011 at 3:51 pm

James, big bus tour planned to promote the book? You could probably rent Palin’s coach for not too much….

grishaxxx December 4th, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Must be hell to cast a Reality Show, but that’s what they are all about, I think. So I’d go 50/50
Capote’s Spectacle and Mailer’s Self-Regarding Performance (which prob also causes cancer….).

BevW December 4th, 2011 at 3:52 pm

As we come to the end of this great Book Salon,

James, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and everything New York.

TBogg, Thank you very much for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

James’s website and book

TBogg’s website (TBogg)

Thanks all, Have a great week.

If you want to contact the FDL Book Salon: FiredoglakeBookSalon@gmail.com

CTuttle December 4th, 2011 at 3:52 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 94

…TV is much more sanitized and hermetic now.

Except for the (un)Reality TV shows that are the Goopers’ Debates these daze…! Especially, with the Trump ‘hosting’ the next one…!

Siun December 4th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 94

The loss of that shared exposure to writers and thinkers, even by those who saw them as “eggheads” or such is, I often think, a core factor in the decline of our country overall. With only three networks and some still oddly sweet belief in educational value of media, we were forced to experience a shared exposure to challenging thought.

grishaxxx December 4th, 2011 at 3:54 pm

h/t hardtoport – I have often wondered the same thing. It is becoming frighteningly hard to remember when we didn’t have the Intertubes.

TBogg December 4th, 2011 at 3:55 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 94

Occasionally The Daily Show will have on people who could easily fill an hour, but that cuts into the Jon Stewart schtick that people love. I get the impression that Jon Stewart might be equally happy doing more extensive interviews but fears being deported to “I liked Woody Allen more when he was funny” land.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 3:55 pm
In response to hardtoport @ 96

I think we’re better off that the Internet wasn’t around then. Scenes like CBGB’s wouldn’t have had time to gestate, grow, take new forms. Soon as a band played a cellphone video would have been up on YouTube and everyone would have gotten jaded and bored and ready to move on to the next thing.

The great loss is that there is so little video of the dance scene from that period and earlier; it’s awful that there’s so little documentation of the Judson dance scene, what Merce Cunningham was doing, even what was happening at NYCB.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 3:57 pm
In response to TBogg @ 103

Like most comics, Stewart worries when there’s been too long a lapse between laughs–then he starts pulling the funny voices and faces.

I interviewed him years ago and he’s incredibly smart–I mean, smarter and shrewder than any New Republic/Beltway pundit.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 3:59 pm
In response to Siun @ 101

Public television was also more adventurous and serious then. That was before they had to do endless “baby boomer” fundraisers (doo-wop reunions, etc).

gunsbeforebutter December 4th, 2011 at 4:00 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 104

James, check out Bob Ostertag’s website sometime. He’s “Professor of Technocultural Studies and Music at the University of California at Davis”, whatever the hell technocultural studies may be….

TBogg December 4th, 2011 at 4:01 pm
In response to BevW @ 99

This is Bev’s way of cuing up the music because our acceptance speech is running over and they have to set-up for the Diane Warren Lifetime Achievement segment.

Thanks, first of all, to James Wolcott for joining us and I encourage you all to read his book if you haven’t yet. And I’d like to thank all of you who stopped by …. even you moochers who were lurking and reading and refusing to contribute like the social parasites that you are.

gunsbeforebutter December 4th, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Thanks James!

Thanks TBogg!

Thank you jesus for Tim Tebow!

CTuttle December 4th, 2011 at 4:02 pm
In response to James Wolcott @ 105

I mean, smarter and shrewder than any New Republic/Beltway pundit.

That’s a mighty low bar to clear…!

Mahalo Nui Loa, James for taking the time to be here at the Lake…! Kudos, to TBogg and BevW, too…! *g*

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 4:02 pm

And now I see it is 7pm and my wife just put a glass of bourbon of my desk, signaling Cocktail Hour.

I want to thank TBogg and BevW for inviting me and hosting this meet-up and thanks to everyone who took part.

James Wolcott December 4th, 2011 at 4:03 pm

And now I can relax and rest up before PAN AM returns tonight!

Siun December 4th, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Enjoy Pan Am and thanks so much for talking with us and the great book!

And Tbogg and Bev – merci!

meepmeep09 December 4th, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Thanks James, TBogg,and Bev! Being an ignoramus on cultural matters both low-brow and high-brow (the latter in ample supply here), I learn a lot from these discussions.

hardtoport December 4th, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Bottoms Up, James!

Thanks Mr. Bogg for hosting this. Sorry about the cigarette burn in the sofa. Does this mean we have to go back to the Tebow thread now for a roundtable debrief and mandatory self-criticism?

gunsbeforebutter December 4th, 2011 at 4:36 pm
In response to hardtoport @ 115

There’s boobies on that TBogg thread!

And not just in the picture!

Teddy Partridge December 4th, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Damnit, I missed it.

Thank you so much for writing this book, Mr Wolcott.

I’d like to nominate, among your many excellent choices in this book, avant-gardenia as 2011′s neologism of the year. (p 210)

Just an excellent book. What a remarkable writer.

Folks, buy this book.

Larue-Clique Member Since LibbyGate December 4th, 2011 at 9:22 pm

Heh, all y’all shoulda seen the WEST Coast . . . altho the New Yawhk scene is legendary for it’s time, too . . . also.

But ya shoulda seen the Left Coast . . . then.

Late 50′s to early 70′s . . . yeah, ya shoulda seen it.

It owned it all . . .

N TBogg, ya left out Basketball Diaries, and Jim Carroll . . .just sayin. ;-)

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