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

3.43  ·  Rating Details  ·  343 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
"How lucky I was, arriving in New York just as everything was about to go to hell.”

That would be in the autumn of 1972, when a very young and green James Wolcott arrived from Maryland, full of literary dreams, equipped with a letter of introduction from Norman Mailer, and having no idea what was about to hit him. Landing at a time of accelerating municipal squalor and, par
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published October 25th 2011 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

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Lisa Mcelroy
Feb 21, 2012 Lisa Mcelroy rated it really liked it
Wolcott writes delightful sentences that are cleverly and playfully descriptive. If he reworks his paragraphs over and over, it doesn't show and yet it's all so well crafted. The first section of this memoir covers his entry into the New York City writing scene during the 70s on a hope and a prayer provided by a Norman Mailer letter of recommendation. The journalist ghosts Village Voice past are thoughtfully mulled over, as is CBGB's then-blossoming music scene and a series of Wolcott's dank, lo ...more
Robert Corbett
Oct 11, 2012 Robert Corbett rated it really liked it
This is not the definitive memoir of the 70s, but it really sets the context for a lot of what we think of as the 70s. It's not definitive, because Wolcott was diffident about the sex and drugs (oldest child in a very catholic and somewhat alcoholic family, so ...) back then or he makes it seem the case, but there are back stories here that you never heard before. But until Lou or Laurie write a book (too bad Acker won't be able to), this is pretty good if paired with Patti Smith's Just Kids. Sp ...more
Katie Wudel
Jan 26, 2012 Katie Wudel rated it liked it
I so much wanted to love this book. For 100 pages or so, I did. I confess, I'm a hopeless sucker for New York stories, having lived one myself. People think New Yorkers are vain for talking about themselves all the time; all books these days, it seems, are about NYC. But it is such a strange thing to live here, to try to "make it" here, and I was instantly charmed by James' story of first moving to New York and truly finding some sort of "in" at the Village Voice--back when that really mattered. ...more
Dec 14, 2011 Ettalouise rated it really liked it
James Wolcott’s Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York is the quintessential personal history. Wolcott introduces himself to New York, a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed college dropout with but a duffel bag of clothes and a recommendation letter from Norman Mailer for a job at the Village Voice. At the Voice, he gets a lukewarm response, but that does not discourage him. After coming in almost every day for several weeks, he gets the position of part-time receptionist.
Dec 25, 2013 Tosh rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm in that New York City reading mood, and this one didn't really hit the spot for me. I feel like the book should either have been longer or more detailed incidents to be reported. The punk rock section is not the best part of the book and it should have been. He was there at the height of the New York music explosion, yet I have read better accounts by others regarding this local earth shifting moment in our culture.

What is good is description of 1970's Village Voice life, with its editors a
Jan Takehara
Jul 05, 2012 Jan Takehara rated it really liked it
The Strand bookstore should sell this book, Patti's Smith's Just Kids and Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin in a slipcase as the New York in the 70s trilogy.
Nov 21, 2011 Michelle rated it did not like it
Read the bits about Pauline Kael, skip the rest. The most unessential memoir since Little Golden Books edition of the Henry Winkler bio.
Dec 21, 2012 Joe rated it it was ok
What can you say about a book that contains a sentence like..."Not a movie whose mention today lights the black-mass candles of Nazi-kink nostalgia (displaced by Liliana Cavini's Night Porter, where sadomasochistic decadence was represented by the ravishing desolation of Charlotte Rampling's Euro-goddess bond structure), Wertmuller's Seven Beauties was a major honking controversy when it was released in 1975, a black comedy set mostly in a concentration camp where Giancarlo Giannini, to save his ...more
Mar 31, 2012 christa rated it really liked it
It starts with a young James Wolcott riding a ref from Norman Mailer to the grunts of the Village Voice offices. One of those “I like how you write, if you’re ever in NYC, stop by X and ask for Y and he’ll hook you up” scenarios Wolcott took seriously enough to drop out of college, pack his bags and knock on the door. Of course, it took a few more knocks than he probably expected, but soon enough he was jamming out words with the likes of rock critic Robert Christgau on the receiving end of a fa ...more
Nov 17, 2011 Jeff rated it liked it
Shelves: music-writing
Teasing blind items and anecdotal pissing contests. I wish I liked this better than I do. The subjects of James Wolcott's Seventies Manhattan are The Village Voice's editorial culture; Pauline Kael; the punk scene around CBGBs; the emergence of porn culture; and dance. Those are terrific subjects, but taste is what lures out this critic and where all his risks are taken. You have to grant that taste is what most ventures us to think this is at all a memoir that has risked the personal, that has ...more
Feb 22, 2014 Paul rated it really liked it
"The solo blitzkreig that became "The Armies of the Night" has subsided into its proper rest spot in journalistic-litereary history, many of its passages now reading lathered-up and rhetorically Wagnerian, and never again would Mailer gleam at his own egotistical foibles and others' through a monocle of mocking irony (as with the drawing room comedy of Mailer and Robert Lowell trading lofty compliments like exquisite slices of bologna)."

"I can almost hear Pauline (Kael's) pithy, characteristic r
Mar 04, 2012 Aektare rated it it was ok
A memoir set in glittering and crime-infested 1970s New York, where an opinion-maker/trend-spotter takes a bow for having roamed the outer orbit of the circle-jerking Literati. Between forays into the punk, porn and ballet scenes, the author drops a phone book's worth of names and performs the all-important God's work of holding strong opinions on matters of relative insignificance.
Michael Friedman
Apr 02, 2014 Michael Friedman rated it liked it
The guy can really write. His syntax is electrifying. He is truly an English force. Unfortunately, his life and experiences are not that interesting, devolving to a list of people virtually unknown or not interesting. A name dropper extraordinaire, but a really, really good one.
Jul 17, 2015 Paul rated it liked it
While not a bad book by any stretch, Wolcott's (admittedly well-crafted) recollections tend to be a bit impenetrable for anyone not already familiar with the critic scene in 1970s NYC. While his tendency to name drop is far more detail-oriented than pretentious, it still requires the uninitiated to Wikipedia their way through passages more often than is preferable. All that said, Wolcott has an entertaining narrative voice that makes for a fun read. The section recounting the ebb and flow of the ...more
Jay Levine
Nov 20, 2011 Jay Levine rated it it was ok
Some parts very funny (porn in NYC), some parts cultural education (early punk scene in NYC), some parts boorish insider NYC literary culture gutter sniping
Mar 26, 2014 columbialion rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even though I wasn't really aware of the nuances or happenings in the areas of the author's focus during these 70's times. I too was entering my own age of enlightenment; living, loving and working in NYC. "Lucking Out" is, I would say, the definitive reference to most of the cultural (and sub-cultural) happenings in music, film, literature, dance and social developments that made NYC the epicenter of those movements which subsequently radiated outward through the country. Chronicling his early ...more
Feb 08, 2012 Simon rated it liked it
3.5 stars ... James Wolcott arrived in New York with little more than a letter of introduction from Norman Mailer, and Lucking Out is the story of how he parlayed that into a job at the Village Voice and an eventual career as a freelance writer. Wolcott isn’t interested in reliving old editorial battles, wailing about how much better things used to be, or putting himself at the center of great events; indeed, Lucking Out is chiefly about what a good time he had writing about culture and knowing ...more
Nov 03, 2012 Agnese rated it liked it
Boring in the first chapter where the author reiterates what a smart kid he was, which probably should explain his “bold” moving to the City and success in building a career as a critic; later throughout the book he recognizes in several occasions his inadequateness in various fields maybe to mitigate the impression of pretentiousness given at the beginning, but those passages sound like false modesty. Besides this, the book depicts part of the art scene in the seventies in New York with a parti ...more
Apr 16, 2012 Peebee rated it did not like it
Wouldn't you know it? My perfectly crafted initial review was eaten by the system...perhaps due to too much vitriol.

I selected this book due to the Seasonal Reading Challenge, needing something that talked about the history of punk rock. I had high hopes for this book -- it chronicles a very specific time in popular culture that I would have loved to observed first-hand, and books like Just Kids make it sound so magical.

I simply did not realize that an author could so suck the life blood out of
Matt Briggs
Mar 11, 2012 Matt Briggs rated it really liked it
I'm enjoying this book. At times James Wolcott is pretensions as he oversells or seems to oversell particular moments in his life in New York in the 70s and 80s. Walcott's story is largely about his friendships with and worshipful submission to writers such as Norman Mailer (who exists as a kind of humorous refrain throughout the book since Wolcott so unabashedly loves Mailer's writing and personae) and his much closer friendship with Pauline Kael. Wolcott's willingness to share his genuine foib ...more
Apr 01, 2013 Steven rated it it was amazing
The title couldn't be more apt. I mean, how many writers arrive in New York City with a letter of reference from Norman Mailer? And then get taken up by film critic Pauline Kael? Wolcott's TV column was the first thing I turned to when I started reading the Village Voice in the late Seventies, and I still eagerly read anything I can find with his name on it. Wolcott is one of the most distinctive writers around: deeply and idiosyncratically learned, amusingly dismissive of snobbery and cant, ver ...more
Chris Laskey
Aug 29, 2012 Chris Laskey rated it really liked it
I can't even fathom a better look at New York in the seventies at least from a cultural point than this memoir by Mr. Wolcott. Having gone to college at Pratt in 1974-75 and then working in the Big Apple since 1983 his book reads like a revisit in a time machine. Even if you didn't live in New York during this time - how influenced you were by the people he chums with and the scenes he covers is something that was such a magnet. Dreaming of New York man. The rapid fire near stream of conscience ...more
May 07, 2012 Michael rated it it was ok
It’s not surprising that the most effective sections in James Wolcott’s memoir of the 70s are on Pauline Kael and the beginnings of CBGBs, almost all the attention the book got when it was released was in relation to the recent Kael biography. It’s easy to appreciate Wolcott’s intelligence and his way with a phrase, his constantly inventive and generally witty similes when they’re grounded in a specific narrative, with characters we feel we know (Kael, Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, Richard Hell, John ...more
Mar 13, 2012 Miriam rated it it was ok
This was a book I was supposed to like, so that's probably why I didn't. Essentially Just Kids from a journalist's perspective (Patti Smith even has an extended cameo) it didn't have the same in-the-moment feel, something that has been consistently on my mind since I started seriously pursuing journalism.

I got too lazy to finish up this review (found that I wasn't really thinking about this book after the fact), but here are some quotes I highlighted while reading:

“It was the best use of an adv
Dec 26, 2011 Janice rated it it was amazing
I’ve been a slavish admirer of James Wolcott’s unique voice since the late 70s, when I scraped up the bucks to subscribe to the Village Voice, where he was a regular contributor. It’s a lot easier (and cheaper) to get a Wolcott fix these days, thanks mainly to his Vanity Fair column and blog, and, now, Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York, a hugely entertaining, satisfying, multi-day Wolcott binge.

The story itself would be interesting without much embellishment:
Jay Hinman
Apr 26, 2013 Jay Hinman rated it really liked it
I had a choice between reading the new Richard Hell memoir, about his days as a punk and a hedonistic poet in late 70s New York, and James Wolcott's very similar memoir, which is itself similar in many regards to Patti Smith's essential memoir "JUST KIDS". In fact, there are at least two other semi-recent memoirs of that wild NYC era of bankruptcy, innovative rock music, serial murderers who learn to kill from their dogs, and freewheeling, drug-fueled culture. There's even a fun book I read seve ...more
Mar 25, 2012 Caroline rated it really liked it
I wasn't equally interested in all the topics in this book (I got it for the punk rock stuff; wasn't expecting the chapter that's half about '70s porn and half about the New York Ballet Company) -- but I found all of it interesting to read, even when a lot of the references were going over my head. For a memoirist, Wolcott comes across as refreshingly self-aware about his own place in the story, including that the most notable part of the story is the people he knew, yet it doesn't come across a ...more

James Wolcott is awesome, a real Renaissance Man. He came to NYC in the early 70’s, he saw and sort-of conquered, experiencing the wealth of opportunities available in that fabled city during that fabled time, meeting uber-cool folk like Patti Smith & Tom Veralaine in the process, and laying it all out for our delectation in passages that read as florid and drily ironic at the same time. Here’s Wolcott describing the post Saturday night scene on the streets in the gayest of gayborhoods back
Jun 27, 2013 alex rated it it was amazing
I probably would have given this 4 stars normally, but I found it really disturbing how low the overall rating on this book is (at this moment it is 3.38) considering how great the first three-quarters of it are (it falls off a bit towards the end, but I was rocketing through the densely-packed text up until then).

Wolcott intricately weaves together the highlights of his experiences as a hapless dropout arriving in NYC at the dawn of the seventies, eventually becoming a seasoned journalist by th
Jul 17, 2014 Veronica rated it did not like it
Two words to describe this book are summed up in the title: luck and semi-dirty. The fact that James Wolcott had a random recommendation letter from Norman Mailer = luck; that he went to CBGB's but stayed a wallflower = semi-dirty.

That being said, I was very disappointed by this book, especially after coming off the steam of Please Kill Me. There were some good descriptions of Patti Smith, Television, and the Talking Heads, but nothing scratched deeper than the surface. He was more like a fly on
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