Lost Lustre: A New York Memoir

Overview

Muggings on Avenue C, punk bands at CBGB, parties in a nascent SoHo, dropping out from the famous Music & Art High School. In this episodic, coming-of-age memoir, Josh Karlen chronicles growing up in New York's Greenwich Village and crime-ridden Alphabet City in the 70s and early 80s. Last Lustre recaptures a New York suffering its gravest financial crisis and soaring crime, yet staging a spectacular resurgence of the arts. Karlen shares a fascinating personal history of the punk rock scene through the prism ...

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Lost Lustre: A New York Memoir

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Overview

Muggings on Avenue C, punk bands at CBGB, parties in a nascent SoHo, dropping out from the famous Music & Art High School. In this episodic, coming-of-age memoir, Josh Karlen chronicles growing up in New York's Greenwich Village and crime-ridden Alphabet City in the 70s and early 80s. Last Lustre recaptures a New York suffering its gravest financial crisis and soaring crime, yet staging a spectacular resurgence of the arts. Karlen shares a fascinating personal history of the punk rock scene through the prism of The Lustres, a band that played venues that launched the Talking Heads, Patti Smith, the Ramones and Madonna. In the title chapter, Karlen poignantly pays homage to the band's charismatic and talented lead singer, whose life in many ways seemed to mirror his times in both its shining creativity and nihilistically destructive force.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In his first book, Karlen, a former journalist now working in broadcast media, recounts tales of his youth growing up during the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s in New York City’s Lower East Side and Greenwich Village. His memories are a window into a darker, grittier version of the city and are especially intriguing when he juxtaposes them with the current descriptions of Manhattan. While the memoir follows a chronological pattern, the chapters are only loosely tied together, giving the book the feel of a collection of essays rather than a straight life story. Some sections, like the author’s memories of living in the rough neighborhood known as Alphabet City, are vibrant, while others, such as Karlen’s descriptions of his attempts to get in touch with his first love, are painfully sentimental. The most dynamic writing centers on the story of Tim Jordan, the author’s best friend, whose bright musical career leading the band Lustre was snuffed out by alcoholism. It is here that Karlen finds the true narrative thread. (Oct.)
The Barnes & Noble Review

Until the age of four, Josh Karlen lived in New York's pleasant, upper-middle-class Gramercy Park neighborhood with his bohemian parents and baby brother. Then, in 1968, his parents separated. His father repaired downtown to equally pleasant Greenwich Village; his mother decided, for unknowable reasons, to move with the boys into a new housing development that had been built among the drug- and gang-ridden slums on Avenue C. When asked (as she frequently was) what her rationale for this move was, she would say that the neighborhood was "gentrifying."

Well yes, it did eventually gentrify -- Alphabet City is now a hip, pricey area -- but not during the fifteen years the Karlens lived there. Throughout his childhood and teenage years, Karlen felt that his family existed "precariously, like isolated cliff-dwellers above a barbaric plain." They were only about a mile from leafy Gramercy Park, but "calculated vertically, we had plunged through the Heavens to a street somewhere in Hell."

This Hell motif is one that recurs throughout Lost Lustre, Karlen's rueful, introspective, and deeply affecting memoir about growing up in the New York of the 1970s and '80s, a city far rougher than it is today. There were the terrifying streets of Alphabet City, where young Josh was mugged and attacked so many times that for years he suffered from what he later recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder. There were the downtown bars and clubs, where teenagers were never asked for IDs: "hot, beer-reeking caverns, where deafening music ambushed you at the door. The scenes were sometimes whirlwinds of chaos and fury, the bands screaming, the dancing crowds surging under spinning, colored lights or in deep-shadowed darkness. I wouldn't have been surprised to see a couple of satyrs stroll by." There was the "alternative" high school where students too difficult for the authorities to handle were allowed to earn their diploma by working in offices rather than going to class. Karlen, after years of disaffection, was able to straighten out his life. Others were not so fortunate: his best childhood friend, lead guitarist of a downtown band called The Lustres, was to die from alcoholism at the age of twenty-eight.

Where on earth were the parents, and what were they thinking? Karlen wonders at it all, too. His recollections of the period, he writes, are colored "by anger -- anger at the rogues' gallery that allowed us such freedom, the bartenders who served us, the bouncers who didn't check our IDs….There was an atmosphere during the weekends those years, in my memory, of Hogarthian revelry." There is some genuine nostalgia in these pages, for the glory days of New York's downtown club scene, of CBGB and Danceteria, really did possess a bit of lustre; but the author's predominant key is a minor one, imbued with sadness for his confused young self and the friends he lost along the way. Nevertheless, Karlen's intelligence and his fierce desire to understand the past make Lost Lustre an uplifting book, for all its melancholy.

--Brooke Allen

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780981932118
  • Publisher: Tatra Press
  • Publication date: 12/16/2010
  • Pages: 310
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Josh Karlen, a former journalist, grew up on the Lower East Side and in the Village. He lives with his wife and two children in Manhattan. He currently works in media relations.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

1 My Sixties 2

2 Farewell, Avenue C 20

3 The Forest in Grand Central Station 46

4 Crossing into Poland 60

5 Lost Lustre 78

6 The Hotel 17 Revisited 150

7 Bringing Up Baby 178

8 On Chasing After One's Hat 190

9 A Manhattan Barbarian on the Amazon 208

10 I and the Village 226

Sources 236

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 8, 2010

    Fascinating glimpse into a forgotten New York

    How soon we forget... I loved this look into NY in the 1970s. Karlen's book is a reminder of which way NY could have gone. What a dismal decade, but this book brings out what I can't believe I forgot: What it was like to forge our own way, by ourselves. Kinda makes you proud.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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