Almost Famous
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Published in: July-August 2024 issue.

Coming of Age Amid the Glitter and Doom of ’70s New York
by Guy Trebay
Alfred Knopf. 256 pages, $29.


THE HISTORY of New York City in the 1970s is now something of a cottage industry. It’s not just Andy Warhol; it’s memoirs like that of Patti Smith about her friend Robert Mapplethorpe and his mentor Sam Wagstaff; or the recent biography of Candy Darling; or the fact that the photographs of Peter Hujar are on exhibit at the Venice Biennale. The epicenter of this cultural era may remain Warhol and the Factory, but now less famous figures are being given their due. The latest in this excavation of the late ’60s and ’70s demimonde comes from Guy Trebay, who’s now a reporter for the “Styles” section of The New York Times covering men’s fashion.

            The subtitle of his memoir (Coming of Age Amid the Glitter and Doom of ’70s New York) captures how the ’70s are now viewed—as New York City on the skids. When President Ford refused the city’s request for a financial bail-out in 1975, the headline on the front page of The Daily News was “FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD.” Crime was up, the middle class was fleeing to the suburbs, and Johnny Carson seemed to take special pleasure in the city’s incompetence in plowing the streets after a snowfall, before The Tonight Show moved to Los Angeles. But rents were low and eccentrics abounded, and all sorts of art was being created—a heady time in which to come of age, despite the poverty and perils that make Trebay’s an almost Dickensian saga.

            The book opens, however, more like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

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Andrew Holleran’s latest novel is The Kingdom of Sand. His 1978 novel Dancer from the Dance was set in 1970s New York.