Review: Lost Lustre
Title: Lost Lustre
Author: Josh Karlen
Publisher: October 16, 2010; Tatra Press
Rating: 3.5 Bookmarks
Source: TLC Book Tours
Nat’s One-Sentence Synopsis: Part memoir, part portal to the past, Josh Karlen’s Lost Lustre is a look back on the social and cultural scenes of a gritty New York City that is oft overlooked or glamorized.
I accepted this book partly for personal reasons. Lost Lustre is set against the backdrop of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, more specifically Alphabet City, a neighborhood where my paternal grandparents, and later my aunt and dad, grew up.
The Alphabet City that Karlen survived is in stark contrast to that of my grandparents’ and father’s time. My dad was one of the first baby boomers–January, 1946–and the photographs of his childhood depict him sledding and playing in Tompkins Square Park.
Karlen, born at the tail end of the boom in October 1964, came of age in a dark time in New York City’s history. In the mid-to-late 70s and early 80s, crime in the city was at an all-time high, and Tompkins Square Park wasn’t safe in the daylight.
I can personally attest the state of decay that Karlen describes because my dad never tired of driving my mom, sister, and me into the heart of the Lower East Side in the late 70s and 80s on the guise of showing us around the old neighborhood. He’d lure us into the car with promises of Rockettes or museums, but without fail we found ourselves cruising along avenues that brought to mind some far-flung, war torn country.
My sister and I would press our faces to the car windows, gaping at drug deals, abandoned lots, burned out buildings and cars, and a host of other ocular offerings that drove my mother to frantically lock the doors, scream for us to shut our eyes, and demand my father ferry us back across the River Styx, back to suburbia. All the while, my dad kept up a running commentary of his childhood and various landmarks.
Lost Lustre began as a eulogy of sorts for one of Karlen’s childhood friends. They had been out of touch for many years–Karlen learned of his death 14 years after the fact-but it impacted him as the death of a contemporary–especially one that was a childhood friend–is wont to do. He began to wax poetic on youth and seek closure on the lost relationship.
This memoir takes time to reflect on the short life and career of Tim Jordan, lead singer of The Lustres. The band played the local stage circuit, including all the NYC biggies like CBGB and Danceteria, and were bound to be the next big thing. Three of The Lustres’ songs are featured on the publisher’s page and they are catchy and original; Take the Bus was the one that stayed with me.
I enjoyed Karlen’s writing style and could relate to many of the local references, a plus for me as a reader. The memoir isn’t just one man’s memories of his youth; instead, Karlen is able to personify New York City. He gives the city, its music scene, the underground culture, and the neighborhoods a voice. He channels the energy of an age and New York becomes an entity with a story of its own.
This would be a great read for anyone with in interest in New York during this era and people with an interest in the music scene.
Other reviews of Lost Lustre:
Monday, November 1st: A Library of My Own
Wednesday, November 3rd: Wormbook
Tuesday, November 9th: Rundpinne
Wednesday, November 10th: The Five Borough Book Review
Wednesday, November 17th: Novel Whore
Thursday, November 18th: Life in Review
Monday, November 23rd: ‘Til We Read Again
Wednesday, November 24th: So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Date TBD: Life in the Thumb
Date TBD: Books in the City