Review: Lost Lustre

Title: Lost Lustre

Author: Josh Karlen

Genre/Pages: Memoir/222

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


  1. Even though I love memoirs, I’m not sure this would be the book for me. I know so little about New York and music.

  2. Now I would like to read this, as it gives a different view of New York. Definitely one to add to my list.

  3. I like your story about your dad taking his family through his old neighborhood. I can totally imagine myself doing that with future children and the places where I lived.

  4. I’ve been on a bit of a memoir binge of late so think I would enjoy this one too.

  5. This looks very interesting! I may have to check this one out, your review certainly has piqued my interest!

  6. It is shame when places fall apart like this … though I got a chuckle out of imagining you kids getting an “eyeful” of stuff you probably shouldn’t have seen.

  7. I think I am going to have wait until I have actually been to NY to read this. This makes me wonder what my kids will think when I drive them around where I grew up (once I have them and they are old enough to know what is going on) and how much it will have changed by then. Maybe they will write about it one day. 🙂

  8. My dad used to run a hospital in downtown Philly when I was growing up, and would bring us there on occasion. Our drives through North Philly sound remarkably similar to your childhood visits to the lower east side. To my sheltered suburban eyes, it always looked like a war torn country and I felt so bad for the people having to live there – especially the kids I would see. As for Lost Lustre, sounds like an interesting read, both for the portrait of NY as well as the punk music scene. Thanks for the heads-up, Nat!

    PS: I’m doing a free giveaway on The Daily Dish — it’s those gummy vitamins you were so excited to try — SO ENTER TO WIN! That goes for everyone else, too. All are welcome! Best of luck 🙂

  9. I was wondering when Alphabet City hit its decline. Interesting to hear the dates of your dad’s experience versus Karlen’s. Neighborhoods in this city can flip so quickly, it’s a little unreal.

  10. i love reading memoirs and this one sounds extremely profound and deep.

  11. Talk about being able to relate to a book! Makes the reading so much more fun. I can’t believe your dad did that to you on purpose! We used to go on long vacations all over the country and often found ourselves lost in the less-than-desirable neighborhoods. My mom’s reaction was pretty much the same as yours but at least my dad didn’t purposely put us there!

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