20th-CENTURY BOY by Duncan Hannah


Notebooks of the Seventies
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An intensely personal and engrossing portrait of a bygone era.

As Hannah states in the preface, his first book is “not a memoir,” but rather “journals, begun in 1970, at the age of seventeen, written as it happened, filled with youthful indiscretions.” As such, it benefits from an immediacy and exuberance that the hindsight, self-censorship, editing, and foggy recollections of a proper memoir would most certainly lack. The book begins rather unceremoniously with the author in high school in suburban Minneapolis; he was a budding artist and musician, precocious reader, and typical rebellious American teenager in search of drugs, sex, and kicks. He longed for big city nights far from his staid surroundings, and after a short tenure at Bard College, he landed in Greenwich Village in 1973 to attend Parsons School of Design. An avid partier and drinker in the right place at the right time, the author met and/or befriended a variety of the celebrities of the day, many of whom would go on to become legends (Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, David Bowie). Hannah's frequently poetic descriptions of his underground cohorts recall Genet’s parade of subversive heroes, and the author’s enthusiasm for la vie bohème and general disdain for the square world at times read like a cross between a glam-rock Kerouac and a stoned Holden Caulfield (in the best possible way). Along the way, readers receive all the lurid details of the author’s sex life—by turns romantic, erotic, dramatic, and hilarious—as well as a portrait of a young artist truly coming of age. Eventually, Hannah spent less time hanging out with rock stars and more time in his studio, culminating in his showing several works in the Times Square Show in 1980 alongside luminaries like Keith Haring and Jenny Holzer.

Devotees of the underground art and punk scenes of 1970s New York will devour Hannah’s journals, each page of which contains something fascinating or worthy of note—best enjoyed while listening to Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs,” Television’s “Marquee Moon,” and Patti Smith’s “Horses.”

Pub Date: March 13th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5247-3339-1
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2017


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