Beneath a recent Guardian–Observer byline, Peter Conrad crafted one of the best book-review ledes we’ve read in a long time. Partly because his POV is fed by decades of fermented life experience rather than a few years of home-office blogging:
In the seething, druggy summer of 1969, a room in the Chelsea Hotel gave me my first view of New York. The establishment – a Queen Anne folly with a rooftop pyramid on West 23rd Street, opened in 1884 – was not quite the dream palace of Sherill Tippins’ title: it struck me more as a trauma ward.
Pimps and pushers loitered in the lobby; a transvestite dispensed room keys behind a shield of bulletproof glass; a trip upstairs in the elevator could get you high in more ways than one, given the captive cloud of pot fumes in the clanking box. The marble stairwell resounded to the ululations of resident rock bands, and once in a corridor I collided with shaggy Janis Joplin, awash in a swill of Librium, tranquilizers and heroin topped up by Southern Comfort, as she staggered towards the overdose that killed her a year later. I had never felt so grubby, so at risk, or so excited.
Conrad, a native of Australia, has been teaching English literature at Oxford University since 1973 and has published 19 books. Most recently 2007’s Creation: Artists, Gods and Origins. The Chelsea Hotel is currently closed for renovations.
[Jacket cover courtesy: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt]
[H/T: Tibby Rothman]