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Book Review: James Oseland’s ‘Jimmy Neurosis’ Is a Vibrant Coming-of-Age Memoir

Former ‘Top Chef Masters’ judge reflects on his turbulent teenage years—and the underground San Francisco scene that saved him

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 14:  Rodale's Organic Life Editor-in-Chief James Oseland attends Rodale's Organic Life Magazine launch party at Gary's Loft on April 14, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Rodale's Organic Life)

James Oseland attends Rodale's Organic Life Magazine launch party at Gary's Loft on April 14, 2015 in New York City.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

San Carlos, California, 1977: After his father abandons the family, gay teenager James Oseland moves to the San Francisco suburb with his shattered mother. He dodges bullies in AC/DC t-shirts, anxiously grinds his teeth and finds comfort in Joni Mitchell, whose voice “sounded smoky and world-weary as she sang that life wasn’t easy, regardless of what course you chose to take,” he notes. How right he was.

Shortly after Oseland flips on the television and hears the Sex Pistols for the first time, he discovers the underground San Francisco punk scene, where he befriends misfits, starts wearing eye makeup and gets a haircut that makes his mother cry. His new name? Jimmy Neurosis.

Former Saveur editor-in-chief and Top Chef Masters judge James Oseland writes this vibrant coming-of-age memoir in an instantly lovable voice, part surly teenager and part sweetly naive dreamer. “I felt a sense of letting go, of fully occupying the moment,” he says at his first punk show. “And, blissfully, of not really caring about much of anything.”

Jimmy Neurosis

Oseland also encapsulates what it was like to be gay in the late 1970s, when it was possible to find solace in the shadows of the underground yet difficult to avoid getting beaten on sidewalks in broad daylight. He participates in the White Night riots, a reaction against the lenient sentencing of Dan White after the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. Forty years later, the gruesome event still holds relevance.

At times, Jimmy Neurosis echoes Patti Smith’s Just Kids — especially when the author visits New York and ends up writing poetry at greasy spoons and spotting Andy Warhol — but Oseland tells this story with a poignant style all his own. As he enrolls in art school and rekindles his love for Joni Mitchell, he realizes that he was really James Oseland all along.

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