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Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music Paperback – May 1, 2011
History To Repeat & Some To Not
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"Willis's work is crystalline enough that reading each essay takes the reader on a trip back to the era when it originally appeared, but it's a testimony to her intellect and talent that those journeys look completely unlike any hagiography you might stumble across. She cuts through clichés nimbly . . . and the essays vibrate off the page." —Village Voice
"Finally, Willis’s game-changing music writing is available in one place. It is like unearthing the holy grail of rock criticism!" —Kathleen Hanna
"A pleasure to read and a crucial challenge when truly considered, Willis’s essays on rock, freedom, sex, and dancing in your bedroom continue to teach me every time I return to them." —Ann Powers
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Top Customer Reviews
As a music listener I came of age roughly during the same period as most of these essays were published. Ellen Willis' (who died in 2006) views on music were somehow different than the usual critics writing of the day. Under the surface (usually) there lurked an intelligent observer of both music and the era.
She wrote several dozen pieces (under the heading "Rock, Etc.") for The New Yorker magazine-a place where I usually didn't think of, offhand, for an insightful look into current music-for several years, beginning in 1968. This was still the era (which ended in the 70's) when Rolling Stone Magazine was the "go to" periodical for insightful music reviews. Her writing would also turn up occasionally as liner notes for artists she thought had merit. This was in the era when "rock" writing was almost predominantly male dominated. Willis' writing seemed to flow almost without much effort on her part, but in them could be found some intelligent writing from someone who obviously loved the music. Her pieces in that era reached a much larger readership than any other magazine-475,000 as opposed to Rolling Stone's 75,000.
She seemed to actually like (most) of the music she reviewed, and didn't gloss over an artists latest release if it merited chastising. Willis wrote a number of pieces on Dylan, THE ROLLING STONES, THE BEATLES, THE WHO, and several other then major bands (even THE VELVET UNDERGROUND), all with good, honest insight. She also attended concerts, and could sometimes be found dancing, with the music as her only partner, in front of a full length mirror.Read more ›
A few random thoughts (and to be honest, I'm a few chapters short of being done with this book):
Willis doesn't offhandedly mention dancing to music - she actually did it, and used it as a critical benchmark. She also has very little use for technical prowess. Too much of it gets in the way of good rock music.
Pre-"classic" rock acts like Elvis and the Everly Bros. aren't square in Willis's eyes.
As far as I can tell, Willis omits mention of the Beach Boys (what, no Pet Sounds!) and Led Zeppelin, which is interesting from my more "Generation X" experience. The former may simply not have interested her, what with her political bent as a writer, and as for the latter she would not have been the only contemporary critic who couldn't stand the Zep.
Willis's dissection of the "acceptable" roles of women in music is fascinating. She also describes the gradual adoption of rock by educated bohemians and political types as well as anyone.
Still, like most rock crit it can sag and bore quite a bit. In a way a welcome contrast from the wearing and unconvincing intensity of Lester Bangs or the pomposity of Marcus and the other guy; and of course, the female angle is interesting- historically as much as anything.
Yes, good, but less fun than I'd have hoped. A free mind and - therefore - a good mind, but not a brilliant one.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is very valuable for everyone interested in music writing and in learning about the broader cultural context of pop and rock music. Read morePublished on May 20, 2012 by ronnie-b
This is a compelling look at music reviews ca. the late 1960s and early 1970s when rock and roll was in bloom. Read morePublished on February 9, 2012 by Johned