Monday, June 13, 2011
Out of the Vinyl Deeps (University of Minnesota Press), by Ellen Willis
Rock critics often carried on like a boys' club (but then, so did most rock bands). An important, often overlooked female voice from the early years, Ellen Willis, became The New Yorker's first pop music critic in 1968. Sensing that the music was losing its edge along with its social significance, she moved on in the '80s to become a feminist essayist. Out of the Vinyl Deeps, the first anthology of her rock writing, reveals a largely perceptive take on a music still new but rapidly accumulating a history. Willis had blind spots: She was unable to imagine viable music or culture from before 1955, was tone deaf to the spiritual aspirations of '60s rock and, worst of all, actually liked Grand Funk Railroad! But she wrote beautifully on The Velvet Underground and brought stimulating insights to Dylan, the Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the push and pull of bohemianism and commercialism.