Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Books: Out of the Vinly Deeps

Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock MusicOut of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music by Nona Willis Aronowitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The career of Ellen Willis as a rock music critic was comparatively brief, spanning the late 1960’s to the early 1970’s, but during that time she wrote some of the most insightful and thought provoking essays on rock and roll to date. As a radical feminist writing about a male dominated music for male dominated media, it took strong will and opinions to get her ideas out there, and she never wavered in her convictions. Beginning with the essay about Bob Dylan which brought her to the attention of The New Yorker, her writing is bold, assertive and unafraid to challenge the conventions of the day. This collection of her music writing, edited by her daughter is broken down thematically rather than chronologically, but it is still fascinating to follow the development of her burgeoning feminist consciousness as time moves forward. Highlights of this collection are many, but perhaps none more so than the essay “The Velvet Underground” included in Greil Marcus’ groundbreaking collection Stranded: Rock and Roll for a Desert Island. Willis imagines the ultimate collection by the seminal New York City band, and then in an audacious and provocative piece, she proceeds to deconstruct the band and its music, comparing the band’s bohemian aspects with their nascent spiritual quest. Using this metaphor of sin and salvation brings the Velvet’s progressive and ground-breaking music into thoughtful focus. Willis never lost sight of the music as a fan, and her essay about Creedence Clearwater Revival is prefaced by her recollection of dancing in front of her mirror to CCR albums – what other rock critic would admit to that? Reading these essays was a fascinating experience, since there are comparatively few female music critics (and hardly any at the time of her writing peak) and the unique female sensibility that she brings to the essays and the reactions of the fans and fellow critics. She looks at the borderline misogyny of the “cock-rock” of the 1970’s led by The Rolling Stones, a band she loved and loathed in equal measures. She also examines the beginning of women’s music and women’s consciousness in music in equal measures, particularly in her writings about the beginnings of the punk rock movement, and what she believed were its inherently conservative views on women despite their outwardly provocative stance. This is a very important and recommended collection for both rock and roll fans and those interested in the development of music journalism, particularly from an alternate point of view that swims against the mainstream of orthodox criticism. Out of the Vinyl Deeps -

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