Saturday, August 13, 2011

Out of the Vinyl Deeps

Just finished this terrific collection of Ellen Willis's writings on rock and pop music, the sixties, feminism, and sexual politics. The famous essays-- on Dylan and Janis Joplin have aged well--
and throughout the book I was impressed by how far ahead of her time (or maybe just ahead of me) Willis was. Her analysis of both the performers and the times are things I certainly agree with now, but it took me years to come to this level of insight. While she was always smart and always a little wary, even while fully engaging with the moment. I especially appreciate her honesty-- when she writes, for example, that it took her a long time to come back to the African-American roots of R&B. I think that was true for most of us white kids, but we don't like to admit it-- even now.

What I especially appreciate as a writer and critic, though, is the way she talks about process. Frequently she mentions that she has had to feel her way into an album one track at a time. Or describes playing discs over and over until they reveal themselves as either subtly nuanced works of interest and energy or as truly uninspired. In that sense, this is truly criticism from another era and place. One that allows the luxury of time for reflection, far removed from the instant analysis imperative of the twitter feed.

These are short pieces-- so they're easy to read on the metro or in doctors' waiting rooms,
to dip into if you're on the go a lot. The website gives reviews as well as background

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