I’m reacquainting myself with Ellen Willis, the preeminent, vital rock critic and feminist who died in 2006. I’ve read a smattering of her work here and there, but for the first time I’m reading Out of the Vinyl Deeps, which collected her writings before last year’s The Essential Ellen Willis. She’s too often overlooked (and has been by me), and her work not only puts the music of the late 1960s into new contexts, it’s just brilliantly written. I’m not very familiar with her political writing, but the few short pieces and excerpts I’ve read are just as sharp as her writing about music. That the opening essay in Out of the Vinyl Deeps on Bob Dylan, published in Cheetah in 1967, was the first essay she ever penned–well, that is humbling.
She’s the kind of writer who can craft one sentence that explains everything, that goes deep enough you just stop reading and start thinking. Here’s one such sentence from the Dylan essay, again, written in 1967, post-crash, post “Like a Rolling Stone,” but just as John Wesley Harding came out:
“Many people hate Bob Dylan because they hate being fooled.”
True then, true now. Round and round you can go with that one.
This Tumblr page collects news items relevant to her writing and career, and is another ocean to swim.