Book review: Out of the Vinyl Deeps

By Stephan Delbos
The Prague Post

Willis_Out coverIn a world where anyone with access to the Internet can deem themselves a music critic, it is fruitful to re-engage with a higher echelon of music writing, much of which has traditionally been propagated by writers who came of age when the preferred - and, for some, the only available - means of disseminating music was vinyl records.

The work of Ellen Willis (1941-2006) is the finest example of high-class Anglo-American music criticism from the 1960s and '70s, arguably the most inspiring decades in American music. With the publication of Out of the Vinyl Deeps, readers can reacquaint themselves with Willis' seminal writings on music and culture. Whether you read Willis' work the first time around, or if you've never heard of her but have an interest in music, you should buy this book. Simply put, it contains some of the best writing on American pop music ever published.

Many of Willis' pronouncements on music and on the society from which that music originated remain insightful today, which is a good sign for her writing and a bad sign for our culture and how little progress we've made since the breakthroughs of the 1960s. Writing about The Ramones, for example, she states, "The Ramones were stuck with that American dilemma, which is the situation is bad enough to piss us off, but not bad enough for us to do anything about it," a statement that rings even more true today in the light of the Occupy movement than it did, perhaps, in Willis' day.

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