Rock 'n' Roll X-Mas

By Bill Holdship
Detroit Metro Times

Willis_Out coverThe great Ellen Willis, who was the New Yorker's first rock critic from 1968 through '75, died from cancer the same year as Nelson. But combining Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music ($22.95, University of Minnesota) with the Nelson book will help give a younger reader a glimpse into a time when criticism and journalism did matter and could even be considered a noble pursuit. Willis — who may be better remembered as a radical leftist and feminist during the latter part of her career — still resonates with words she wrote about music decades ago. Hers were some of the finest pieces ever on Lou Reed and the Velvets, as well as Janis Joplin and CCR, among many others. It's satisfying to read her treating Elvis in a fair manner during the late '60s and early '70s; or pointing out, in early '69, that "the Stones' sensibility has always been — at least in part — a revision of and a reaction to the Beatles'"; and arguing, "a bit prickly because I've had this argument before," with postpunk fools, who even then were mistaking history for nostalgia or sentimentality (or both), by suggesting such detail on the part of an artist is to "acknowledge the '60s instead of trying to pretend all that stuff never happened." Wise words; excellent reading.

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