Beginning to See the Light: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll by Ellen Willis

By Ellen Willis

From the New Yorker’s inimitable first pop song critic comes this pioneering choice of essays by way of a conscientious author whose political realm is either radical and rational, and whose leading preoccupations are with rock ’n’ roll, sexuality, and primarily, freedom. the following Ellen Willis veritably captures the fun of track, the disdain of authoritarian tradition, and the rebellious spirit of the ’60s and ’70s.

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Example text

By November 1966, folk-rock had received the final imprimatur—Pete Seeger recorded an album backed by three members of the Blues Project. Folk-rock was never a form, but a simpleminded inspiration responsible for all sorts of hybrids. At first it was mostly rock versions of Dylan folk songs, social protest rock, and generational trauma rock, a weekend-hippie version of the classic formula, children against parents. Then, self-styled musical poets Simon and Garfunkel began imitating Dylan's apocalyptic songs ("The words of the prophets are written on a subway wall"), starting a trend to elaborate and, too often, sophomoric lyrics.

He was still learning from Woody Guthrie, but he often substituted despair for Guthrie's resilience: his finest ballads chronicled the disintegration of an unemployed miner's family; the killing of a Negro maid, punished by a six-month sentence; the extremity of a penniless farmer who shot himself, his wife, and five kids. " It was Dylan's year. Stimulated by the wide acceptance of his work, inspired by his ideas and images, topical songwriters became more and more prolific. Dylan songs were recorded by dozens of 10 Dylan folk singers, notably Joan Baez (at whom he had once sneered, "She's still singing about Mary Hamilton.

Now, Dylan's defection threatened the last aesthetically respectable haven for believers in proletarian art. Dylan had written personal songs before, but they were songs that accepted folk conventions. Narrative in impulse, nostalgic but restless in mood, their central image the road and its imperative, they complemented his protest songs: here was an outlaw, unable 11 OUT OF THE VINYL DEEPS to settle for one place, one girl, a merely private life, committed to that symbolic onward journey. His new songs were more psychological, limning characters and relationships.

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