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 track critic comes this pioneering choice of essays by means of a conscientious author whose political realm is either radical and rational, and whose leading preoccupations are with rock ’n’ roll, sexuality, and specially, freedom. right here Ellen Willis usually captures the fun of track, the disdain of authoritarian tradition, and the rebellious spirit of the ’60s and ’70s.

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The music was rock and Nashville country, with a sprinkling of blues runs and English-ballad arpeggios. Thematically, the album was a unity. It explored the subworld pop was creating, an exotic milieu of velvet doors and scorpions, cool sex ("I saw you makin love with him,/ you forgot to close the garage door"), zany fashions ("it balances on your head just like a mattress balances on a bottle of wine,/ your brand-new leopard-skin pillbox hat"), strange potions ("it strangled up my mind,/now people just get uglier and I have no sense of time"), neurotic women ("she's like all the rest/ with her fog, her amphetamine, and her pearls").

His strength as a musician is his formidable eclecticism combined with a talent for choosing the right music to go with a given lyric. The result is a unity of sound and word that eludes most of his imitators. Dylan is effective only when exploiting this unity, which is why his free-verse album notes are interesting mainly as autobiography (or mythology) and why Tarantula is unlikely to be a masterpiece. When critics call Dylan a poet, they really mean a visionary. Because the poet is the paradigmatic seer, it is conventional to talk about the film poet, the jazz poet.

By Christmas the Stones were first in the pretensions sweepstakes—Their Satanic Majesties Request, with its 3-D cover, was 23 OUT OF THE VINYL DEEPS almost a parody of the whole art-rock phenomenon. How was Dylan going to top that? Everyone waited for a revolutionary masterpiece or an extravagant flop. What we got was John Wesley Harding in a plain gray jacket with a polaroid snapshot of Dylan and three Indians in the country. The first sound to greet the eager listener was the strumming of an acoustic guitar.

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