Ellen Willis (1948-2006) was a rock critic I read as often as possible. As a young man looking for insightful reviews of new releases, her byline was one that I grew to trust. This was mostly in the '70s, in the pages of Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and various anthologies. The University of Minnesota Press reissued Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music last year. This year, they have reissued two more of her compilations, No More Nice Girls and Beginning to See the Light. Out of the Vinyl Deeps was focused squarely on music. Beginning To See The Light features music essays, plus some in a more sociological vein. No More Nice Girls is almost purely “issue” oriented.
Beginning to See the Light was originally published by Wideview Press in 1982. In 1992, it was reissued by Wesleyan University Press, with a new introduction, and new footnotes. I found it highly commendable that she decided to leave the articles intact, as originally published, using the footnotes to express how her views had changed on particular phrasings and topics over the years. The temptation must have incredibly strong to change things at times. For example, in a piece written in 1968 about Bob Dylan, she had made a statement that by 1992 she regarded as “absurd.”
The full title of the first entry is Beginning to See the Light: Sex Hope, and Rock-And-Roll. As indicated, there is a great deal of music addressed in the book. In fact, about half of it is devoted to reviews, and discussions of major artists. “Beginning to See the Light” is the title of a song from the third Velvet Underground album, and one of the most intriguing articles in the book is about that band. As I previously mentioned, one of the great things about reading Ellen’s pieces all these years later are her takes on contemporary entertainment.