Beginning to See the Light
Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll
Publication Year: 2012
From the New Yorker’s inimitable first pop music critic comes this pioneering collection of essays by a conscientious writer whose political realm is both radical and rational, and whose prime preoccupations are with rock ’n’ roll, sexuality, and above all, freedom. Here Ellen Willis assuredly captures the thrill of music, the disdain of authoritarian culture, and the rebellious spirit of the ’60s and ’70s.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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...the pieces in this book, as well as freely shared their insights intopolitics, music, sex, love, friendship, my virtues and faults. Next,my ideas on sexual politics would have to include all present anddevelop my central ideas about the music and its social context.of Judaism and their spiritual insights, and relentlessly challenged...
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Uitil I started putting this collection together, I did not realizehow consistently I've been obsessed with the idea of freedom.subjects as rock-and-roll and feminism, radical politics and religionreflect my belief in the possibility of a genuinely democratic cul-ture—a community based on the voluntary cooperation of equals.If this book can be said to make one central assumption, it is that...
Introduction to the Second Edition
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Shortly before I started working on this introduction, I saw "Thelmaand Louise." I loved it, and vicarious revenge against the rapistsand sexist creeps of the world was only part of the reason. While theplot could not have been more contemporary—for months, date rapehad been in the headlines, temporarily elevated from the status of oneissue among many to the preeminent metaphor for public anxiety and...
I: OUT OF THE VINYL DEEPS
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Nearly two years ago, Bob Dylan had a motorcycle accident.Reports of his condition were vague, and he dropped outdead; he was badly disfigured; he \vas paralyzed; he was insane.the country's greatest troubadour, if he didn't explode. Alan LomaxDean filled the news vacuum. As months passed, reflex apprehensionturned to suspense, then irritation: had we been put on again? We...
You Can't Go Down Home Again
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It was a hot, bright Saturday afternoon, and some nine thousandsunburned fans roamed through Newport's Festival Field sam-the celebrities would go—the workshops provided informal contactever needed free records to write to him. The ticket-buying crowdhills behind the fairgrounds, like Hitchcock's birds, waiting forThen into this pastoral carnival crashed the sound of—electric...
The Who Sell
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Early in 1966,1 got hold of two 455 a tourist friend had broughtback from England—"Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" andthe Who. The records turned out to be driving, snarling, harder-than-Stones rock-and-roll, with tough, sophisticated lyrics. "Sub-stitute" was—though I didn't think in such terms then—the bestand its artificiality. Its hero remarks that he might look tall, but only...
Elvis in Las Vegas
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...tVegas is more like Hollywood than Hollywood, because themoney is changing hands right out front. Committed toveneer as an art form, over-thirty and relentlessly white in essence,if not always in packaging, Vegas is the antithesis of the culturalrevolution. Its hopelessly reactionary nature is best exemplifiedethnic comedians, but by the existence of—yes—prominent citi-...
Cultural Revolution Saved from Drowning
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JL Art Fair this much credit: they are pulling off a great publicimpression that the crisis in Bethel was a capricious natural dis-aster rather than a product of human incompetence, that the hugethan a million dollars in the process of being good guys who dideverything possible to transform an incipient fiasco into a groovy...
See America First: Easy Rider and Alice's Restaurant
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In 1969, the Year of the Pig, participants in what is known as(descriptively) youth culture or (smugly) hip culture or (in-completely) pop culture or (longingly) the cultural revolution aregoing through big changes. For choices have to be made now; theycan no longer be left to a dubious mafiana. After hearing Nixon'slectual gossip. Our lives may literally depend on how we resolve...
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Te hippie rock stars of the late sixties merged two versionsof that hardy American myth, the free individual. They werehavior. The combination was inherently unstable—Whitman's opencontradictions; in its aftermath, our pop heroes found themselvesto do with something very like an awareness of tragedy. It is inthis context that Janis Joplin developed as an artist, a celebrity,...
Hard to Swallow: Deep Throat
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It gets harder and harder to find someone who will say a goodword for pornography. Angry feminists, chagrined liberals,Henry Miller and Pauline Reage fans, all agree that this is not whatwanted to let the genie out of the bottle in the first place feel bothoutraged and vindicated. Die-hard (so to speak) porn liberationistslike Al Goldstein of Screw are embarrassments to what is left of...
It's Later Than You Think
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Don't look back (Idi Amin may be gaining on you), but theseventies are behind us. Sometime during 1976 they just fadedout. Historians will recall the seventies as nasty and brutish, butmercifully short. The eighties, contrary to a lot of people's gloomyexpectations, are going to be different. Not fun and games, by anymeans, but an active, energetic decade that we can really live in,...
Tom Wolfe's Failed Optimism
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M^ deepest impulses are optimistic, an attitude that seems tome as spiritually necessary and proper as it is intellectuallythat the supreme imperative was courage to face the awful truth,tisers, and mechanistic or manipulative revolutionaries. I learnedthat lesson well (though it came too late to wholly supplant certaincritical opposing influences, like comic books and rock-and-roll)....
Beginning to See the Light
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On November 7, I admitted I was turned on by the Sex Pistols.That morning I had gone from my shrink to my office andhad sent me a package of British punk singles and albums. He hadbeen urging me to listen to the stuff, and I had been resisting;Velvetesque ironic distance had a certain deja vu quality: Wasn'tRamones bored me; I felt they were not only distanced but distant,...
How's the Family?
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Christmas week: if Phyllis Schlafly and her cohorts couldobserve my friends right now, they might conclude that theexists at all; they travel light, have sharp elbows, and are deeplysiblings, haggle with ex-spouses over who gets the kids for whichholidays, have second thoughts about arriving in their mid-thirtiesAs usual, I'm feeling somewhat insulated from the seasonal angst;...
Jackie, We Hardly Knew You
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They say that Jackie's father, "Black Jack" Bouvier, was flam-boyant, sexy, and irresponsible, while her stepfather, HughAuchincloss, was kind, solid, and dull. Kitty Kelley's Jackie Oh!is the sort of book Black Jack might have grinned at; Hugh wouldpings of the Kelley book—the title, the garish cover, the Lylepackaging. The result is that while J.B.K.O. may be more faithful...
Classical and Baroque Sex in Everyday Life
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There are two kinds of sex, classical and baroque. Classical sexis romantic, profound, serious, emotional, moral, mysterious,spontaneous, abandoned, focused on a particular person, and ste-reotypically feminine. Baroque sex is pop, playful, funny, experi-sensation for sensation's sake, and stereotypically masculine. Theclassical mentality taken to an extreme is sentimental and finally...
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AChange of fantasy: I have just won the first annual KeithMoon Memorial Essay Contest. (This year's subject was "Isbasement. It is fully stocked: on entering the contest I was askedanthology culled from the Velvets' first three L.P.s. (My speciallyordered version of this collection is slightly different from theoriginal; for "Afterhours," a song I've never liked much, it substi-...
II: AMERICAN GIRLS WANT EVERYTHING
Learning from Chicago
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The Chicago protest was one of those rare political events thatis not merely attended, but lived. What was most remarkableof movement history as no other action has done since the historicbetween bouts of rage and fear, exhaustion and boredom, pessimismand euphoria, we slept little and badly. It was an experience frompublic relations. McCarthy and Lowenstein urged their supporters...
Herbert Marcuse, 1898–1979
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When I heard that Herbert Marcuse had died, I immediately-thought, "The same year as John Wayne." For peoplelike me Marcuse was something of a star, a presence, a symbol ofcertain values. I felt connected to him, though not in any simplea radicalism that would make sense of my experience as a middle-with—the relation of psychology to politics, the idea of a cultural...
Glossary for the Eighties
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As the seventies draw to a close, it is painfully obvious that militant critics of our society have fallen on hard times. Young, eager, and sexy only a decade ago, they have aged badly. By now the least perceptive of them have realized that radical is no longer chic; where once crowds of people hung on their every word, ...
The Family: Love It or Leave It
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...of the past six years—nearly all of my thirties—I have lived alone.This is neither an accident nor a deliberate choice, but the result,no idea I was making at the time. Conscious or not, these choicesradicalism of the sixties, especially radical feminism. The senseof possibility, of hope for great changes that pervaded those years...
Postscript: The Backlash According to Irving
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There is no more conspicuous evidence of postsixties confusionthan the enormous success, both critical and popular (overGarp. Though Garp has its virtues as a novel, I think it owes itsstatus as a phenomenon to its point of view: John Irving attemptsconservative defense of the family, and because he is such a goodstoryteller he almost pulls it off. The novel evokes the positive...
Toward a National Man Policy
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A; if the United States didn't have enough problems, it seemsthat we are suffering from a serious man shortage. At first,There was a lot of private grumbling, but no calls for action. Asrecently as last month, the optimists were urging, "Let's wait andin humid weather." But lately the atmosphere has begun to change.More and more I hear ominous talk of a "man crisis" and allegations...
The Trial of Arline Hunt
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I ewel's is one of a cluster of singles bars on Union Street nearI San Francisco's fashionable Pacific Heights district. The can-Incredible Friendships Begin." At the entrance a sign warns that"blue jeans, T-shirts, collarless jerseys, tank shirts, transvestites,etc." are "taboos." The doorman wears a suit. Inside, the middle-...
Abortion: Is a Woman a Person?
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If propaganda is as central to politics as I think, the opponentsof legal abortion have been winning a psychological victoryas important as their tangible gains. Two years ago, abortion wasalmost always discussed in feminist terms—as a political issue affect-ing the condition of women. Since then, the grounds of the debatehave shifted drastically; more and more, the right-to-life movement...
Abortion: Overruling the Neo-Fascists
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Jadge John F. Cooling's 328-page decision striking down theHyde Amendment is heartening in a way that transcends itsstrictly legal impact*: for the first time a federal judge has taken* Judge Dooling held that for Congress to exclude payment for "health-related" abortions from an otherwise comprehensive program of medical aidto the poor violated indigent women's Fifth Amendment rights to privacy,...
Feminism, Moralism, and Pornography
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For women, life is an ongoing good cop-bad cop routine. Thegood cops are marriage, motherhood, and that courtly oldliving or open a door. We'll even get you some romantic love. Butthe cops call for nastier reinforcements; the proliferation of lurid,violent porn (symbolic rape) is a form of backlash. But one can bea solid citizen and still be shocked (naively or hypocritically) by...
The Myth of the Powerful Jew
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Obviously, the fury of black people at Andy Young's depar-ture reflects a decade or more of increasing tensions betweenentire incident reflects deteriorating relations between Jews andnon-Jews generally. Any useful discussion of black-Jewish conflictso tend to have a white middle-class perspective on racial issues.The other is that blacks are part of the gentile majority and so...
My Podhoretz Problem—and His
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Mention Norman Podhoretz to a radical, or even a liberal, andchances are the response will be something like "Thatvehemence of the dismissal will belie its content. The left's reac-tion to Breaking Ranks: A Political Memoir has been no exception;radicals' skin in the way a William Buckley never can because heurban middle-class milieu, long on brains and (relatively) short...
III: NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM
Next Year in Jerusalem
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In the spring of 1975 my brother Michael, then twenty-four, wason his way home from his third trip through Asia when hebeen staying at, of all things, an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva—whenvited—they hang around there looking for unsuspecting touriststo proselytize. It's sort of a Jewish Jesus-freak type outfit—dedi-cated to bringing real Judaism to backsliding Jews. I haven't been...
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Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprintDWARF MUSIC: Excerpts from the following lyrics by Bob Dylan: "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat," copyright © 1966, Dwarf Music. "Stuck Inside of Mobilewith the Memphis Blues Again," copyright © 1966, Dwarf Music. "Just Likea Woman," copyright © 1966, Dwarf Music. "One of Us Must Know (Sooner...
About the Author
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...writer and thinker whose true loves were rock music, feminism, plea-sure, and freedom. She was the first pop music critic for The NewYorker and an editor and columnist at the Village Voice. She wrotefor numerous publications, including Rolling Stone, the New YorkTimes, The Nation, and Dissent. She was the founder of the Cultural...
Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2012