Sara Marcus on Ellen Willis’s escape from the music ghetto (reviewing Out of the Vinyl Deeps in the Los Angeles Review of Books).
Willis understood rock to be not the solid monolith its name might suggest, but rather a permeable pavilion through which currents of cultural change flow, and within which agglomerations of human desires gather. As we see throughout Vinyl Deeps, she was concerned with what songs meant, and what bands’ particular existences in the world told us about the culture we desired and deserved. What is sometimes missing, ironically, is how the actual stuff produced by these bands — the songs themselves — encoded these values and trends and forces. I mean that Willis rarely wrote in depth about how things sounded. She listened less with her ears than with her brain and hips and feet, far more likely to tell us what a song’s lyrics seemed to be saying, or whether she enjoyed dancing to it, than to delve into what it was about a song’s construction that made it feel a certain way.