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 best preoccupations are with rock ’n’ roll, sexuality, and exceptionally, 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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Additional info for Beginning to See the Light: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll
Folk purists and political radicals, who were inspired by his earlier material, cry betrayal with a vehemence that acknowledges his gifts. Yet many of Dylan's fans—especially ex-fans—miss the point. Dylan is no apostle of the electronic age. Rather, he is a fifthcolumnist from the past, shaped by personal and political nonconformity, by blues and modern poetry. He has imposed his commitment to individual freedom (and its obverse, isolation) on the hip passivity of pop culture, his literacy on an illiterate music.
Rock-and-roll was further from the grass roots than traditional music, but closer than any other kind of pop. If folk fans did not recognize this, the average adult did, and condemned the music for its adolescent surliness and its sexuality, covert in the lyrics, overt in the beat and in the intense response to idols. But it remained for the British renaissance to prove that the mainstream of mass culture could produce folk music—that is, antiestablishment music. The Beatles, commercial without apology, delighted in the Americanized decadence of their environment.
Gates of Eden," like "Hard Rain," descended into a surreal netherworld, the menace this time a psychic bomb, the revolt of repressed instinct. As poetry these songs were overrated—Howl had said it all much better—and they were unmusical, near-chants declaimed to a monotonous guitar strum. Yet the perfunctory music made the bohemian commonplaces work—made them fresh. Perhaps it was the context: though few people realized it yet, the civil rights movement was losing its moral force; the Vietnam juggernaut was becoming the personal concern of every draftable man; a new generation of bohemians, more expansive and less cynical than the beats, was about to blossom.