Ellen Willis' death last week prompted me to read through some of her old criticism. Particularly noggin-expanding is her no-snarks-barred New Yorker profile of David Bowie, to wit:
Part of the problem is Bowie's material. Hunky Dory, the first of his albums to get much critical attention, has become one of my favourite records, but his more recent stuff bores me.
This seems reasonable enough, until you remember that Willis was writing in 1972, so Bowie's "recent stuff" is actually, um, Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy is many things, but it's the rare critic who can stare that record in the face and call it BORING. Her greatest praise? "Some of the songs are OK." Yikes! Then again, Willis was not one to be intimidated by rock's pretensions to subversion:
What cultural revolutionaries do not seem to grasp is that, far from being a grass-roots art form that has been taken over by businessmen, rock itself comes from the commercial exploitation of blues. It is bourgeois at its core, a mass-produced commodity, dependent on advanced technology and therefore on the money controlled by those in power. Its rebelliousness does not imply specific political content; it can be—and has been—criminal, Fascistic, and coolly individualistic as well as revolutionary. Nor is the hip life style inherently radical. It can simply be a more pleasurable way of surviving within the system, which is what the Pop sensibility has always been about...The truth is that there can’t be a revolutionary culture until there is a revolution. In the meantime, we should at least insist that the capitalists who produce rock concerts charge reasonable prices for reasonable service.
Good to remember. Although hopefully, the shows in heaven are free.