Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Articles [NAJP]

Honoring--and Learning From--Ellen Willis

Ellen Willis was a pioneering rock critic and feminist intellectual as well as the founder of NYU's graduate program in cultural journalism. She died way too soon in November of 2006, not yet 65. We were close for most of the high '60s, from 1966 to 1969, and when I participated in a tribute program at the 2007 EMP Pop Conference I suggested that her music writing was ripe for collection. Out of the Vinyl Deeps, edited by her daughter, Nona Willis Aronowitz, does exactly what I'd hoped such a book would do: collects everything, which means mostly her 56 New Yorker columns, written from 1968 to 1975, but also liner notes and essays from after she'd quit that gig. I just finished reading the book yesterday and may well write more about it in the future--pub dates's in May, with discount pre-orders already available. Right now I'll say that for a completist omnibus it is remarkably consistent--three or four of the pieces seem dated or flat, but most bristle with Ellen's signature clarity and idea density. What I want to announce now is a conference at NYU on Saturday, April 30, devoted to Ellen's music criticism, a full day featuring a truly remarkable array of panelists and readers. It's so remarkable, in fact, that instead of offering a selection I'll name every one, in program order. Panelists: Stanley Aronowitz, Daphne Brooks, Michael Berube, Scott McLemee, Kathleen Hanna, Ann Powers, Joe Levy, Joan Morgan, Evie Nagy, Nona Willis Aronowitz, Ron Sheffield, Alex Ross, Irin Carmon. Readers: Robert Christgau (I'm on first, at 9:30, reading from her seminal Dylan essay), Karen Durbin, Donna Gaines, Richard Goldstein, Georgia Christgau. You can pre-register here.

4 Comments

By Jones on April 4, 2011 7:18 AM

A lot of print (so to speak) goes to talking-up conferences of this ilk (specific as in this case to Ellen Willis, or in a general sense to music and music criticism--the EMP Pop Conference for example), but I was wondering, does anybody with the same capacity for spreading the (written) word ever bring a camera?

By Jones on April 4, 2011 7:20 AM

Video camera, that is.

By Jones on April 5, 2011 2:51 AM

For whatever reason, my comment didn't post. Here's what it should've read:

A lot of print (so to speak) goes to talking up conferences of this ilk (specific as in this case to Ellen Willis, or in a general sense to music and music criticism--the EMP Pop Conference for example), but I was wondering, does anybody of the same capacity for spreading the (written) word ever bring a camera? Video camera, that is.

By Dean Jones on March 14, 2012 8:28 PM

I feel obligated to tell. Ellen Willis was a superb person. I love her criticism. Thank you for pointing to this collection of her work (very grateful).

Articles, April 4, 2014


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