The Latest

The lack of honest reporting on fun, mass experience seems lost in outdated discourse about authenticity. The question, “How can you enjoy Coachella when it’s something so fake?,” seems to guide the media’s coverage. But even Woodstock, the original festival experience, was a corporate one. As New Yorker critic Ellen Willis wrote in her 1969 coverage, it was spun by publicists as an utopian achievement of the youth counterculture to conceal the reality of its logistical breakdowns and lack of proper plumbing. Just like at Coachella, where reporters describe the crowd’s ADHD attitude toward performers as if it’s the decay of civilization, Willis noted that at Woodstock the music “was not the focal point of the festival but, rather, a pleasant background to the mass presence of the hip community.”

As commentator, Willis was unique in her ability to navigate the space between skeptic and participant: “[T]he most exhilarating intoxicants were the warmth and fellow-feeling that allowed us to abandon our chronic defenses against other people,” she wrote. That abandonment of distance and separation from physical fun that’s now a prerequisite of belonging to today’s prudish media subculture did not de-legitimize Willis’s report; it enhanced it.

Read Zak Stone on the lack of decent reporting about the pleasures of mass experience in a post-Ellen Willis world.
Apr 18, 2014 / 12 notes
It was the best, the worst, the most enlightening, the most bewildering of times. Feminism intensified my utopian sexual imagination, made me desperate to get what I really wanted, not “after the revolution” but now—even as it intensified my skepticism, chilling me with awareness of how deeply relations between the sexes were corrupted and, ultimately, calling into question the very nature of my images of desire. For my sexual fantasies were permeated with the iconography of masculine-feminine, seduction-surrender, were above all centered on the union of male and female genitals as the transcendent aim of sex (not, surely not, one form of joining among others). Why did I want “what I really wanted,” and did I really want it? And—oh, shit, forget about utopia— what were the chances of steering some sort of livable path between schizophrenia (or amnesia) and kill-joy self-consciousness in bed?
Book Forum reprinted one of my favorite EW pieces, “Coming Down Again,” reprinted in “The Essential Ellen Willis”! (via mamonee)
Apr 15, 2014 / 7 notes
Come celebrate the release of “The Essential Ellen Willis” on Friday, May 2nd at Galapagos! There will be free drinks, free love, and free Ellen Willis readings from some of your fave writers. (Oh, and non-free books courtesy of WORD Bookstores!)
RSVP here.
Apr 2, 2014 / 21 notes

Come celebrate the release of “The Essential Ellen Willis” on Friday, May 2nd at Galapagos! There will be free drinks, free love, and free Ellen Willis readings from some of your fave writers. (Oh, and non-free books courtesy of WORD Bookstores!)

RSVP here.

Mar 6, 2014 / 5 notes

I went to the salon and ended up looking EXACTLY like a blond version of my mom. #whoops #likemotherlikedaughter

Art by Bianca Stone
Mar 4, 2014 / 3 notes

Art by Bianca Stone

This tension between intellectual work and economic survival is thoroughly mundane and generally taken for granted by those who negotiate it every day; but to look at the history of the past thirty years or so is to be struck by the degree to which the social, cultural, and political trajectory of American life is bound up with this most ordinary of conflicts. During that time, the conditions of intellectual work have radically changed, as a culture operating on the assumption of continuing—indeed increasing—abundance has given way to a culture of austerity.
From the first paragraph of “Intellectual Work in the Culture of Austerity,” a little-read but highly relevant Ellen Willis essay from 1999. I immediately thought of this piece when I heard about the new book “MFA vs. NYC,” a new essay collection about the different ways writers make and will make money.
Mar 3, 2014 / 16 notes

The organized left, which should have known better, acted as if the way to change American society was for each person individually to renounce the family, material comfort, and social respectability. That most people were doing no such thing was glibly attributed to sexual repression, greed, and/or “brainwashing” by the mass media—the implication being that radicals and bohemians were sexier, smarter, less corrupt, and generally more terrific than everyone else.

Actually, what they mostly were was younger and more privileged; it was easy to be a self-righteous antimaterialist if you had never known anxiety about money; easy to sneer at the security of marriage if you had solicitous middle-class parents; easy, if you were twenty years old and childless, to blame those parents for the ills of the world. Not that radicals were wrong in believing that a sexually free, communal society was incompatible with capitalism, or in perceiving connections between sexual repression, obsessive concern with material goods, and social conformity. But they did not understand that, psychology aside, most people submit to the power of institutions because they suffer unpleasant consequences if they don’t.

a bit of Willis realtalk on the sixties hippies, from “The Family: Love It or Leave It,” Village Voice, 1979.
Jan 27, 2014 / 183 notes
Jan 21, 2014 / 16,591 notes
In reducing rock-and-roll to its harshest essentials, the new wave took Lou Reed’s aesthete-punk conceit to a place he never intended. For the Velvets the aesthete-punk stance was a way of surviving in a world that was out to kill you; the point was not to glorify the punk, or even to say fuck you to the world, but to be honest about the strategies people adopt in a desperate situation. The Velvets were not nihilists but moralists. In their universe nihilism regularly appears as a vivid but unholy temptation, love and its attendant vulnerability as scary and poignant imperatives. Though Lou Reed rejected optimism, he was enough of his time to crave transcendence. And finally—as “Rock & Roll” makes explicit—the Velvets’ use of a mass art form was a metaphor for transcendence, for connection, for resistance to solipsism and despair.
These sentences, from Ellen Willis’ essay “The Velvet Underground,” are exactly how I want to remember Lou Reed. The piece originally appeared in Greil Marcus’ ‘Stranded’ collection, but is reprinted in ‘Out of the Vinyl Deeps,’ the anthology of Willis’ music criticism edited by Nona Willis Aronowitz. (via judyxberman)
Oct 27, 2013 / 182 notes

It was Reed who defined the band’s sensibility, embodied its contradictions. He was a romantic alienated bohemian and an antiromantic pop ironist, a middle-class Jewish kid from Brooklyn who came on like a streetwise punk in tight jeans and shades, a classical piano student turned rock and roller, Bob Dylan-cum-Nelson Algren-cum-Jean Genet. He talked his songs in an expressive semi-mumble that made you think of James Dean without the naiveté.

Not that Lou did not display his own kind of innocence. His songs hinted, when you least expected it, that underneath the meanness and paranoia, the affectless brutality that smothered pain, there was after all the possibility of love.

Ellen Willis

RIP, Lou.

Oct 27, 2013 / 32 notes