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Ariel Swartley

Ariel Swartley

As a ninth-grader in suburban Boston during the Folk boom, Ariel Swartley snuck out to coffee houses, bought her first blues album (by Lightnin' Hopkins) and taught herself guitar. At the University of Pennsylvania, she joined campus radio station WXPN and spent many evenings beside a reel to reel at Philadelphia's Second Fret recording Sonny Terry, Skip James and a young Joni Mitchell. She also earned a B.A. and M.A. in English and Medieval Studies and saw the Rolling Stones.

She began writing rock and roll criticism for the Boston Phoenix in 1976 — one of few women to do so at the time. She became a regular contributor to Rolling Stone and the Village Voice, covering the rise of Prince, Ferron, the Clash and Bruce Springsteen among others. Her essay on Springsteen in the Greil Marcus-edited collection, Stranded, has been used as a text to teach music writing at Juilliard. Her early interest in blues led to a New York Time Magazine cover story on Koko Taylor. Fascination with larger issues of pop culture (as well as the housebound nature of new-motherhood) led to an innovative culinary history column for the Phoenix.

Moving to New York in the mid 80s, she profiled Lou Reed for Mother Jones,  Little Cedric and the Hailey Singers, for the Village Voice, and was hired as music-books-food writer for 7 Days. She also continued as a pop music commentator for NPR's weekend edition. 

After relocating to Los Angeles in 1988, she covered music, books, gardens, food, art, actors, and people who fix things for L.A.Weekly, Los Angeles magazine, the Los Angeles Times and New York Times Sunday Arts and Leisure. Her essays appear in The Rolling Stone Book of Women and Rock, Respect: A Century of Women in Rock and Shake it Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop.

In 2012 she left journalism for photography and began exploring the intersection of image and narrative in a series of  #photograficnovels the most recent of which, Untrue Confessions, is on display at 2023's The Book As Art v. 11: Myth & Magic.

Ariel Swartley online

20 articles

List of articles in the library

By date | By artist | Most recently added

Joni Mitchell: Hejira (Asylum 7E-1087)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 10 February 1977

Mitchell: the siren and the symbolist ...cold steel and sweet fire ...

Kate & Anna McGarrigle: Kate and Anna McGarrigle: Dancer with Bruised Knees (Warner Bros. BS 3014)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 5 May 1977

North-woods soul sisters ...

Jennifer Warnes: For Jennifer Warnes, it's the right time

Interview by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 19 May 1977

BOSTON — For some long dark hours it looked as if the album Jennifer Warnes might die before it was released. Warnes and producer Jim ...

Jackson Browne: Running on Empty (Asylum)

Review by Ariel Swartley, The Village Voice, 16 January 1978

Jackson Browne Runs on Automatic ...

The Vibrators: Pure Mania (Columbia JC 35038)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 6 April 1978

Vibrators: artisans of punk rock ...

Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Mink DeVille: Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Mink DeVille, Nick Lowe: The Orpheum, Boston MA

Live Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 29 June 1978

Costello wins his game of risk ...

Willie Nelson: Stardust (Columbia JC 55505)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 29 June 1978

WHEN COUNTRY singers go back to their roots, the album's usually called Amazing Grace, but Willie Nelsons never been known for his orthodoxy. Instead of ...

Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band: Stranger in Town (Capitol SW-H698)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 27 July 1978

Bob Seger: still modest after all these years ...

The Emotions: Sunbeam (Columbia)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 19 October 1978

THE EMOTIONS don't just sing on Sunbeam — they bounce. They'll spring back from a note as soon as they land on it, giving it ...

Plastic Bertrand: Ça Plane Pour Moi (Sire)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 2 November 1978

LIKE A pair of French jeans, Ça Plane Pour Moi is nonchalant and right as hell: an elegant and thorough misunderstanding better suited to the ...

Boston, Sammy Hagar: Boston Garden, Boston

Live Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 25 January 1979

Boston comes home ...

J. Geils Band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes: J. Geils Band, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes: Boston Garden, Boston

Live Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 19 April 1979

The J. Geils Band puts on the ritz ...

Rickie Lee Jones: Rickie Lee Jones (Warner Bros.)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 17 May 1979

Rickie Lee Jones' rebop madonna ...

The Roches: The Roches (Warner Bros.)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 31 May 1979

The Roches: pretty and high and bright as the sky ...

Charles Mingus, Joni Mitchell: Joni Mitchell: Mingus (Asylum)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 6 September 1979

The babe in bopperland and the great jazz composer ...

Ian Dury and the Blockheads: Do It Yourself (Stiff/Epic)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 1 November 1979

IAN DURY'S new album — on which the sharp-tongued British satyr with the heart of you-know-what goes dancing with a vengeance — is something of ...

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Damn the Torpedoes (Backstreet/MCA)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 13 December 1979

DAMN THE Torpedoes is the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album we've all been waiting for — that is, if we were all Tom Petty ...

George Jones: My Very Special Guests (Epic)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 21 February 1980

ON MY Very Special Guests, a different celebrity sits in with George Jones on every song — and "sittin' in," contrary to what Nashville would ...

The Rolling Stones: Emotional Rescue (Rolling Stones)

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 21 August 1980

News from the pantheon — The Rolling Stones: what kind of a Rescue is this? ...

Steely Dan: Gaucho (MCA) ****½

Review by Ariel Swartley, Rolling Stone, 5 February 1981

Gaucho: the art of aesthetic tease ...

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