Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century / Edition 2

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Overview

Greil Marcus, author of Mystery Train, widely acclaimed as the best book ever written about America as seen through its music, began work on this new book out of a fascination with the Sex Pistols: that scandalous antimusical group, invented in London in 1975 and dead within two years, which sparked the emergence of the culture called punk. “I am an antichrist!” shouted singer Johnny Rotten—where in the world of pop music did that come from? Looking for an answer, with a high sense of the drama of the journey, Marcus takes us down the dark paths of counterhistory, a route of blasphemy, adventure, and surprise.
This is no mere search for cultural antecedents. Instead, what Marcus so brilliantly shows is that various kinds of angry, absolute demands—demands on society, art, and all the governing structures of everyday life—seem to be coded in phrases, images, and actions passed on invisibly, but inevitably, by people quite unaware of each other. Marcus lets us hear strange yet familiar voices: of such heretics as the Brethren of the Free Spirit in medieval Europe and the Ranters in seventeenth-century England; the dadaists in Zurich in 1916 and Berlin in 1918, wearing death masks, chanting glossolalia; one Michel Mourre, who in 1950 took over Easter Mass at Notre-Dame to proclaim the death of God; the Lettrist International and the Situationist International, small groups of Paris—based artists and writers surrounding Guy Debord, who produced blank-screen films, prophetic graffiti, and perhaps the most provocative social criticism of the 1950s and ’60s; the rioting students and workers of May ’68, scrawling cryptic slogans on city walls and bringing France to a halt; the Sex Pistols in London, recording the savage “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “God Save the Queen.”
Although the Sex Pistols shape the beginning and the end of the story, Lipstick Traces is not a book about music; it is about a common voice, discovered and transmitted in many forms. Working from scores of previously unexamined and untranslated essays, manifestos, and filmscripts, from old photographs, dada sound poetry, punk songs, collages, and classic texts from Marx to Henri Lefebvre, Marcus takes us deep behind the acknowledged events of our era, into a hidden tradition of moments that would seem imaginary except for the fact that they are real: a tradition of shared utopias, solitary refusals, impossible demands, and unexplained disappearances. Written with grace and force, humor and an insistent sense of tragedy and danger, Lipstick Traces tells a story as disruptive and compelling as the century itself.

This is a secret history of modern times, told by way of what conventional history tries to exclude. Lipstick Traces tells a story as disruptive and compelling as the century itself. "Hip, metaphorical and allusive..."--Gail Caldwell, Boston Sunday Globe. Full-color illustrations and halftones.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

A coruscatingly original piece of work, vibrant with the energy of the bizarre happenings it maps out.
— Terry Eagleton

Voice Literary Supplement

That Marcus can kick off and end his exhaustive, but always clear-headed, cross-epochal trek with the Sex Pistols—and make it all cohere—is but one indication of how fully he meshes the academy and the gutter.
— Katherine Dieckmann

New York Times

Lipstick Traces has the energy of its obsessions, and it snares you in the manner of those intense, questing and often stoned sessions of intellectual debate you may have experienced in your college years. It was destined, in other words, to achieve cult status.
— Ben Brantley

The Guardian

In 1989, Harvard University Press published Lipstick Traces, the second book by the American writer and critic Greil Marcus. It was a dazzling creation, mapping out an untold 'secret history' which connected the Sex Pistols, the Dadaists, the Parisian événements of 1968, that legendary subversive clique the Situationist International and an Anabaptist revolt in 16th-century Germany, led by a notorious libertine named John of Leyden. Among the book's most ardent fans, it sparked real epiphanies… It stands as a singularly idiosyncratic product of a genre-cum-tradition rooted in the business of writing about musicians and the whirl of ideas that once surrounded them… [Marcus] manages some of the finest music writing ever to make it on to the page… My 20-year-old copy of Lipstick Traces is the one book I would save from my proverbial burning house.
— John Harris

New Yorker online

For anybody who wants to go deeper into the ontology of an idea that animates a kind of music, or is illuminated by that music, read Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces, just reissued in an expanded edition for the book's twentieth anniversary. I often say that Traces is the best book ever written about music, even though it's not actually about music: it is about the life of an idea.
— Sasha Frere-Jones

Village Voice Literary Supplement

That Marcus can kick off and end his exhaustive, but always clear-headed, cross-epochal trek with the Sex Pistols—and make it all cohere—is but one indication of how fully he meshes the academy and the gutter.
— Katherine Dieckmann

East Bay Express

I first read Lipstick Traces as a penniless traveler, hiding in the bathroom of a late-night express train from Cologne to Berlin. My paranoia was considerably eased as I delved into the lives of various misfits and aesthetic revolutionaries throughout the twentieth century. As dawn broke and the train pulled into the station, I disembarked,
feeling not shell-shocked from the conductor's repeated passes to my stall, but decidedly refreshed.
— J. Scott Burgeson

London Review of Books

Probably the most astute critic of American popular culture since Edmund Wilson.
— D. D. Guttenplan

New Yorker
Greil Marcus has developed an ability to discern an art movement, or an entire country, lurking inside a song.
New York Times Book Review - Terry Eagleton
A coruscatingly original piece of work, vibrant with the energy of the bizarre happenings it maps out.
Village Voice Literary Supplement - Katherine Dieckmann
That Marcus can kick off and end his exhaustive, but always clear-headed, cross-epochal trek with the Sex Pistols—and make it all cohere—is but one indication of how fully he meshes the academy and the gutter.
New York Times - Ben Brantley
Lipstick Traces has the energy of its obsessions, and it snares you in the manner of those intense, questing and often stoned sessions of intellectual debate you may have experienced in your college years. It was destined, in other words, to achieve cult status.
The Guardian - John Harris
In 1989, Harvard University Press published Lipstick Traces, the second book by the American writer and critic Greil Marcus. It was a dazzling creation, mapping out an untold 'secret history' which connected the Sex Pistols, the Dadaists, the Parisian événements of 1968, that legendary subversive clique the Situationist International and an Anabaptist revolt in 16th-century Germany, led by a notorious libertine named John of Leyden. Among the book's most ardent fans, it sparked real epiphanies… It stands as a singularly idiosyncratic product of a genre-cum-tradition rooted in the business of writing about musicians and the whirl of ideas that once surrounded them… [Marcus] manages some of the finest music writing ever to make it on to the page… My 20-year-old copy of Lipstick Traces is the one book I would save from my proverbial burning house.
New Yorker online - Sasha Frere-Jones
For anybody who wants to go deeper into the ontology of an idea that animates a kind of music, or is illuminated by that music, read Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces, just reissued in an expanded edition for the book's twentieth anniversary. I often say that Traces is the best book ever written about music, even though it's not actually about music: it is about the life of an idea.
East Bay Express - J. Scott Burgeson
I first read Lipstick Traces as a penniless traveler, hiding in the bathroom of a late-night express train from Cologne to Berlin. My paranoia was considerably eased as I delved into the lives of various misfits and aesthetic revolutionaries throughout the twentieth century. As dawn broke and the train pulled into the station, I disembarked,
feeling not shell-shocked from the conductor's repeated passes to my stall, but decidedly refreshed.
London Review of Books - Jerome McGann
The 'secret' of Marcus's history is its poetry…widely separated persons and events call out to each other and 'connect' precisely because so many of ordinary history's causal and syntactic arrangements have been positively negated.
London Review of Books - D. D. Guttenplan
Probably the most astute critic of American popular culture since Edmund Wilson.
New York Times
Lipstick Traces has the energy of its obsessions, and it snares you in the manner of those intense, questing and often stoned sessions of intellectual debate you may have experienced in your college years. It was destined, in other words, to achieve cult status.
— Ben Brantley
The Guardian
In 1989, Harvard University Press published Lipstick Traces, the second book by the American writer and critic Greil Marcus. It was a dazzling creation, mapping out an untold "secret history" which connected the Sex Pistols, the Dadaists, the Parisian événements of 1968, that legendary subversive clique the Situationist International and an Anabaptist revolt in 16th-century Germany, led by a notorious libertine named John of Leyden. Among the book's most ardent fans, it sparked real epiphanies...It stands as a singularly idiosyncratic product of a genre-cum-tradition rooted in the business of writing about musicians and the whirl of ideas that once surrounded them...[Marcus] manages some of the finest music writing ever to make it on to the page...My 20-year-old copy of Lipstick Traces is the one book I would save from my proverbial burning house.
— John Harris
New York Times Book Review
A coruscatingly original piece of work, vibrant with the energy of the bizarre happenings it maps out.
— Terry Eagleton
Voice Literary Supplement
That Marcus can kick off and end his exhaustive, but always clear-headed, cross-epochal trek with the Sex Pistols—and make it all cohere—is but one indication of how fully he meshes the academy and the gutter.
— Katherine Dieckmann
New Yorker online
For anybody who wants to go deeper into the ontology of an idea that animates a kind of music, or is illuminated by that music, read Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces, just reissued in an expanded edition for the book's twentieth anniversary. I often say that Traces is the best book ever written about music, even though it's not actually about music: it is about the life of an idea.
— Sasha Frere-Jones
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Marcus ( Mystery Train ) believes that rock songs of groups like the Sex Pistols filter into mass consciousness and subtly influence everyday speech and thought. His underlying premise is that pop culture, like radical protest, is capable of altering history. He traces a common thread presumed to link the rebelliousness of punk rockers, medieval religious heretics, the Dada antics of Tristan Tzara and Hugo Ball, the films of the anarchist group Situationist International and the anti-bourgeois ravings and graffiti of the lettrist movement in post-war Paris. Marcus contrasts what he sees as the spurious pop revolt of Michael Jackson with Elvis Presley and the Beatles, ``who raised the possibility of living in a new way.'' This deliberately meandering tour of countercultural high and low roads is illustrated with rock posters and handbills, news clippings, photographs, protest art. In this version of history, Little Richard's glossolalia has direct ties to the pre-Christian Essenes. Rock critic Marcus is consistently entertaining even if he doesn't prove his thesis. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Acclaimed rock reviewer/author Marcus ( Mystery Train , LJ 4/1/75) offers up a fascinating thesis: that modern consciousness is to a great extent shaped by events or documents ``insignificant'' of themselves but collectively very important indeed, perhaps even definitive. While spending much of its time on the impact of the Sex Pistols, this is not purely a ``rock-music'' book--along the way one encounters various ranters, Dadaists, nihilists, whatever--even Theodore Dreiser. If it lacks the rigor demanded of academic historiography, Marcus's book is still great popular culture, and academic historians would do well to be interested. Meanwhile, the cross-referential treatment gives a seeming (at least) validity that sheer facts wouldn't to the idea of a ``secret history'' that permeates unobtrusively and yields more meaning than many would like to believe.-- Robert E. Brown, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
Booknews
Working from scores of previously unexamined and untranslated essays, manifestos, and film scripts, from old photographs, Dada sound poetry, punk songs, collages and classic texts from Marx to Henri Lefebrve, Marcus presents an absorbing thought-provoking "secret history" of modernity. This is cultural history at its best. Highly recommended. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Boston Globe
A book about the twilight zone of art and revolution...[that] displays an intellectual confidence, or nerve, that more than convinces the reader to follow its unmarked trails.
— Gail Caldwell
popmatters.com
[A] seminal work...The impact of Marcus' work is undeniable...Though his imagination may overreach, his sentences may befuddle, his aims may elude his means (but not often), Marcus as a critic, historian and essayist continues to be at the vanguard of his field precisely because of his ability to find the balance between these approaches, between mystery and proposition, between a yarn and an epic, between yearning and compromise--an equilibrium which gives voice to the present moment of our looking back.
— Robert Loss
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674034808
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2009
  • Edition description: Twentieth Anniversary Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 497,122
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue

Version One: The Last Sex Pistols Concert

Version Two: A Secret History Of A Time That Passed

Faces

Legends of Freedom

The Art of Yesterday's Crash

The Crash of Yesterday's Art

The Assault on Notre-Dame

The Attack on Charlie Chaplin

Lipstick Traces (on a Cigarette)

Epilogue

Works Cited

Sources and Credits

Acknowledgments

Index

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