Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century: A Secret History of the 20th Century
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Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century: A Secret History of the 20th Century

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  2,263 ratings  ·  132 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published January 19th 2006 by Faber & Faber (first published April 5th 1989)
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What I learned from this book is that Griel Marcus is a Sex Pistols fanboy, who placed way too much importance on this band and didn't even think to look beyond the illusion of Johnny Rotten and Co. to more authentic 'situationist' inspired moments of punk. The SI sections of this book are interesting, and as a history of the Sex Pistols this book is vaguely interesting, but really the book is a lot of over-hyped crap.
Mar 19, 2013 Geoff marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Geoff by: Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
I met Greil Marcus one weekday afternoon when I was supposed to be at work; I was leafing through sale books in the basement of Politics and Prose here in DC and he was at a table surrounded by copies of his newest book on Dylan getting ready to give a reading. I said "hi" and picked up a copy without asking and flipped through it and told him Love and Theft might be the best record of Dylan's career. Marcus didn't seem to be particularly interested in talking with me, so I put his book back dow...more
Gaelan D'costa
What a bastard! Greil Marcus sucked me in with 70s punk trivia and turned out to be an introductory text on Dadaism, Situationist International and the May '68 riots that shaped contemporary France.

But, if this book as anything to say, it shaped punk too. By bookending philosophy with punk histories it convinced me that listening to protest music was not enough; it uncovered a philosophy that demonstrates the true danger and disruptive joy that should have informed the instruments and ears of ev...more
As a scholarly work, this is some post-modern mush-brained twaddle.

Dude...John of Leyden...John Lydon!...Whoa! Take a rip from the history bong!

It seems to be a gateway drug to Situationism, May '68, etc. for a lot of folks, which is of value.
May 07, 2007 space rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: IDIOTS
Marcus not only gets most of it WRONG, he seems intent on politicizing the expressly apolitical (early p-rock). My opinion of this book has always been colored by the fact that this guy is a clown... a fucking PRO-SITU ROCK CRITIC, someone that Debord would've punched in the fucking face (I know this cause I corresponded with Guy- and he agreed this pot-boiler is laughable... as did Jamie Reid.) No one should take this thing seriously. Fuck it off and read the original texts. Don't let this POP-...more
Sep 17, 2007 John rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: art rock kids who feel the need to trump their art history/film major roommates pop culture ace
Shelves: music
this is a tedious book, almost a textbook. (i actually have seen it taught in universities.) at its best, lipstick is engaging in waves; at its worst it is mundane, bordering on inane, and repetitive in marcus' masturbatory doldrums. reading about subversive political turn-of-the-century art movements in france and central europe can be very interesting. there's a bit on dada if you're into that. of course marcus couldn't resist indulging himself - as is his m.o., i'm finding - with firsthand ac...more
Jared Colley
May 15, 2007 Jared Colley rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in avant-garde, dadaism, situationism, punk
This book is so many things: (1) a non-linear history of the avant-garde, (2) a broad critique of the everyday life of mid/late capitalist society, (3) an account of punk, anarchy, and the historical/cultural roots of such phenomena, (4) a work of art perhaps?

This book is not for everyone, however. It is, at times, a frustrating, incoherent read - an experiment in historical scholarship. Malcom McLaren himself states that Marcus' book "was a crazy, wild, at times almost inarticulate attempt to d...more
Nah... This is one of those books with little black-and-white reproductions of gestetnered Dadaist zines that stoned punks pored over in bedsits decades ago and thought they were into a genuine subculture... You know, like Chaos Magick and Apocalypse Culture? All this shit was mysterious back then but went out the window when the love-it-or-hate-it internet pipe got hooked up to everybody's house about a decade ago and now knowing about Situationism or Throbbing Gristle is as simple as hitting w...more
This thing turned into more of a slog than I was looking for. Thought it would be a fun history of punk music or something, and it's more of a slightly academic treatise on youth revolts (sort of). Slips into some Marxist theory talk - still nobody has sufficiently explained reification to me so that I can use it in a sentence - but still better than the dreaded "unpacking" of the structuralists.
My first clue it would be a little tougher was that it was from Harvard University Press - they're...more
Stewart Home

The emphasis Marcus places upon personalities ultimately nullifies any sense of individuality which his subjects might possess. The links drawn between free spirit heretics and members of the Lettriste, Situationist and PUNK movements, are forged without acknowledgement of the fact that the former lived in feudal communities while the latter were attempting to effect change within industrialised societies. Since the mental sets and social networks of individuals living unde...more
When I first read this I was so excited someone had managed to reasonably accumulate so much of this particular variety of comparative history. I recall being impressed by ideas moving through history, time and again there being such movements toward liberty of self expression.

I believe recent times reflect that pattern in an oddly popular manner. Its been assimilated somehow via capitalism or something commercial. Now it seems as though the people who in past times might have been subversive, c...more
Julie Fishkin
Feb 25, 2007 Julie Fishkin rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who listens to good music
Shelves: read-already
Brilliant. This imperative, Benjamin Buchloh endorsed, piece of cultural history examines, re-defines and formulates the entire history of punk movement from its inception centuries ago with various revolutionary anarchists all the way up to Malcolm McLaren and, yes, the sex pistols. He understands Guy Debords fundamental contributions to punk through the inception of the Situationists during the Paris May 68 revolts and covers everything an educated kid like you needs to know to call yourself p...more
This is one of those books that discovers you that the History is written in a background that just seldom appears in the books of History. Cultural Studies? This books is History of the Culture. from the avant-gardes to the punk, through the forever-forbitten-heretical Situtionism, here is what the a pretended prty-revolutionary-professor would never avoid to you. Highly recommended for those who mistrust of the Grand Narrative
Erin Tuzuner
Just another book about the resonating splendor and life altering nature of rebellious teenage music. Actually, there's a bit more to that. Marcus covers Dada, Surrealism, Lettrists and the Situationist Movement through the lens of early punk rock, proving that there was an intellectual basis to the seemingly obvious nihilistic overtones in the Sex Pistols music.
Andrew Price
I'm not sure there's any book that's taught / opened my eyes to more things. For that reason alone has to have 5 stars. That said its hard work at times and as for the "structure" of the debate/argument/hypothesis - well there isn't one. It's more a cyclic stream of consciousness and all the more wonderful for it.
Mark Desrosiers
Worthless free-association historical wank. Remarkably, it still seems to act like Palmolive on the lily-soft brains of monied neo-Dadaists and grad-school semioticians alike.
Tim Chaplin
At the time of writing the Country is getting ready to celebrate the impending Olympics and 60th Jubilee. Union Jacks are everywhere and everyone is getting ready for a public holiday. For some of us it will be an escape from the boredom and austerity measures of the current government. In 1977 another Jubilee was being celebrated and a song came out that encapsulated the feelings of all of those people who felt alienated from the patriotism and nostalgia for a Britain that no longer existed. Th...more
Seth Madej
Lipstick Traces is the first book since my required text at college which I didn't read so much as looked at each word briefly before it vaporized behind my eyes. It's an experience like following a trail of ashes; I could track it from beginning to end, but I couldn't distinguish any single section from another.

I could've given up on it, I guess, but something made me want to find out where Greil Marcus was going with all of this. Were all 447 pages really going to be about drawing a line to pu...more
A fabulous history of the cultural trends that became punk, tracing the underground cultures of 20th century Europe (and with a great soundtrack, if you can find it). Marcus has presented us with a significant contribution to cultural history at two levels - he has traced the 20th century history of a set of disruptive cultural movements from Dada through Surrealism, Lettrism, and Situationism to Punk. His grasp of the movements and of their political and philosophical foundations is monumental...more
Steve Rosenstein
First of all, is the history all that secret? Maybe to Americans who are completely ignorant of European art movements of the twentieth century, but dada, surrealism, and the Situationists aren't all that obscure to anyone with at least a passing interest in cultural history, and even if you have no idea what any of those words mean, this really isn't the book to educate yourself with. About 20% of the material here is fascinating, and the other 80% is Marcusbabble, the type of prose where you r...more
Mar 15, 2010 Betsy marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
***Greil Marcus is coming to Skylight Books in May to do a reading for his new book. Time finally to read all of Lipstick Traces?

Friday May 7, 2010
Start: 7:30 pm
End: 9:30 pm
When That Rough God Goes Riding: Listening to Van Morrison (PublicAffairs)

We're thrilled to announce that Greil Marcus, music and culture critic, Believer columnist, and author or editor of many Skylight staff and...more
I'm not sure why I picked up this book originally. It may have been due to a book review I scanned through. At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. One of the reasons I liked it was because I thought the thesis of the book was original. Greil Marcues attempts to critique western culture through the prism of pop music and art. To do this he goes back to some avante garde art movements in Europe that later influenced punk rock bands like The Sex Pistols and The Clash. The latter bands...more
The passage that seems to best describe this book is the following:

'As algebra, one could as easily say that punk came from two lines in "Take in Hard Time," a song Richard Thompson wrote in 1968 for Fairport Convention, a mostly quiet, reflective British folk-rock group: "Take the sun from my heart/Let me learn to despise." Whether or not a single punk ever heard these words is irrelevant, as irrelevant as whether a single punk ever read a word by the writers whose adventures make up most of th...more
Ted Burke
Marcus is obsessed with secret histories as manifested in the inchoate habits of a populations seeking to amuse and distract themselves, and his decades-worth of rants, ruminations and reiterations wherein he tried to wed his original concern with rock and roll as an inevitable counter cultural force that galvanized various energies that would, finally, transform the world in very Hegelian way with the larger aims of politics and social theory, we are met with decidedly mixed results; lots of in...more
Before I forget: turns out Hurlements en faveur de Sade is on YouTube. Of all things:

It is difficult to impossible to overstate how important this book is to me. When I first read it I was already passingly familiar with Debord, situationism, dada and, of course, British punk rock (North American punk is completely excised from this account) and I had an idea that they were somewhat related. I was looking for this book to explicate those ideas; instead I found...more
Derek Martin
Still reading it, but it's pretty interesting so far. I enjoy the writing style even though it does jump around a bit. The sentences are complete and coherent, but the narrative exhibits a cut-up type of technique, punctuated by headlines - it does remind me of the Aeolus chapter of Ulysses (but it is much easier reading than Joyce). It pays to re-read certain sections once you move a bit further on.

This book glorifies the music and its importance a bit too much at times - but linking the poses...more
There's nothing particularly wrong with the book, I don't think, but I gotta say that I'm really quite bored with writers'/researchers'/cultural critics' obsession with the Pistols. These are probably the same people that keep shouting "punk is dead" because, well, the Pistols were the beginning and the end (or so it would seem).

That, and how bands like X-Ray Spex, while not exactly bad, always seem better in writing--such as in Marcus' book--than when I actually listen to them. Of course, this...more
Steven Pilling
Well sometimes a book seems better in your head than in your hand.

i have wanted to read this since i was old enough to know it existed. I like Marcus articles that i have read but the book seems contrived and at times downright boring.

Marcus is so determined to find a BIG philosophy and throws everything at it which seems to demean his theory. Individual strands are interesting but he is so determined to link his subjects and find an unified theory of super everything that you want to scoff. Th...more
Although the links are sometimes tenuous and the scholarship in places looks a bit dubious this book is a fun read that attempts to show the indirect influence that the Situationists had on punk. Containing sometimes lengthy asides into Anabaptists, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, dada and other assorted heresies it may not be to everyone’s taste but is worth a look if you have an interest in a these matters.
This book is a sensory experience. Greil Marcus traces the history of 20th-century counterculture using text, images, marginalia, and (at least if you're a compulsive YouTuber like me) sound. His prose style is also attractive, beautiful and disjointed, making the whole thing feel less like a history book and more like a drug trip. The connections and arguments Marcus makes are kind of strained, but on the other hand clear logic would seem out of place here. And even if you don't appreciate Lips...more
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Greil Marcus is the author of Mystery Train (1975), Lipstick Traces (1989), The Shape of Things to Come (2006), When that Rough God Goes Riding and Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus (both 2010), and other books. With Werner Sollors he is the editor of A New Literary History of America (2009). In recent years he has taught at Berkeley, Princeton, Minnesota, NYU, and the New School in New York. He lives in...more
More about Greil Marcus...
Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads Ranters and Crowd Pleasers: Punk in Pop Music, 1977-1992 A New Literary History of America

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