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Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century

3.96  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,719 Ratings  ·  145 Reviews
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.
Paperback, 508 pages
Published November 6th 2001 by Harvard University Press (first published April 5th 1989)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mar 19, 2013 Geoff marked it as to-read
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
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.
May 07, 2007 space rated it did not like it
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
Gaelan D'costa
Feb 01, 2009 Gaelan D'costa rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 29, 2008 Derek rated it liked it
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.
Sep 17, 2007 John rated it liked it
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
Stewart Home
Dec 26, 2011 Stewart Home rated it did not like it

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
Jared Colley
May 15, 2007 Jared Colley rated it really liked it
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
Mar 07, 2012 macartain rated it did not like it
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
Apr 27, 2014 Fred rated it really liked it
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
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
Julie Fishkin
Feb 25, 2007 Julie Fishkin rated it it was amazing
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
Tim Jones
Sep 11, 2014 Tim Jones rated it it was amazing
I haven't read this in a while, but it is, in my mind, the best work of pop culture criticism and theory ever written.
Sep 13, 2014 Ruth rated it really liked it
I was not persuaded of the connections between late medieval heresies, dada, the Frankfurt School, the lettrists, the situationists and punk. In fact, I didn't even feel that Marcus wanted to persuade me. This sentence cracked me up, hard, "Probably no definition of punk can be stretch far enough to enclose Theodore Adorno." Oh yeah, you think? Marcus is the kind of intellectual historian who likes to imagine the people whose ideas he thinks work together somehow knowing each other and in dialog ...more
Feb 26, 2013 Joaquín rated it it was amazing
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
Mustafa Al-Laylah
Jul 21, 2008 Mustafa Al-Laylah rated it really liked it
Shelves: music, ars, philosophia
Probably one of the best books I'ver ever read from Greil Marcus The only book by Marcus that I've ever been interested enough in to finish.

It links ideologically the Free Spirit movement of the European Middle Ages to the Parisian student uprisings of the late sixties to the evolution of UK punk in one surly, ill-mannered, shaggy-dog epic. Ne travaillez jamais!
Erin Tuzuner
Jul 29, 2011 Erin Tuzuner rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2011, music, queer
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
Oct 13, 2012 Andrew Price rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 09, 2009 matt rated it really liked it

Marcus is not only a great scholar but a great punk and a great punk scholar.

Now, to say this necessarily connects to a million other things, these arbitrary categories used for introduction and a bit of context...

Point being, this whole text rages along its own margins and succeeds marvelously.
Nov 13, 2007 Tosh rated it it was amazing
It's impossible to seperate the music from its era or what happened before hand. Marcus makes a conga line with the Situationists International and how that lead to Punk. It's a fascinating read with a lot of great visuals - and a good way to get an introduction to Guy Debord and Co.
Mark Desrosiers
Nov 18, 2007 Mark Desrosiers rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: overrated-drivel
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.
Matt Jones
Feb 08, 2016 Matt Jones rated it did not like it
The only trouble with Kindle books is that you can't set fire to them or hurl them out of windows. That's what I wanted to do with this book when I read in it that the Moors Murderers were making an 'art statement'.

It is an aggressively stupid book, a witless moronic tract of drivel. Not only do I have a big issue with the sentiments, it's also badly written and very poorly typeset in the Kindle edition.

Reading it, I was reminded most of Frank Zappa's quote: "Most rock journalism is people who c
Nov 13, 2008 Kat rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
I was really obsessed with this book from the ages of about 18-25.
Sep 09, 2014 Amy rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I do feel a bit like I was tricked. While this book features Johnny Rotten on the cover, it is really a history of Dada and the Situationists. There's nothing wrong with that, but I've already read Vaneigem's the Revolution of Everyday Life and plenty of excerpts from Guy Debord's works to feel like I have gotten my fill of that particular area of thought. The punk stuff is mostly contained in the prologue and epilogue. Marcus' main point seems to be that no one has any original ideas, and what ...more
Samantha Everts
Aug 22, 2013 Samantha Everts rated it it was amazing
Changed my life.
Jan 30, 2016 Brett rated it liked it
Shelves: music, history, philosophy
Hard to know what to say about this one. At times playful, insightful and fun to read. At times an impenetrable fog of pseudo-intellectualism.

At any rate, Lipstick Traces is something different than I thought when I picked it up. I had previously read Marcus' Mystery Train, and sort of enjoyed it but it was mostly about artists that I was not especially interested in. I thought that Lipstick Traces would be the same type of book, except this time about early punk rock.

While it is in part about
Sep 26, 2015 Danica rated it liked it
Could have been a lot shorter and just as interesting. Was a great review of a lot of the 20th century and did a good job of linking dada to the beginnings of the Situationist International. The connections Greil Marcus makes between Medieval heretic movements, dada, the SI and punk are hyperbolic and I think more poetically correlated than anything else. This book was the best when it presented biographical and geographical details. I took particular interest in the story of Isidore Isou and th ...more
Tim Chaplin
May 19, 2012 Tim Chaplin rated it really liked it
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
Jul 19, 2013 Seth Madej rated it liked it
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
Aug 16, 2011 Malcolm rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cultural-studies
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
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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
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