Synopses & 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 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.
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. New York Times Book Review
Greil Marcus's absorbing new study...dips in and out of the history of the Great Refusal, all the way from the medieval Lollards and Brethren of the Free Spirit to the Dadaists, the French Situationists, the Children of the May 1968 uprising in France and British punk rockers. Lipstick Traces, however, is no sedate academic record of libertarian revolt but a bold blending of anecdote, personal confession and cultural analysis, cutting backward and forward from Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols to the Surrealists, from Alexander Trocchi of the 1950's avant-garde group know as Lettrist International to George Grosz, from the Anabaptists in the 16th century to Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Danny the Red of the French student rebellion...[Marcus's] book is impressively adept at bringing alive some of the dramatic moments of the history it charts...A coruscatingly original piece of work, vibrant with the energy of the bizarre happenings it maps out. Terry Eagleton
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. Ben Brantley - New York Times
A cultural history of society's anarchic fringe. Gail Caldwell - Boston Globe
Lipstick Traces...is a highly subjective account of rebellious gestures that recur from decade to decade, often in remarkably similar incarnations. Marcus doesn't belabor the division between high and low--he just ignores it, fluidly shifting from (sometimes obscure) source to source. Dada leads to punk leads to Police Academy, and Elvis movies prompt analyses of the Left Bank. Natch! 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
[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. Katherine Dieckmann - Voice Literary Supplement
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.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 449-462) and index.
About the Author
Greil Marcus is the author of Lipstick Traces, The Dustbin of History (both from Harvard), and The Shape of Things to Come, The Old, Weird America, Mystery Train, and other books.
Table of Contents
Version One: The Last Sex Pistols Concert
Version Two: A Secret History Of A Time That Passed
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)
Sources and Credits