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Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Twentieth Anniversary Edition Paperback – October 13, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


A coruscatingly original piece of work, vibrant with the energy of the bizarre happenings it maps out. (Terry Eagleton New York Times Book Review)

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 Village Voice Literary Supplement)

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 New York Times)

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 The Guardian 2009-06-27)

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 New Yorker online 2009-10-21)

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 East Bay Express 1998-01-01)

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. (Jerome McGann London Review of Books 1989-01-01)

Greil Marcus has developed an ability to discern an art movement, or an entire country, lurking inside a song. (New Yorker 2004-01-01)

Probably the most astute critic of American popular culture since Edmund Wilson. (D. D. Guttenplan London Review of Books 2007-01-01)

About the Author

Greil Marcus is the author of The Doors, Mystery Train, and other books.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; 2 edition (November 30, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674034805
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674034808
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Kakihara on January 3, 2010
Format: Paperback
I feel extremely positive over the fact that this book is considered important enough to have a twentieth anniversary edition rerelease! Since it's original publication, the internet has crawled into everyone's life & spread the Spectacle to a "Matrix"-like dominance, yet there is this book which MAY offer any who read it a mere highway sign towards the exit ramp! This is probably one of my all-time favorite books since (though it took several readings) it opened my eyes to a (secret) history of things that really must become common knowledge to anyone who considers themselves somewhat intelligent & well informed and/or leaning towards what used to be referred to as the "counter-culture" (now "alternative" or "hipster" or any other tag for those that gag on what spectacular society spoon feeds them with a shovel). Greil Marcus takes the Sex Pistols 1st 45 "Anarchy in the UK" as the starting point & hopscotches free-style across centuries of the hidden & forgotten &/or purposely ignored for what informed the raw scream of that first listen. And though it may seem a tough go on your first dig into its pages (especially in today's A.D.D. world), Lipstick Traces rewards around each corner, never knowing where it will lead next. Starting with the first UK Punks back to the Situationists who took equal inspiration from the Dadaists of the Cabaret Voltaire AND the heretics of Europe's middle ages, most notably the Movement of the Free Spirit - this is an often heavy read that never fails to F#@k with your preconceptions, leaving you sometimes with the realization that everything you already know is WRONG! Very few books I've read left me with a similar effect and after rereading it several times (there is so much here that a quick run through just doesn't do it - be forewarned!Read more ›
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Piscitello on May 11, 2010
Format: Paperback
I bought this book when it first came out more than twenty years ago now, and couldn't put it down. And still today I have similar reading fits whenever I pull it off my shelf. Similar to the previous reviewer, while reading Lipstick Traces, I was introduced to cultural and political figures and movements such as Guy Debord, Dada, Theodor Adorno and the Situationists for the first time. In Lipstick Traces, punk and the Sex Pistols provide a historical pivot around which Marcus weaves his narrative, an alternate narrative; alternate to the received history of the twentieth century we've all been given.

I've loved Marcus' writing since discovering his first book 'Mystery Train' in the stacks of my high school library in the mid-1970s. I subsequently stole that library copy and to this day have not returned it. Mystery Train remains for me the most important book ever written about rock-n-roll and the music's place in American culture. And that book's influence is immeasureable. Lipstick Traces is different in that its focus is international and less specifically American than Mystery Train's.

In Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus goes to great lengths connecting the Sex Pistols with cultural/political movements such as the Situationists. John Lydon in an interview following Lipstick Traces's release, called such connections "rubbish," leading me to wonder what Marcus would have to say about Lydon's comment. Which isn't meant in the least to dissaude you from reading Lipstick Traces: Like all of Marcus's writing, its full of ideas, rich in history, and deeply intriguing: All qualities missing from much of popular music at present. In any case, Lipstick Traces' subtitle alone should make you want to read it.
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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kindle Customer on July 20, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Without even commenting on the actual content, the style of this book is the complete opposite of our current oversimplified, dumbed down swill. The prose is dense and stream of consciousness styled, and necessarily complex. Greil Marcus drills down deeply, as far back as medieval times to synthesize an explanation of the Punk movement. He used documented but suppressed or forgotten historic events and movements to prove that Punk is not simply raw youthful rebellion, but part of a larger, self-validating philosophical paradigm. This coherency of this paradigm has evolved over the centuries, and it is never articulated in readily accessible form, but always lurking in the shadows. And it had repeatedly caused radical, worldwide change. Read this book if you dare, and if you can. Embrace complexity.
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Format: Paperback
Terrific, indescribable, indispensable contribution to cultural history. If you're at all interested in where "today" came from, check out this extraordinary book.
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