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Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century Paperback – September 1, 1990

ISBN-13: 978-0674535817 ISBN-10: 0674535812

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Paperback, September 1, 1990
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Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Twentieth Anniversary Edition
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (September 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674535812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674535817
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 7.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #499,096 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers 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.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From 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.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

55 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 10, 1999
Format: Paperback
LIPSTICK TRACES is a tremendous brain expander. We talk sometimes of "expanding one's consciousness," and of no book is that more appropriate than this one. Marcus is not merely brilliant in what he writes; he is brilliant in the artists and writers and works of art he points you towards. You will find yourself scurrying off to buy copies of THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE, bootleg CDs of the Sex Pistols, and hard-to-find copies of movies like 20 MILLION YEARS TO EARTH, and will find yourself enriched by the process.
But the main reason to get this book is that it is a lot of fun. Maybe I am weird, but I had none of the sense that some of the other readers had: that it is hard, that it bogs down, that it is a slow read. Maybe its all the Wittgenstein, Hegel, and Kierkegaard I read in grad school, but I found this book to be an absolute page turner. I give it my highest recommendation.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Howard on February 19, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Think non-linear. Think connective. This book isn't exactly art history or criticism, it isn't a manual on how to start an artistic revolution, it isn't sociological theory - but it touches on all these.
Marcus traces currents of thought and action in musical and artistic "movements" in an illuminating and inspiring way that swings from such 20th century horrors as Nazi death camps to Michael Jacksons' "Thriller", although he gets bogged down in the second half with the "lettristes" who really, from his description, don't sound exciting enough to spend so much time on. Okay, letter poetry, sounds stupid, what next?
The person this book would be perfect for is the edgy artist who needs some instigation (the person who recommended it to me), intellectual "punk rock" fan (I might qualify), or the anarchist with a taste for literature (who I am mailing my copy to).
If you are unfamiliar with the situationists, the sex pistols, the dadaists, European revolutions, etc. then this book is a good starting point. (I'd never heard of Guy Debord but the extensive quotes from "Society of the Spectacle" convinced me to rush out and read that, too.)
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By J. Dillingham on July 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
Ludicrously dismissed by punks and academics alike (revealing something that links them: a profound lack of imagination), Lipstick Traces is the most audacious and brilliant book ever written about popular music, one that barely mentions its purported subject (punk rock). In his absurd attack on Marcus, Richard Meltzer quotes some critic's dismissal of LT as a failed version of his (Meltzer's) own The Aesthetics of Rock; in truth, that book itself is more like a failed version of itself, in which brilliant ideas are let down by virtually unreadable prose. What Marcus does is easy to miss at first, but it becomes obvious over the course of the book: he's not just trying to show us the Guy Debord in Johnny Rotten, but the Johnny Rotten in Guy Debord. And so a book devoted almost entirely to obscure artists, barely given a footnote in any "real" history of art or rock or whatever (the Pistols and the Clash aside, none of the punk bands Marcus admires - the Buzzcocks, the Slits, X-Ray Spex, Essential Logic, the Adverts, even Public Image Ltd. - will ever get much time on VH1) becomes unbelievably exciting and visceral.

Marcus doesn't bother writing much about the Sex Pistols themselves, though his descriptions of their records are almost more amazing than the records themselves. The first half of the book is a rambling screed, taking in subjects as unlikely as Adorno and Michael Jackson's Victory Tour. Marcus doesn't dumb down anything he takes on, and he shuttles back and forth between seemingly unrelated topics so often that some readers may be frustrated. Persevere, and you'll find that Marcus's writing, imposing at first, is ultimately vibrant, witty and illuminating.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By DJ Joe Sixpack HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on August 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
Sigh. Okay, okay... I never actually finished reading this one... but I had a lot of fun trying! Pop culture critic Marcus weaves the history of the Sex Pistols -- and their disasterous final tour to America -- in with sideways social analyses and neo-surrealist "Situationism". A heady, stream-of-consciousness, Lester Bangs-ian nouveaux rock book that'll give you plenty to think about. You'll get dizzy being pointed in so many directions at once. A classic.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By R. J MOSS on November 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
I'm still wondering what it is about 'Lipstick Traces' that has so polarised Amazon's readers. I don't consider it a great bit of writing/journalism, and I agree, with the benefit of 20/20 rear vision, that the author who wrote this tract in the early 80s might well reconsider the emphasis he'd placed on Johnny Rotten as a perveyor of Dadaist angsty pranks.In the epilogue, he makes clear that the story was very much a personalised view,(stemming from his student days at Berkley in the early 60s) rather than a serious rewrite of history, which gives him some leeway about the provisionality of his own opinion. I enjoyed the stuff on Huelsenbeck, on Debord, on Hugo Ball. I liked the graphic layout and the photos of main suspects & reproductions of 50s & 60s Situationist texts. I feel a more judicious editorial hand might have produced a less repetitive text, though the side alleys were fantastic, nevertheless. Marcus has written tighter, tougher stuff than this & his breathy, blow by blow accounts of Dylan and his sources are wonderful.For more on art visi>rodmoss.com
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