Lipstick Traces (Harvard press
, 1989, 497 pages), "a secret history
of the twentieth century
", is a long and mind-blowing book of comparative history
by Greil Marcus
. The book focuses mostly on the recurrence of historical images across the movements of Dada
, the Situationist International
, and Punk
, with a number of tangetial discussions of Medieval heresies
along the way. The author conveys in whirlwind prose his subjects' hysterical need to save and ruin the world. The idea is that, their broadside
s out of print and their grafitti
cleaned up, these movement barely left a trace, and yet they influence everything we do. From the prologue:
This book is about a single, serpentine fact: late in 1976 a record called "Anarchy in the U.K." was issued in London, and this even launched a transformation of pop music all over the world. Made by a four-man rock 'n' roll band called the Sex Pistols, and written by singer Johnny Rotten, the song distilled, in crudely poetic form, a critique of modern society once set out by a group of Paris-based intellectuals. First organized in 1952 as the Lettrist International, and refounded in 1957 at a conference of European avant-garde artists as the Situationist International, the group gained its greatest notoriety during the French revolt of May 1968, when the promises of its critique were distilled into crudely poetic slogans and spray-painted across the walls of Paris, after which the critique was given up to history and the group disappeared. The group looked back to the surrealists of the 1920s, the dadaists who made their names during and just after the First World War, the young Karl Marx, Saint-Just, various medieval heretics, and the Knights of the Round Table.
A theatrical adaption of the book was created by the Rude Mechanics
, of Austin, Texas
, and ran in Soho
, New York City
, in the summer of 2001. In it Dr. Narrator
and Sex Pistols
creator Malcolm McLaren
lead the audience through a series of celebrated events: Johnny Rotten
's first audition for the Sex Pistols, a dada evening at the Cabaret Voltaire
and Michel Mourre
's 1950 siege on Notre-Dame
, for example.
You must go out and read this book, as it really cannot be explained. The following of transcription of the introduction to the site www.lipsticktraces.org might help...
You know how it is?
In 1534 the corruption of work is announced by one John of Lydon... "Work is a sin against perfect nature."
I'M NOT GOING TO EXPLAIN WHO THE SEX PISTOLS ARE. WE HAVE TO ASSUME THINGS RIGHT?
The sign on the map reads Zurich. Check your watch, it's 1916. Dada is being born.
Finally, in the safety of a jail cell, the press asked Michel Moure, "What do you wish?" To which Moure replied, "I do not wish."
Fodor's lists the ten best restaurants in Auschwitz. That's true.
Kosovo is the story of a battle that took place six, seven hundred years ago. You may take hands across the aisles.
Go on, you've got another five seconds. Say something outrageous.
A soundtrack to the book was released in 1993 on Rough Trade Records
. (It's currently out of print.) The tracklist should give you an idea of some of the terrain that the book covers: