Lipstick Traces
A Secret History of the Twentieth Century

Greil Marcus

1989

This book is about the hidden history of negation and subversion. Marcus weaves together stories from several seemingly disparate cultural phenomena (rock and roll, punk, Dada, the Free Spirit, millenarians, the Lettrist International, the Situationists, etc.) as he explores the age-old impulse to clear the ground of cultural undergrowth, to destroy all that is false and dead, and to recognize that all the "givens" are arbitrary and therefore disposable.

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Today, so many years later, the shock of punk is that every good punk record can still sound like the greatest thing you've ever heard. "A Boring Life," "One Chord Wonders," X-ray Spex's "Oh Bondage Up Yours!," the Sex Pistols' singles, the Clash's "Complete Control"—the power in these bits of plastic, the tension between the desire that fuels them and the fatalism waiting to block each beat, the laughter and surprise in the voices, the confidence of the music, all these things are shocking now because, in its two or three minutes, each is absolute. You can't place one record above the other, not while you're listening; each one is the end of the world, the creation of the world, complete in itself. Every good punk record made in London in 1976 or 1977 can convince you that it's the greatest thing you've ever heard because it can convince you that you never have to hear anything else as long as you live—each record seems to say everything there is to say. For as long as the sound lasts, no other sound, not even a memory of any other music, can penetrate.

Lipstick Traces
Greil Marcus

What remains irreducible about this music is its desire to change the world. The desire is patent and simple, but it inscribes a story that is infinitely complex—as complex as the interplay of the everyday gestures that describe the way the world already works. The desire begins with the demand to live not as an object but as a subject of history—to live as if something actually depended on one's actions—and that demand opens onto a free street. Damning God and the state, work and leisure, home and family, sex and play, the audience and itself, the music briefly made it possible to experience all those things as if they were not natural facts but ideological constructs: things that had been made and therefore could be altered, or done away with altogether. It became possible to see those things as bad jokes, and for the music to come forth as a better joke. The music came forth as a no that became a yes, then a no again, then again a yes: nothing is true except our conviction that the world we are asked to accept is false. If nothing was true, everything was possible. In the pop milieu, an arena maintained by society at large both to generate symbols and to defuse them, in the only milieu where a nobody like Johnny Rotten had a chance to be heard, all rules fell away. In tones that pop music had never produced, demands were heard that pop music had never made.

Lipstick Traces
Greil Marcus

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