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A Secret History of the Twentieth Century

by Greil Marcus

Pub Date: April 5th, 1989
ISBN: 0571277101
Publisher: Harvard Univ.

The title here, taken from the 1962 hit lyrics "Lipstick traces/On a cigarette," aptly sums up Marcus' (Village Voice columnist; Mystery Train, 1975) paradoxical project--which amounts to fashioning a text on the enduring aspects of the "hidden history" of modernism as revealed in that imprint of the ephemeral, pop music. Predicted on the thesis that any given "groove" is indicative of the pressing of its time upon the wax of collective sensibility--and that even one-chord wonders and bored teen-agers must say something, however incoherent, about both their parents and the society that produced them--this well-illustrated book is about ". . .the pop magic in which the connection of certain social facts with certain sounds creates irresistible symbols of the transformation of social reality." Starting with the Sex Pistols and the 70's malaise they symbolized, Marcus traces a recta-musical social history that's informed both by Marxist aesthetics and political economy. Rather like those French annaliste histories devoted to explicating the structures of everyday life obscured by their familiarity, this is an excavation--a kind of cultural archeology of buried evidence of obscured affinities and archetypes from the Paris Commune Revival of May 1968 back through the Situationist International of the 1950's, the surrealists of the 30's and 40's, dada (often thought of as proto-punk), Marx, various medieval heretics, and even the Knights of the Round Table. Marcus deftly orchestrates what might have been a cacophony of voices into a coherent context, thus acquitting himself honorably in his critical function of being the instrument, podium, and conductor "of a new conversation. . .to lead speakers and listeners unaware of each other's existence to talk to one another." Ratified but provocative, intriguing, and hip sociocultural analysis.