Thursday, January 20, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 15 (Greil Marcus)

Lipstick Traces
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Marcus, Greil
Lipstick Traces

I think I bought this at St. Mark's books. I am pretty sure it was in the winter of 1993.

I was teaching high school in the East Village at a small, all-boys Catholic school across the street from the Anthology Film Archives. I was helping direct the school musical, "Once on this Island," a fairly recent broadway hit. We rehearsed each day after school in the main cinema on the second floor of the film archives. We had some agreement with them that allowed us to use the space once a year for this event.

I remember I started reading this in the middle of the production. Someone had recommended it to me when we were in college, but I hadn't gotten around to reading it until then. It really opened up a lot of avenues of thought for me at the time. I had never read about Dada or Situationism or Lettrism or any other avant-garde art form, for that matter. I remember getting very excited about the ideas of Guy Debord and the Situationists and being utterly frustrated by the fact that I could find almost no books about the Situationists at the book store.

One of the problems with finding histories of movements like Situationism is that most of the people who become interested in them want to take part in a revolution of some kind, but few of them want to sit in a library doing research in order to write a comprehensive history of the movement. And when they do, they don't want their history to tell the story, they want it to be a call to action. All well and good, but sometimes I just want the facts. I wanted to read such a history, but could find none save a borderline incomprehensible memoir translated from the french and a book of theory written in england. Alas. I had a little better luck finding histories of Dada.

That was also the spring I went to Paris. I wandered around the city for a week looking for traces of the Situationists. For whatever reason, I hoped some of the graffiti, which would then have been 25 years old, would still be on the walls. It was not.

I found two postcards that referred to May '68 and the Situationists. One was a cartoon that had the entire French army amassed behind a wall made of paving stones. In the foreground, on the other side of the wall, a young man watered a flower. DeGaulle, whose head was larger than anything else in the cartoon, peeked over the wall and asked the young man, "Is this a demonstration?" The young man replied, "No sir. A revolution."

The other was a photograph that said something like, "Jouissez sans entravez." I am sure that is spelled wrong.

from Lipstick Traces

From inside a London tea room, two well- dressed women look with mild disdain at a figure in the rain outside. "It's that shabby old man with the tin whistle!" says one. A battered fe dora pulled down over his eyes, the man is trying to make himself heard: "I yam a antichrist!" "It is," reads the caption to this number of Ray Lowry's comic - strip chronicle of the adventures of has- been, would- be pop savior Monty Smith, "seventeen long years since Monty was spotted in the gutter outside Malcolm MacGregor's Sex 'n' Drugs shop . . ." Years long enough: but as I write, Johnny Rotten's first mo ments in "Anarchy in the U.K."—a rolling earthquake of a laugh, a buried shout, then hoary words somehow stripped of all claptrap and set down in the city streets—


remain as powerful as anything I know.


tyrone said...

one of my favorite books about rock 'n' roll though in general I find Marcus overly...what? precious?

Michael Kelleher, North Haven, CT said...

'Precious' is one word. I might add 'bloated' and 'self-important' to the list. Nonetheless, I loved this book when I read it. I found it unreadable a decade later, but so it goes.