Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Lipstick Traces thesis

I'm pretty skeptical of it. Before going on I should clarify that although I like a few bands I've picked up here and there I wouldn't by any stretch of the imagination be called a punk rocker. I like industrial and post-punk as well..... That said, the Lipstick Traces thesis is the idea outlined by music writer Greil Marcus that the punk rock aesthetic and ethos was heavily influenced by ideas from the Situationists, a radical theory group of folks who were stridently anti-consumerism. Touchstone of their philosophy was "Society of the Spectacle" by Guy Debord, with "The Revolution of Everyday Life" by Raul Vaneigem being the second biggest text. While their ideas are interesting in their own right and insightful the idea that the ethos was created by Malcolm MacLaren, who was a member of the London group, through the agency of the Sex Pistols who he managed is a little far fetched. One of the reasons I think that is that the story of how punk rock evolved is pretty much ironed out.

You can chart the rise of a sort of hard, garage band sound rock from The Stooges through to Alice Cooper, from there to the New York Dolls, to the Ramones, with a detour for David Bowie and another side trip into the Velvet Underground, that eventually turns into punk. The sort of hard ass fifties aesthetic in the U.S. blended with a kind of glam rock heavy sound, modified by garage band rock.....with KISS probably belonging to the proto-punk group as well, and the MC5 being in there too. Very U.S. centric, I know, but my guess is that the same kind of progression followed in the UK, starting from first British invasion bands that liked the roughness of the blues on through the Yard Birds, the Rolling Stones, Bowie, The Who and then onwards. Some sort of entry someplace named The Deviants as being an influence, but I can't find any of their music online.... I haven't heard any music by Marc Bolan and Gary Glitter, so I can't really speak to them either. But in general it looks like the UK followed the same sort of evolution as the U.S. Which makes the idea of Situ-inspired politics leading to a punk ethos kind of suspect.

More so is the idea that people couldn't have become anti-consumerist without the Situationists. The idea that the music industry basically creates stars and markets them while laughing all the way to the bank doesn't need radical theory to make it work. Neither does an impulse to kind of get back to basics by doing music yourself and getting back to basics without a lot of the kind of mass marketed pumped up flash of pop stardom..although you know "Rock the Casbah" wasn't exactly an unknown song....any ways...questioning all this stuff and then going towards do it yourself and a sort of anarchist ethics doesn't need radical inspiration to happen. My idea is that some of the stuff was in the air but that people involved found out about the situationists, and about radical politics, specifically anarchism, later when they tried to make sense of what they were doing and find people who had been doing similar things.

In a way the fact that a good number of punks aren't politicized, but have the general ethos of nihilistic anarchist tendencies and wanting to do things themselves, indicates that whatever influence the idea of Situationism or of straight up anarchism may have had they weren't decisive defining influences when stacked against the general style coming from the musical roots of punk rock.

At worst, the Situationism idea is used by elite people who would normally be the folks that would targeted by punk rockers to try to co-opt the idea into their own framework.

I maybe wrong on all this, though.

*on edit: I'm sure that left wing zeal crept in during this time too. If nothing else the idea that beer swilling arena rock was self defeating and stupid and that people should do something more relevant to actual reality would be enough to push people over the edge...

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