Sad To See You Leaving 2010: Malcolm McLaren

by Jackie_South on December 27, 2010

Michael Foot helped introduce me to politics, but Malcolm McLaren had an equally important role in my youth.

McLaren had many flaws, not least his manipulative streak that often treated his collaborators as pawns in his projects: most disturbingly in getting a fourteen year-old Annabella Lwin to pose naked for a recreation of Le Dejeuner Sur L’herbe – a result of McLaren’s desire to shock going too far. His over fondness of self- promotion and control created a three decade rift with John Lydon. But his genius inventiveness and lifelong determination to both broaden people’s horizons and create some trouble were unique and deserved to be treasured.

His influence on my life wasn’t strictly chronological, as I was too young for the Sex Pistols. My first encounter with his genius was the transformation of Adam and The Ants for Kings of The Wild Frontier, in particular creating the image of the band as pirates but also introducing a Burundi Brothers-style African drumming to British pop.

Then it was Go Wild In The Country with Bow Wow Wow, a period where the controversy not only included the afore-mentioned photo, but even greater offence to the record industry by having the cassingle C30, C60, C90 promoting home taping and having its side B blank to facilitate this.

His solo work in 1983 brought both hip-hop and African guitar music to the UK in the form of Double Dutch, three years before Paul Simon’s Graceland was claimed to have brought Africa to us.

And then I discovered the Pistols, a raw energy and rebelliousness that pumped in time with my racing teenage hormones. They became my favourite band and I made new friends and dropped old ones on the basis of what they thought of them.

Whilst it would be wrong to give McLaren most of the creative credit (for example it was his assistant Bernie Rhodes, later manager of The Clash, who made the critical connection of putting John Lydon into the group), it is clear that the Sex Pistols would not have made it without McLaren and for this he should genuinely be acknowledged as the person who enabled British punk to happen. For this alone, he deserves our undying thanks.

In The Great Rock’N’Roll Swindle, his film about the Pistols, McLaren claimed his motto was “Cash From Chaos”. He achieved both in his life, but rarely linked: he earned plenty from composing the theme tune to the dreadful Carry On Columbus and rearranging the Aria that British Airways used in its adverts.

But the chaos was always more fun: take for example the clip below from the 2007 ITV show The Baron, where he competed with Mike Reid and Suzanne Shaw for the title of Baron of the Scottish village of Gardenstown, most of whose inhabitants belong to the puritanical Closed Brethren. Here he tells them that the cod have abandoned their village and he wants to follow the cod, “being bad is good because being good is very boring”, that they should recreate the Wickerman, they should all take drugs and ends by telling them that Jesus was a sausage.  A brave  performance that rivals Sacha Baron Cohen at his most daring.

Rebellious to the end, once McLaren learnt he was dying, he went off to be ‘treated’ at a Swiss clinic in his final days.  Touchingly, John Lydon broke his 31-year feud with McLaren to pay his last respects.  We echo Lydon’s words:

“Above all else he was an entertainer and I will miss him, and so should you.”

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