It’s better to be a flamboyant failure than a benign success.
To be bad is good… to be good is simply boring
Rose Corre Isaacs, grandmother of Malcolm McLaren
He “invented” punk, scratching, vogueing and chip music, single-handedly. Or so it looked to many. ;)
He wanted to run as Mayor of London and -circa 1983- was indirectly responsible for the birth of seminal UK group Art of Noise.
He used African music, Puccini arias and Strauss waltzes selling them as if they were his own composition. Forgot to pay or at least credit some people in the process, but that was part of the game.
He ripped off countless people, including members of his own creature the Sex Pistols, and was a bastard.
Hearing Malcolm McLaren left us at 64, because of a bad form of cancer, wasn’t fun though.
He was a bastard, I said, but a fine bastard. Even John Lydon who probably didn’t have much simpathy for him in many moments was reported saying he will miss him.
McLaren was a legend: he managed Sex Pistols and is seen as almost the originator of punk.
In that process, he actually stole many elements from Richard Hell, which he had seen in US. Hairstyles, clothing, accessories and more were directly taken from Hell (pun intended) and thrown onto the UK scene. The “Sex” store he ran with (then partner) Vivianne Westwood started popularizing punk stuff. The Pistols exploded in UK and changed music history.
The Beatles were the first to have control of their own material and compositions.
The Pistols showed you didn’t even need the Beatles’ skills to make a fine mess. Liberation.
McLaren promoted the idea of a great “rock’n'roll swindle”. But ironically, the major the Pistols criticized in the legendary song “E.M.I.” later ended up owning Virgin, and thus the master itself of the parody song.
McLaren later started a solo career which had some brilliant peaks: the seminal 1983 album “Duck Rock”; the opera-inspired pastiche album “Fans”, including masterpieces like “Madam Butterfly”; “Waltz Darling”, which juxtaposed Jeff Beck and Bootsy Collins to Strauss waltzes and dances directly stolen from aspects of the US black gay scene. The French-inspired atmospheres of “Paris”, from 1994, featuring living icons like Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Hardy.
He even managed to get a track in one the Kill Bill movies and get into legal troubles in France over an alleged sample in it.
That was an old vice. Not paying Sex Pistols in full (and losing a lawsuit to them). Getting into trouble with Puccini’s heirs about “Fans”.
Personally, about a decade ago, after writing a review of “Duck Rock” for a site, I was contacted by a person claiming to be the offspring of some American musician whose folk music had been incorporated into bits of that album without ever being properly credited.
In the meantime, his output was being stolen by everyone else, himself becoming source of inspiration over at least a couple decades to too many to name all, from Tim Simenon (Bomb The Bass) in “Megablast” to Eminem to apparently unsuspectable people like Mariah Carey.
Then there were the last 7-10 years or so, in which McLaren sounded tired, almost unable to catch trends in advance as he usually did. By the time he spoke enthusiastically about “chip music”, made onto old 8-bit computers, the scene had already been around for years and had already generated live acts and commercial releases. Blasts from the past like the never completed “Fashion Beast” film project with Alan Moore (from the 1980s) resurfaced. Even a 1998 work, “Buffalo Gals – Back to Skool” which among others had none else than hip-hop superstar Rakim in it, was already another echo of past glories: he looked like he was living in the past without realizing.
Some of his most incredible adventures are chonicled in a 1991 book called The Wicked Ways of Malcolm McLaren. An illuminating take on many of the crazy things he was involved with.
He was a fascinating character. An old style band manager. A multi-talented (or talentless?) prankster and artist. A pirate. And a bastard. The Ultimate one.
They don’t make that kind anymore these days: Alan McGee sorta agrees on that.