Friday, April 9, 2010

Malcom McLaren R.I.P.

Macolm McLaren, who promoted both The New York Dolls and managed The Sex Pistols, passed on Thursday at the age of 64. The cause was cancer.

Malcolm McLaren was born on 22 January, 1946 in London. He attended art school, but never graduated. He became an admirer of Situationist International, the revolutionary political group of the Fifties and Sixties, and their tactics and slogans would later shape McLaren's approach to music promotion. In 1971 he opened the boutique Let It Rock with then girlfriend Vivienne Westwood. McLaren and Westwood also designed costumes for various theatrical productions. It was a designer that he met The New York Dolls. It was in 1975, when the groups was in decline, that The New York Dolls let McLaren assist them. He created extravagant stunts to promote the band, including dressing the group in red with a Soviet flag in the background. Unfortunately, McLaren's efforts to promote the band would ultimately backfire on the band.

Before McLaren's activities with The New York Dolls, he had met a young group called The Strand through the boutique, a group later renamed The Sex Pistols.  After having renamed Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die in 1972, McLaren and Westwood renamed the boutique SEX in 1975. Having been exposed to the developing punk scene in New York City while working with the New York Dolls, McLaren began taking a greater interest in The Strand. It was not much later that the band was renamed QT Jones and The Sex Pistols. McLaren then set about finding a lead vocalist for the group (their original lead singer, Wally Nightingale having been kicked out).  It was in late 1975 that Johnny Lydon joined the band as its lead vocalist, Lydon becoming famous under the name Johnny Rotten. Having gone through a number of names since QT Jones and The Sex Pistols, the band settled on the name "The Sex Pistols."

It was in 1976 that McLaren and Westwood began promoting The Sex Pistols with publicity tactics largely borrowed from the Situationists. It was in October 1976 that EMI signed The Sex Pistols to a two year contract. The first single, "Anarchy in the UK" was released that November. After various controversial incidents, EMI released The Sex Pistols from their contract. Not long after, bassist Glen Matlock left the band to be replaced by Sid Vicious. It was on 10 March, 1977 that The Sex Pistols were signed to A&M Records, only to have the record company to release them six days later. It was in May 1977 that the band was signed to Virgin Records. Their first single on Virgin, "God Save the Queen," proved to be a source of great controversy in the United Kingdom. Released to coincide with Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee, Malcolm McLaren chartered a boat on which The Sex Pistols would perform the song while sailing on the River Thames, a path which would take them past both Parliament and the Westminster Pier. The publicity stunt resulted in arrests for nearly everyone involved.

It was in January 1978 that The Sex Pistols toured the United States. McLaren deliberately booked redneck bars in hopes that incidents would occur. It was towards the end of the tumultuous American tour that The Sex Pistols broke up. McClaren would go onto manage Adam Ant, Bow Wow Wow (formed from former members of Adam and the Ants and lead singer Annabella Lwin), and Jimmy the Hoover. In 1983 he launched his own music career. His first album, Duck Rock, was influenced by African music and American rap music. In all, he would release fifteen albums, the last being in 2009.

It was in the Eighties that Malcolm McLaren tried to produce a movie entitled Fashion Beast, using a script by Alan Moore. The film was never made. McLaren would direct and write the television movie The Ghosts of Oxford Street, a musical history of Oxford Street in London. He was a producer on the documentary Fast Food Nation.

Malcolm McLaren's music was never my cup of tea and I cannot say that I have ever seen much of his fashion, but I do not think it can be denied that as a manager he got his bands attention. Certainly he turned The Sex Pistols into a sensation, one that was short lived primarily only due to the volatility of the group. Although lesser known, he would actually have more success with Adam Ant and Bow Wow Wow. At any rate, he does have to be given credit for one of the most outrageous publicity stunts in rock history. Having The Sex Pistols perform "God Save the Queen" aboard a boat in the Thames during Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee may have been in very poor taste (not to mention very unpatriotic), but it certainly did draw attention.

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