Malcolm McLaren, the ultimate punk, passes on





Speculation abounds about who will fill the last seat on the judge’s bench ever since Simon Cowell announced his retirement from American Idol earlier this year.

The press has anointed Howard Stern as the favorite replacement (I hope to God that is true), and I remember thinking at the time the news broke of another acid-tongued Brit who would inject a much needed punk flair to the stale and moldy reality show.

With the passing last week of Malcolm McLaren, the icon of the punk movement that swept Great Britain in the mid-seventies and launched the career of the Sex Pistols, my horse bowed out of the race. Even to the end, he was a potent critic of culture.

“The music business has gotten too damned corporate,” he said with a sneer during one of his last interviews in Manhattan on GakTV. “Kids are on the Internet doing things for themselves, just the way we used to do. It’s good for the culture.”

Could you imagine him dismissing the pop tarts onstage with a nasally “aw, piss off?” Like Cowell, he was responsible for cultivating talent when he saw an opportunity.

Apart from the Sex Pistols, he discovered and managed Bow Wow Wow and Adam Ant. Without him, MTV would have been boring television when it launched in the early eighties!

Of course, the Sex Pistols are the godfathers of punk rock that made a star of one of the most cantankerous Irishmen on the planet. John Lydon (otherwise known as Johnny Rotten) said in a statement, “For me Malc was always entertaining, and I hope you remember that. Above all else he was an entertainer and I will miss him, and so should you.”

He was much more than a music industry veteran. McLaren got his start as a fashion designer who opened up a clothing shop with girlfriend Vivienne Westwood called Let It Rock. As Charles M. Young wrote in his 1977 cover story for Rolling Stone magazine on the Sex Pistols, “(McLaren) was the first to understand the democratic implications of punk -- rather than pay 10 pounds for an ugly t-shirt with holes in it, he took a Pink Floyd t-shirt, scratched holes in the eyes and wrote I HATE over the logo.”

McLaren had an ear for music, but his real talent was his eye for style and how he bent sight and sound to create the punk ethos.

Later in his career, McLaren became a well-known musician in his own right. His 1983 hip-hop-flavored album Duck Rock produced the U.K. Top 10 singles “Buffalo Gals” and “Double Dutch.” A year later, McLaren also had a hit with “Madame Butterfly,” a song inspired the opera of the same name.

His music might be dismissed as being a dated novelty today, but the blending of turntable scratches and global rhythms on tracks like “Soweto” made McLaren’s music groundbreaking at the time.

Rest in peace, Malcom. Thanks for the music and madness that fuelled this teenager’s fantasies way back when.

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