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24 Facts: Malcolm McLaren

2010-04-09 12:49
Malcolm McLaren (photo: AP)

1. Malcolm Robert Andrew McLaren was born on 22 January 1946. He died on 8 April 2010 at the age of 64 from with a rare form of cancer, mesothelioma.

2. A British businessman, impresario, performer and self-publicist, he remains best known for being the former manager of pioneering punk band the Sex Pistols.

3. He was a dedicated follower of fashion: in 1971, McLaren and then girlfriend, designer Vivienne Westwood, opened a fashion store specialising in rubber and leather fetish gear, called Let It Rock on the famous Kings Road in London.

4. He was a Situationist; or at least conceptually influenced by the Situationist movement's protest methods in Paris in the late 60s. As a band manager McLaren borrowed their absurdist multimedia intervention strategies in his promotion of The Sex Pistols.

5. In 1975, McLaren designed flamboyant red leather costumes for glam proto-punk band the New York Dolls and used a Soviet-style hammer and sickle motif for their stage show as a provocative means of promoting them. It bombed and the band split up.

6. He followed the svengali school of management, popularised by Brian Epstein in The Beatles, moulding bands to his own stylistic vision. In 1975 he convinced a young band he was managing by the name of The Strand to fire guitarist and songwriter Wally Nightingale and hire one of his SEX shop assistants, bassist Glen Matlock to form a new band called The Sex Pistols with new snotty-nosed, potty-mouthed, flame-haired, lead singer John Lydon whom he instantly dubbed "Johnny Rotten".

9. He was a tabloid media savvy manager. When the Pistols released "God Save the Queen" the same week as Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee celebrations in May 1977 he got the band to perform illegally on a boat on the Thames outside the Houses of Parliament. Subsequent police raids and arrests ensured newspaper headlines. As journalist Jon Savage put it: "Without Malcolm McLaren there would not have been any British punk.

10. He had a huge ego. "It really was about swindling your way to the top of the record industry hype and sensational advertising" he later said explaining how he had scripted the Sex Pistols' career in the movie, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle. The film was panned for being a hype vehicle for McLaren's own fledgling career as a musician; he actually performs Max Bygraves’ "You Need Hands" in the movie! In 2000 the remaining members of the Pistols documented their side of the story in their own film, The Filth and the Fury.

11. He pissed the Pistols off. Johnny Rotten and other band members regularly accused him of mismanagement and withholding money. In the 80s Lydon took McLaren to court to win back the band's contract rights and receive unpaid royalties. The pair refused to speak to each other after the band split up.

12. He backed winners and losers, managing both New Romantic darlings Adam and the Ants and their short-lived off-shoot band, Bow Wow Wow.

13. The Red Hot Chili Peppers turned him down. After hearing the band way back in 1985, McLaren wanted to give the Peppers a stripped-down, punk rock makeover. Lead singer Anthony Kiedis rejected the offer. Kiedis recalled the event, saying "It was like the Wizard of Oz had spoken, and what he had said was too ludicrous to take seriously", as his proposition was very different to the band's musical style.

14. As a musician he was a genre surfer. 1983's Duck Rock cocktailed musical influences from South Africa, Latin America and the Caribean into a pop spin on American hip-hop. The Dean of Rock Music critics, Robert Christgau summed up the album's artful pop-hop blancmange best in his Consumer Guide review: "McLaren knows how to record African music for Western ears...Culture may be collective, but (in this culture) wealth ain't".

15. He was a Top 10 hit maker. Duck Rock singles "Buffalo Gals" and "Double Dutch" both peaked in the UK Top 10.

16. 1984's Fans and 1989's Waltz Darling were even more outrageous mash-ups. The former gave Puccini's Madam Butterfly an opera, R&B, country Cockney spoken word and electro fused makeover that critic Christgau so colourfully described as a "genre-f**k". On the latter he hired a hip cast of session men including Bootsy Collins (bass) and Jeff Beck (guitar) to help him blend funk, disco, vogue, house and Rai and classical string arrangements. Weirdly enough, "Waltz Darling" and "Something's Jumpin' in Your Shirt" scored Top 20 radio hits in Europe.

17. He penned a popular advertising jingle. In 1989, McLaren and composer Yanni re-arranged Howard Blake’s re-arrangement of French composer Léo Delibes’ “The Flower Duet” theme into the theme for British Airway’s "World's favourite Airline" global advertising campaign of the 1980s and 1990s.

18. He loved slap and tickle British humour. In 1992, he co-wrote the final credit tune to the "Carry On Columbus" feature film of the same name.

19. He wanted to be Serge Gainsbourg. In 1994, he recorded Gainsbourg’s classic erotic duet "Je T'Aime... Moi Non Plus" on his concept album Paris, which featured French sirens Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Hardy.

20. He lost his musical muse. After hooking up with rappers Rakim, KRS-One and De La Soul to reanimate tracks from Duck Rock on 1998’s Buffalo Gals Back 2 Skool he created a concept band called Jungk that flopped commercially.

21. Eminem helped him get his groove back – well, at least his reputation. In 2002 his hit "Without Me" sampled McLaren's song, "Buffalo Gals". Fast forward to 2007 and American R&B booty babe Amerie is smapling "World's Famous" on her hit "Some Like It", off her album Because I Love It

22. He owed director Quentin Tarantino a favour for including his song "About Her" in Kill Bill Vol.2. While McLaren based his song on The Zombies’ "She's Not There", he was accused of allegedly copying the work of a French musician in 2005. The charges were dropped. He himself was a failed filmmaker. During the 80s he tried unsuccessfully to make a film Fashion Beast, based on a script by comic book writer Alan Moore. He had to be content with directing and narrating a musical history of London's Oxford Street, The Ghosts of Oxford Street featuring music by The Happy Mondays, Tom Jones, Rebel MC, Kirsty MacColl, Sinéad O'Connor and more was made for Channel 4 in 1991.

23. He almost became a politician. After taking a break from music, McLaren dabbled with the idea of campaigning to be mayor of London in the early nu-millennium.

24. He bought into reality TV. In 2007 he started in UK reality show, The Baron…and came stone last. In January 2008, McLaren featured as one of the 'celebrity hijackers' in the UK TV series Big Brother: Celebrity Hijack, which was broadcast on E4. In his hijack, he encouraged the housemates to remove their clothes, daub themselves in paint and produce an artwork using only their bodies and a bicycle.

Sources: BBC ,, Wikipedia ,

The Great Rock 'n Roll Swindler is dead. Everything you need to know about the Sex Pistols spin doctor.
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