Friday, 9 April 2010

Malcolm McLaren 1946-2010

I only met him once – about 13-14 years ago, at London’s Café de Paris, aptly enough, it being some event in honour of his son Joe – so I won’t pretend any deeper understanding; but old McLaren certainly helped to liven up my youth. His best testaments, I reckon, are Julien Temple’s The Great Rock and Roll Swindle (1980), in which he was very funny (‘Helen, never trust a hippie…’), so revealing his own distinctive performative streak; and Duck Rock, the fabulous record he made with Trevor Horn in 1982-83. Horn told some very bemusedly funny tales around that time, about sitting in one of New York’s priciest studios watching McLaren hopping about, them both listening to hours of African drumming, dollars draining away with every second… He’d already heard Malcolm’s efforts at ‘singing’, so even a genius of Horn’s stature must have wondered if this record was going to work... Well, it did, it was a beaut – witness 'Soweto' – and not thanks to McLaren’s musical 'talents', but his gift for bringing good things together and joining them up, which used to be called 'sampling' and which we all now do with our computers and what have you.
On last night’s Newsnight Jeremy Paxman, who’s paid to scoff at everybody and possibly scoffs at his own kids, scoffed through an obituary in which the most patently ludicrous detail seemed to be McLaren’s championing of something called ‘hip-hop’. Well, one glance at the video for 'Buffalo Gals' and it all comes back - just how clever McLaren was in that department. He was, in the spirit of the age, an impresario and packager of ‘the street’ and what we learned to call its ‘subcultures.’ When he was knocking around Hollywood in the mid-80s, dating Lauren Hutton and trying to produce movies, his major project was said to be called 'Surf Nazis Must Die.' Good grief, I thought then. Having since learned a lot more about the hardcore Malibu surfing scene, from Sean Penn and others, I think McLaren’s instincts were as bang-on as ever. But he wasn’t cut out for America. He was very English, and somewhat European. And like a lot of ostensibly shocking and edgy artistic types, he wound up looking and sounding a bit stuffy and high-flown at times, but they do do that, don’t they? ‘Sex Pistols’ - that’s what he chose to call that mob of surly, spotty delinquents, and such blatant cheek should always be cherished.

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