Thursday, April 8, 2010

RIP - Malcolm McLaren

Malcolm McLaren, the impresario that helped bring the Sex Pistols to the world and the man who largely created the punk aesthetic, has died at the age of 64 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

He was born in 1946, and was raised mostly by a wealthy grandmother. By the 1960s, he was already an outsider and enfant terrible, having been expelled from one art school and so alienating another that the school attempted to have him committed. By 1971, the budding artist/fashion designer had given up on school, leaving London's Goldsmith's College after painting a series entitled "I Will Be So Bad."

The next year, he and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood took over a King's Road store in Chelsea called Let it Rock, and immediately began doing things very differently. The shop would stay shut until the evenings, when it would open for only a few hours at a time. They renamed the store Too Fast to live, Too Young to Die. It was in this iteration that the New York Dolls came to visit. McLaren was so taken with the seminal American glam rock band he followed them back to the States and became the band's manager. He introduced radical politics to their image, dressing them in red suits based on the Soviet flag. The band broke up soon after.

He returned to London and to Westwood, and they opened Sex, a fetish clothing store. He would meet four musicians, most of whom came from a group called The Swankers, and would organize them into a new group. McLaren was a follower of the French Situationists, who believed in staging absurdist or provocative incidents as a spur to social change. with this in mind, and with his fashion already heavily on the edge, he dressed the band in what would become the punk look and encouraged the band members to indulge in their nihilistic rage at the status quo. Thus, The Sex Pistols were born.

The Sex Pistols became the face of the punk movement, and their single album, Never Mind The Bollocks: Here's The Sex Pistols, reached #1 in 1977. Punk became an aesthetic and a social movement and a musical genre, all wrapped in one, and the Pistols were the face of that movement. Famously fractious and unstable, they would break up during their first American tour in 1978, when Johnny Rotten walked off stage during a show in San Francisco.

Following the dissolution of the Pistols, McLaren briefly managed Adam and the Ants before creating the band Bow Wow Wow. In 1983, he released his own album, Duck Rock, which contained two hit singles. He continued to release albums, but never again achieved the cultural impact he attained in the 1970s. He is survived by his son.

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