From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Malcolm McLaren was not, by any measurable standard, a good man. He left a trail of wreckage everywhere he went, birth until death, channeling his sense of dysfunction into one of the most potent subcultures in modern history. The godfather of punk didn’t just embrace chaos – he made it fashionable." --Renegades of Fashion () by Charlie O'Brien
His father left when he was two, so he was raised by his grandmother, Rose Corre Isaacs, in Stoke Newington, London. She was a charismatic, formerly wealthy daughter of Portuguese Sephardic Jews who were former diamond dealers. When Malcolm was six, Emmy Isaac married Martin Levi, a man working in London's rag trade. McLaren’s stepfather and his mother owned a shmatte factory in London’s East End, 'Eve Edwards London Limited', and Malcolm lived in a fine suburban house. Unfortunately, Malcolm and his stepfather never got along, and by the time he hit his teens, Malcolm couldn’t wait to leave home. After a series of jobs (including one as a wine taster), he went on to attend several Art Colleges through the 1960s, being expelled from several before leaving school entirely in 1971. It was during this time that he began to design clothing, a talent he would later utilise when he became a boutique owner.
He had been attracted to the Situationist International movement, which promoted absurdist and provocative actions as a way of enacting social change. In 1968 McLaren had tried unsuccessfully to travel to Paris to take part in the demonstrations there. McLaren would later adopt Situationist ideas into his promotion for the various pop and rock groups he was soon to become involved with.
The New York Dolls and SEX
In 1971 McLaren and his partner, the designer Vivienne Westwood, opened a London clothing shop called Let It Rock on the Kings Road. The shop sold Teddy Boy clothes and McLaren and Westwood also designed clothing for theatrical and cinematic productions such as That'll Be The Day and Mahler. Let It Rock proved a success but McLaren grew to become disillusioned with the style of shop due to problems with the Teddy Boys who were the shop's main customers.
McLaren travelled to New York City for a boutique fair in 1974 and it was there that he first saw the New York Dolls. He convinced the band that he could do a better job of managing and promoting them. McLaren designed red leather costumes for the group and utilized a Soviet style hammer and sickle motif for their stage show as a provocative feature in promoting them. This ploy was not successful and the Dolls soon broke up. However, it was while he was managing the Dolls that he first saw the Neon Boys perform. The Neon Boys included Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell, who were later to form Television. In May 1975 McLaren returned to Britain after the Dolls' breakup and took what he had seen and experienced in New York with him.
McLaren had been greatly impressed with Hell's torn clothing, studded dog collars and leather jackets, and with Hell's dissolute attitude. According to Hell, McLaren approached him and Verlaine about being their manager, but they were not interested.
McLaren decided to change Let It Rock from a shop which sold Rockabilly/Teddy Boy style clothes to one which sold bondage and fetish clothing, including clothing designed by Westwood using the new 'punk' look McLaren had seen in New York. Let It Rock was renamed SEX and began to attract many of London's disenfranchised youth who were attracted by the rebellious nature of the shop.
The Sex Pistols
By 1975 McLaren had started to manage The Strand, the band who would later become the Sex Pistols. During this year the band changed direction and McLaren saw his chance to bring the 'punk' scene he saw in America to London.
After finding a new lead singer in Johnny Rotten after an audition in SEX, the band was renamed The Sex Pistols (McLaren stating he wanted them to sound like "sexy young assassins") and the line-up consisted of Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook and SEX employee Glen Matlock. The band played a few small gigs before eventually becoming sought after by record companies and were eventually signed (with a large advance) by EMI in 1976.
However after a notorious appearance on Bill Grundy's Today programme in December 1976 the band made themselves nationally known across the UK. The Pistols had been booked to be a last minute replacement on the Grundy show, and their appearance ended in a shower of obscenities which gave them (and Punk) a reputation for causing trouble. The band were fired by EMI in January 1977 and were signed to A&M Records for another large advance on 10 March, 1977. After signing the contract outside Buckingham Palace the band returned to A&M's offices for a party which ended in the band causing chaos. The Sex Pistols were sacked from A&M on 16 March, 1977.
After this the band signed their last deal with Virgin Records in May 1977. Through Virgin the band released God Save the Queen during the week of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee. At the time the UK was still respectful of the Royal Family and releasing what was seen as an attack of the Queen was seen as an attack upon the establishment. McLaren organised a boat trip down the Thames where the Sex Pistols would perform their music outside Houses of Parliament. This ended up with the boat being raided by the police. McLaren himself was arrested and the event saw more national publicity for McLaren and the band.
The band released their album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols in October 1977 and played their last UK gig before embarking upon an American tour in January 1978. This tour saw the band split up after a series of arguments within the band. During his time managing the band McLaren was accused by band members (most notably by John Lydon) of mismanaging them and refusing to pay them when asked for money. However McLaren has stated that he had planned out the entire path of the Sex Pistols and in the film, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle he set this plan out. The film was criticised for being too skewed towards McLaren and for being a launchpad for McLaren's future career in music as a performer (he performs the Max Bygraves song You Need Hands in the film) as well as a manager.
McLaren kept the rights for the Sex Pistols until Lydon took him to court in the 1980s to win the rights from McLaren. Lydon won and gained complete control from McLaren in 1987. McLaren and Lydon have refused to speak to each other since the band split and in the 2000 film, The Filth and the Fury, the surviving members of the Sex Pistols put their version of events on film.
Post Pistols management
After the Pistols breakup McLaren managed Adam & the Ants, sacking Adam after a few weeks, recruiting a new singer and turning them from bleak post-punk into the colourful and percussive Bow Wow Wow. Bow Wow Wow owed much of their unique sound to their use of Burundi style drumming. This use of African rhythms prefigured the world music boom by some years. Ironically, Adam Ant, after being sacked from his own band, recruited new musicians and followed much the same development, but with markedly more commercial success. Bow Wow Wow were fronted by the 14 year old Annabella Lwin who was controversially pictured nude on the cover of the band's See Jungle!... album.
Solo musical career
His solo career has been highly innovative and conceptual, with each album representing a new idea or musical novelty.
In 1983 McLaren released Duck Rock, an album which mixed up influences from Africa and America, including hip-hop. The album proved to be highly influential in bringing hip-hop to a wider audience in the UK. Two of the singles from the album ("Buffalo Gals" and "Double Dutch") became major chart hits on both sides of the Atlantic.
He then turned his eyes to electronic music and opera in the 1984 single, Madame Butterfly, based on the opera. The track is arranged with drum machines, atmospheric synthesizers and spoken verses. It was an unlikely hit, reaching #13 in the UK and #16 in Australia. The producer of the single, Stephen Hague, became a much sought after producer in the techno pop genre following his work with McLaren on the following full length LP Fans.
In 1989, he returned with the album Waltz Darling, a funk/disco/vogueing inspired album. Waltz Darling incorporated elements of his former albums, ie spoken verses, string arrangements and eclectic mix of genres but featured such prominent musicians like Bootsy Collins or Jeff Beck with a glitzy, LA-style production aimed at the US market. The singles, Waltz Darling, Something's Jumpin' in Your Shirt became top-20 radio hits in Europe. While for once McLaren's instincts failed him (there was no sudden interest in waltz music) it still helped to spread the news about the previously underground practice of vogueing.
McLaren attempted to make a film called Fashion Beast which was scripted by comic book writer Alan Moore during the 1980s. The film was never made, however McLaren has been involved with other film and television projects. One such project was The Ghosts of Oxford Street, made for Channel 4 in 1991. This musical history of London's Oxford Street was directed and narrated by McLaren and included musical numbers by The Happy Mondays, Tom Jones, Rebel MC, Kirsty McColl, John Altman, and Sinead O'Connor.
In 1994 McLaren recorded the concept album Paris, with French artists such as Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Hardy.
In 1998, correctly foreseeing that Asian culture would become increasingly influential and popular in the West, he created a band called Jungk, consisting of three Asian females intended to emulate appeal of the then popular Spice Girls. However, this project was not a commercial success. In the wake of his forming of this group, the NME described McLaren as an "ethnic pirate" and a "charlatan". Template:Fact
Also in 1997/1998, he released a track called 'The Bell Song'. Various remixes were released on 12" single. It was widely slated in the music press as "lame" and "derivative".
During 2000, there was speculation that he might stand to be elected as Mayor of London (see []), although ultimately he did not run. He had an exhibition of some autobiographical work at the German ([Zentrum fuer Kunst und Medientechnologie]) called "Casino of Authenticity and Karaoke" about which he gave ([], []) an interview.
His song About Her, based on She's Not There by The Zombies, rose to prominence when used by director Quentin Tarantino in Tarantino's movie Kill Bill Vol. 2. He was accused of plagiarism for this song in 2005 for allegedly copying the work of a French musician, but was cleared of the charges in November 2005 when the court in Angers, France (see []) threw out the case.
McLaren is one of the producers for the film adaptation of Fast Food Nation, which premiered on May 19, 2006 at the Cannes Film Festival. It was released in fall 2006 and featured Richard Linklater as its director.
British Airways Advert Theme
In 1989 McLaren and composer Yanni arranged The Flower Duet into a work called 'Aria'. The 'Flower Duet' theme, taken from the French opera Lakme by Léo Delibes, had already been used by composer Howard Blake to accompany BA commercials since 1984. However, from 1989 McLaren and Yanni continued the musical brand identification established by Blake, further arranging the 'Flower Duet' and featuring it in BA's 'World's favourite Airline' global campaign of the 1980s and 1990s. 'Aria on Air' has become synonymous with the airline's brand as a result of the campaign's success. An example of the advertisements can be viewed here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxs106rp5RQ And another variation here: British Airways - Lakme commercial.
- Duck Rock (1983)
- D'ya Like Scratchin' (EP) (1984)
- Madam Butterfly (1984)
- Fans (1985)
- Swamp Thing (1985)
- Waltz Darling (1989)
- Round the Outside, Round the Outside (with the World Famous Supreme Team Show) (1990)
- Paris (1994)
- Buffalo Gals Back to Skool (1999)
- Bow Wow Wow
- Jimmy The Hoover
- Sex Pistols
- Vivienne Westwood
- Seditionaries clothing
- WORLDS END clothing