RIP Malcolm McLaren: The End of the Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle
In the end, all who are writing about the passing of Malcolm McLaren are merely putting their two cents in. Maybe that’s the price for sharing memories and all the talk and recollecting only add up to two copper pennies. But it feels like if we put in anymore than our two cents Malcolm would laugh at us or pocket the change himself. That’s the kind of guy Malcolm was, he was one of us and in a lot of ways he was all of us. He helped define the world I live in, forcing me to think outside the box, gather no moss and try not to be a cliché. I got a text from my friend, interior designer Jim Walrod. “Malcolm’s dead!’ He had just got a call from McLaren’s girlfriend and admitted that he hadn’t known he was ill. I asked Jim to write something about Malcolm. He knew him well and would often tell me amazing stories that gave me insight to the genius. Here’s what Jim had to say.
“The man never stopped looking at the world, and he always had a fresh perspective. When you spoke to Malcolm you felt that anything was possible. He always had something going on – from video art installations, to a line of children’s clothing, to a musical on the life of Christian Dior. Malcolm made it seem as if it was all happening NOW and if it wasn’t going to begin immediately he was going to pound on doors until it did!
The man changed the way people view pop culture. He treated hip-hop as if it were folk music and opera like it was disco. The man sold clothing and mocked fashion simultaneously. He stood for everything that we wanted to stand for and he always made you feel as if you were in on whatever it was that he was scheming, even if you weren’t. Boy will I miss him.”
When you lose a Warhol or a Rubell or a McQueen, there is no one who will ever fill that creative niche. Until the last few years Malcolm led the way. The New York Dolls, Bow Wow Wow the friggin’ Sex Pistols– the fashion collaboration defining the punk movement with Vivienne Westwood. The attitude. Where Warhol came off as a gentle genius, Malcolm was hard, angry, deviant unpredictable, unstoppable. He didn’t just open doors, he kicked them in. He was vogue-ing before Madonna. My mentor Chi Chi Valenti provided lyrics for “Deep in Vogue” which featured my lost friend Willy Ninja:
“Sometimes on a legendary night Like the closing of the Garage When the crowd is calling down the spirits Listen, and you will hear all the houses that walked there before”
In the early 80’s, McLaren stopped me in my tracks as I watched buffalo gals and double dutch. Now it seems so dated but it was jaw dropping new as so much of what he gave us. The Bow Wow Wow lyrics turned me and my generation onto DJ scratching. “All that scratching is making me itch.”
In an incredible coincidence, I heard ex Sex Pistol Jon Lydon played the other day. Malcolm named him Johnny Rotten. Maybe Malcolm didn’t pay him or the Pistols what they wanted, but he surely gave them everything they ever had. I saw Malcolm at dinner one night a long time ago. The place was called Bernard’s in a hood that was the edge back then, but is now full of yuppies. Bernard’s was famous for mixed-matched plates and inconsistent food. McLaren was dating Lauren Hutton then and she was holding his hand in anger, digging her nails deep into the flesh. He wasn’t pulling his hand away and he was pleading for forgiveness. I winced at the violent grip even though he did not. He had gotten used to criticism and was notoriously thick skinned.
He once said “To be bad is good. To be good is simply boring.” People used to say a picture is worth a thousand words but these are much faster times. Where a picture wont do, a Youtube video might. I revisited his masterpiece, Madame Butterfly. It hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s as relevant, sexy, beautiful and hip as ever it ever was. I watched it 3 times, straining to hear the last lyrics of the song. They are “He’ll be back.” Unfortunately, that ain’t so.