Talk about a dilemma. How do you pay “tribute” to someone you basically despise? How can someone be despicable yet worthy of respect all at once? I’m not sure how, but if anyone fits into that realm of ambivalence, it’s Malcolm McLaren, who died yesterday at the age of 64. He’s best known as the manager for the Sex Pistols, but he managed a number of other bands as well, and became a public figure of sorts by manipulating the press and people in the music industry. I developed a pretty strong dislike for the man after reading Rip It Up and Start Again, by Simon Reynolds, a book about the British postpunk movement. The way he used and dominated the people he was supposed to be managing was just disgusting. Bow Wow Wow and Adam Ant in particular.
And yet… I find I still owe the man. Without him we wouldn’t have had the Sex Pistols. He put them together. His DIY attitude infused their sound. Even if you don’t like them, you probably like one or more of the countless bands they influenced. Maybe he was a jerk, but he did something important. Might as well give him credit.
Probably the best thing I can do is link to this article, in which Johnny Rotten and others tell what McLaren meant to them: Johnny Rotten Pays Tribute To Malcolm McLaren
This quote from Duran Duran’s John Taylor was pretty apt:
“Duran Duran would have never existed. Before Malcolm being a musician in England meant you had to read music, and clock up years of dues and motorway miles, hours of practice and play interminable solos wherever possible. Malcolm’s attitude changed everything. Without him, no punk rock revolution, no ‘Anarchy in The UK,’ no ‘Never Mind The Bollocks,’ no Sex Pistols, no Clash….He was a true artist, and a continual restless source of inspiration. There will never be anyone quite like him again.”