Malcolm McLaren Biography

22 January 1946, London, England. After a tempestuous childhood, during which he was reared by his eccentric grandmother Rose Corre Isaacs in Stoke Newington, McLaren spent the mid- to late 60s at various art colleges. In 1969 he became romantically involved with fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and they subsequently had a son together, Joseph. Malcolm was fascinated by the work of the Internationale Situationist, a Marxist/Dadaist group which espoused its doctrines through sharp political slogans such as ‘be reasonable - demand the impossible’. Their use of staged ‘situations’, designed to gain the attention of and ultimately enlighten the proletariat, impressed McLaren, and would significantly influence his entrepreneurial career.

In 1971, McLaren opened the shop Let It Rock in Chelsea’s Kings Road, which catered for Teddy Boy fashions. Among the shop’s many visitors were several members of the New York Dolls, whose management McLaren took over in late 1974. It was to prove an ill-fated venture, but McLaren did spend some time with them in New York and organized their ‘Better Dead Than Red’ tour, which saw the quintet wearing red PVC uniforms and performing in front of a communist flag.

After returning to the UK, McLaren converted Let It Rock into SEX, and began selling bondage and fetish clothing and promoting the ‘punk’ image (torn clothing, dog collars and leather jackets) that he had observed while in New York. He decided to find a new, young group whose power, presence and rebelliousness equalled that of the New York Dolls. The result was the Sex Pistols, whose brief spell of public notoriety ushered in the era of punk. McLaren was at the peak of his powers during this period, riding the wave of self-inflicted chaos that the Sex Pistols spewed forth. The highlights included McLaren taking sizeable cheques from both EMI Records and A&M Records, who signed then fired the band in quick succession. The creation of the tragic caricature Sid Vicious, the conflict with Johnny Rotten, the involvement with Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs and, finally, a self-glorifying film The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle, were all part of the saga.

Following the Sex Pistols’ demise, McLaren launched Bow Wow Wow, heavily promoting the underage singer Annabella Lwin. Although their heavily rhythmic recordings were highly original for the period, predating the rise of ‘world music’ by several years, the dividends proved unimpressive and the band split. In the meantime, McLaren had served as ‘advisor’ to and let slip through his hands 80s stars such as Adam Ant and Boy George (Culture Club). Eventually, he decided to transform himself into a recording star, despite the fact that he could not sing (ample evidence of which had appeared on his Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle out-take, ‘You Need Hands’). His singular ability to predict trends saw him assimilating various styles of music, from the Zulu tribes in Africa to the ethnic sounds of the Appalachian Mountains. The arduous sessions finally came to fruition with 1983’s Duck Rock, which featured two UK Top 10 singles, ‘Buffalo Gals’ and ‘Double Dutch’. The work pre-empted rock’s interest in world music, as exemplified on Graceland by Paul Simon.

McLaren next persisted with the music of urban New York and was particularly interested in the ‘scratching’ sounds of street hip-hop disc jockeys. The mini-album D’Ya Like Scratchin’ again anticipated the strong dance culture that would envelop the UK pop scene in the late 80s. Ever restless, McLaren moved on to a strange fusion of pop and opera with 1984’s Fans, which featured a startling version of ‘Madam Butterfly’ that became a UK Top 20 hit.

Following his experimental forays in the music business, McLaren relocated to Hollywood for a relatively unsuccessful period in the film industry. Nothing substantial emerged from that sojourn, but McLaren remains as unpredictable and innovative as ever. He returned to recording in 1994 with Paris. This album, and the subsequent ambient remix set, proved more popular in Europe than the UK. McLaren’s most noteworthy venture in the new millennium was as the producer of the movie adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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