Friday, April 9, 2010

Death of a pop culture genius

Sad news about the death, at age 64, of Malcolm McLaren, following a secret battle with cancer. Unfortunately I don't have the time to write a full obit, but suffice it to say he was one of the most influential cultural figures of the second half of the 20th century. To be sure, his sphere of influence was pop culture. But the Punk revolution of the mid-late 1970s, in the commercialisation of which McLaren played an intrinsic role, rattled the foundations of music, fashion, graphic design and publishing.

A former manager of The New York Dolls, McLaren's early 1970s efforts to relocate New York poet/musician Richard Hell to London proved unsuccessful. McLaren engineered Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious instead, with Hell's spiked hair and ripped T-shirts providing what many believe was the inspiration for The Sex Pistols styling.

McLaren's (many) other music ventures included Bow Wow Wow and Adam and the Ants. And of course, he collaborated with Vivienne Westwood, his erstwhile business and life partner, with whom he also had a son, Joe Corre (co-founder of Agent Provocateur).

In this journalist's opinion, Westwood's collections were at their most subversive during the Westwood-McLaren collaboration years. Together they rocked London's Kings Road with their controversial boutiques, whose names changed from Let It Rock to Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die, Sex, Seditionaries and World's End. People were arrested for wearing Seditionaries T-shirts. It's hard to imagine today.

But the seeds for McLaren's brand of subversion had been sewn over a decade earlier, while he was an art student in London, against the backdrop of the May 1968 student riots in France. The riots themselves were rooted in the 1950s political/art movement Situationist International, of which McLaren became a disciple.

Above is an interview he did with Australia's Enough Rope program on the ABC on 10th July 2006.

Four months before that, I spoke to him backstage at Paris Fashion Week. We chatted about a number of things and I will endeavor to track down the original interview. One grab from it appeared at the end of this news story.

On the subject of artists, he told me:
"Artists have to always, always stand up and say, 'I'm not for sale' - meaning that your heart, your mindset, your artistic vision is not for sale. If that's for sale, then you're just a goddam wristwatch."


Anonymous said...

I bet your brain is like a cultural encyclopedia, Patty.

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