“Punk became the most important cultural phenomenon of the late 20th century. Its authenticity stands out against the karaoke ersatz culture of today, where everything and everyone is for sale.”
– Malcolm McLaren
In the dirty underbelly of King’s Road London during the mid 1970’s, artist and impresario Malcolm McLaren, the co-owner (with now famous designer Vivienne Westwood) of the punk boutique SEX, brought together and managed four young men who would become the (in)famous punk band, the Sex Pistols.
McLaren had the foresight to dress them in tattered and torn clothing, making them look like street rogues ready to destroy anything – and once they made the addition of Sid Vicious to the line up, replacing Glen Matlock, destroy they did.
It was McLaren’s unique style, artistic background, daring nature, and marketing savvy that brought the Sex Pistols the notoriety they garnered.
The mastermind behind some of the Sex Pistols biggest publicity stunts, McLaren always employed shock value. From the signing of their record contract with A&M Records in front of Buckingham Palace (the contract lasted only six days!) to the band’s (infamous) launch party on a boat travelling down the Thames, during the Queens Silver Jubilee I might add, where they dropped anchor in front of the Houses of Parliament and played Anarchy in the UK as loud as they possibly could. That stunt ended in a ton of punk rocker arrests once they docked the boat later that day.
McLaren was, to me, one of the first pioneers not only in artistic marketing and promotions, but of the entire DIY culture that Punk is all about.
He was inspiring.
McLaren looked at normal everyday things and found ways to twist and turn it into art, be it fashion, music or art itself. He moved without fear in all he set out to do. He said in retrospect about his shop with Westwood:
“My intention was to fail in business, but to fail as brilliantly as possible.”
Failure at something means you took the risk in the first place. McLaren’s entire life was all about taking risks and constant reinvention.
“Somehow or another, I remain permanently cool. I try to make ideas happen – ideas that could change life.”
Malcolm McLaren died in Switzerland at the age of 64 on April 8, 2010 from mesothelioma.
Joseph Corré, McLaren and Westwood’s son, organized McLaren’s funeral, at which he was buried in a coffin sprayed with the popular punk slogan, “Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die” (also the name of one of his shops). The ceremony was attended by musical celebrities like Bob Geldof, and accompanied by a public procession to punk songs, including the Sid Vicious version of My Way.
Malcolm McLaren’s thought process was amazing, he was one of the most outspoken and flamboyant artists of the punk generation, a true impresario – and one of the greatest Punk Icons of all time.
The following are quotes from over the years, showcasing McLaren’s talent, and a peek into the mind of his creative chaotic punk genius.
The video is a clip from the movie “The Great Rock & Roll Swindle” – a must-see for all punks.
“The popularity of punk rock was, in effect, due to the fact that it made ugliness beautiful.”
“I was searching for a way to break the rules, change life – and I was looking to turn art into action.”
“Art school had taught me it was far better to be a flamboyant failure than any kind of benign success.”
“My intention was to fail in business, but to fail as brilliantly as possible. And only if I failed in a truly fabulous fashion would I ever have the chance of succeeding.”
“The media needed a name to describe this attitude. They labelled it ‘Punk’. It stuck like glue.”
On the Sex Pistols song, Anarchy In The UK: “It’s a call to arms to the kids who believe that rock and roll was taken away from them. It’s a statement of self-rule, of ultimate independence.”
“On that tour bus, you couldn’t help but be aware of an enormous range of possibilities – that whatever was happening couldn’t be predicted, that it was a movement towards a place unknown. We had the means now to start a revolution of everyday life.”
“I am a product of the Sixties. All I have ever felt is disruptive — I don’t know any other way.”
“Our culture has become something that is completely and utterly in love with its parent. It’s become a notion of boredom that is bought and sold, where nothing will happen except that people will become more and more terrified of tomorrow, because the new continues to look old, and the old will always look cute.”
“Be childish. Be irresponsible. Be disrespectful. Be everything this society hates.”
“Punk’s influence on music, movies, art, design and fashion is no longer in doubt. It is used as the measurement for what is cool. And we all know you cannot sell anything today if it is not cool. The only problem is that punk is not, and never was, for sale.”