Malcolm McLaren

2 minute read
Legs Mcneil

Malcolm McLaren, who died April 8 at 64, will be remembered as a master manipulator who inflicted punk on the world when he detonated the explosion that was the Sex Pistols–the most famous punk-rock group ever.

A professional troublemaker by nature and a haberdasher, boutique owner and rock-‘n’-roll manager by trade, Malcolm lived life more as a “glorious accident” (a term he used to describe Sid Vicious) than as a strategic campaign. While McLaren was portrayed in the film Sid and Nancy as a cunning calculator who cons the media into giving the Sex Pistols publicity, Malcolm was more bewildered by the monster he created and more naive than he was ever credited for–except when it came to realizing how much money there was to be made. Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten had to sue McLaren for the rights to and unpaid revenues of the Sex Pistols, winning control in 1987.

McLaren went on to have successes with Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow before ditching the bands entirely and becoming the true talent behind his own hip-hop- and opera-inspired pop tunes as well as a dozen other songs throughout the 1980s and ’90s.

If the Sex Pistols were his master’s thesis in rock ‘n’ roll, then the New York Dolls, one of New York City’s first punk bands, were McLaren’s boot camp. He began as an unofficial manager of the Dolls in 1975, when the band was in its death throes, dressing them in bizarrely unfashionable red patent leather in a crapshoot to revive the Dolls’ career. On Malcolm McLaren’s tombstone should be the epitaph his grandmother left to him: “To be bad is good … to be good is simply boring.”

McNeil, co-founder of Punk magazine, is co-author (with Mickey Leigh) of I Slept with Joey Ramone: A Family Memoir

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