Friday, October 8, 2010

Remembering British punk icon and former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren

On April 8th, 2010 (six months ago today), former Sex Pistols manager and proclaimed inventor of punk Malcolm McLaren passed away at age 64 after a battle with cancer.

The following material was posted to writer and interviewer Jon Savage's blog a few days after McLaren's death. This material is reprinted with permission from the author.


April 22, 2010: The 'anarchy' bus travels through Kentish Town en route to Malcolm McLaren's burial at Highgate Cemetery, London. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Posted April 13, 2010, at

Like a lot of people, I’m still coming to terms with the news of Malcolm McLaren’s death. Without him, there would have been no British Punk, and no most of us in our present form. Sure, something would have occurred in 1977, but it would have been a slightly sharper Pub Rock, without the art, the danger and the depth. McLaren wanted to shake up the English as hard as he could, and – thanks to the talent and courage of the Sex Pistols – he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. His legacy will be discussed and assimilated during the months to come, but in the meantime I’ll leave you with an excerpt from the interview I did with him for England’s Dreaming in summer 1989. He’s talking about a possible movie script that ties into his managerial obsessions:

Malcolm McLaren speaks
in Plymouth, England,
October 6th, 2009.
Photo courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons.
"I want to make the first real truly, gangster movie, along the lines of Long Good Friday, within the context of rock’n'roll. Doing it like Once Upon A Time In America, and doing that whole robber baron trip, from the outskirts of Wolverhampton to London to the big world, the big toughie going to America and acting the big toughie and getting away with millions of pounds and landing in Lichtenstein with further problems and winding up somewhere else in some gigantic wonderful tragedy, a Danton-Robespierre of rock’n'roll history set from the point of view of the London thug entrepreneur, gay managerial circuit. Larry Parnes meets Peter Grant meets Brian Epstein meets Brian Jones meets Tom Watkins.

"Grant is the core, and he’s a most magnificent character. He’s a Faustian, in a sense, and there’s a fabulous movie there. It’s something that people have touched upon in the odd rock’n'roll almanac, but not given it the true gangsterism, because they can’t associate rock’n'roll with the Richardson Gang. But we can, and we can do it in a gallant way. Just as America made The Godfather, and made the Mafia heroic and interesting and intriguing, something that everyone was obsessed by.

"Rock’n'roll has always been treated in a kitschy, campy, happy-go-lucky or silly, looking upon it as some dreadful tragedy. They haven’t looked at it as tough, hard-nosed gangsterism with style. Performance got a little like it, but I think Performance did it in a 60s idiom, but we want to talk about that it ran from ’55 to ’76 to ’85 or whatever. Something that ran the gamut, that gives us a genuine trail. Once Upon a Time in America.

You were starting to do that epic myth with the Swindle, weren’t you?

"Well, the Sex Pistols was more us preventing the whole thing from turning into a dreadful tragedy, and turning it into a fantastic rock’n'roll enigma. That’s what we tried to do, to lie incredibly. We did it quite successfully. Under psychoanalysis, it would probably come out that I was living out my childhood, which is in some respects true, but that’s not what we really cared about at the time. What we were concerned about at the time was just fucking running riot, man. The irresponsible nature of it all was the key to it, and once people started becoming responsible… we prevented it becoming responsible for as long as we could hold out. You never wanted to be part of the New Wave, rock’n'roll liberal tradition, looking like you were doing good things. I never believed that was behind Eddie Cochran, or Elvis Presley. Elvis Presley was a punk rocker, and so was Gene Vincent. So was Marilyn Monroe. So was anybody who was irresponsible and lived their lives in a way that you felt bigger bolder and better than you could. They were punks, they were anti-establishment, and they were gods. Marilyn Monroe today is bigger than ever, and so is Sid Vicious. I don’t see Johnny Rotten in the Lower East Side on a t-shirt. I see Sid Vicious all the bloody time. That’s got to be the difference.

"Rotten thought the Sex Pistols were his but the Sex Pistols were nobody’s. If they had any relationship, they had it with Reginald Bosanquet, who came in and bought black rubber knickers from Jordan in the shop, and went on News At Ten wearing them, and when he gave a slight smile, Jordan was supposed to believe it was for her. He was subversive, he was drunk, he was the guy that we all thought was a punk, giving out News At Ten. He was the direct relationship to the SEX shop, in turn a great relationship with the group themselves. It wasn’t the group themselves, it was everybody who was in the path of the media, or had a sense of power that we would consider gods. Old women consider those newscasters gods. We considered him a poor geezer, when he used to come in every morning and give us flowers for Jordan. We loved this guy, even though he was often so drunk he could hardly speak, he was red-faced, dreadfully infatuated with Jordan, and he couldn’t give a shit, and he was a wonderful, wonderful character. It was that character which was part of the SEX shop, of which the Sex Pistols were also a part.

"That sign said, in those big pink sponge letters, ginormous letters, making you think that this is not just another shop on the King Road, selling some third rate St Martin’s fashion school designs, this was a shop selling things you would normally be sending for, mail order, from the small ads of the Observer, and getting it back in a brown paper bag, you didn’t have to think in such a voyeuristic fashion. You could come in and buy it first-hand.

Didn’t Steve have that attitude as well?

"Yeah, because Steve was a street kid. If it wasn’t for Steve there wouldn’t have been any group. Steve was the kid that was constantly thieving out of my shop, the one I had to constantly rally behind, and grab, and ultimately, through that grabbing, there was some fatal eye contact. It was like Fagin to the Artful Dodger. You thought, here’s another rogue. Less articulate, but can certainly run faster. It was a character that you couldn’t do other than admire and like. I was seduced by him. It was like Larry Parnes looking at Billy Fury, except that I didn’t go to bed with him. That was the only real difference. You had this marvellous, secret eye contact. You didn’t have to talk about Whistler, or Wilde, or TS Eliot, or Gene Vincent. You didn’t have to talk about any of those things, there was just a sense of understanding. That’s what kept me afloat in that whole gang. It was that. We always went back to it, whether it was the Anarchy in the UK tour, or pissed off in America, you went back and sat next to Steve Jones, and it was alright.


Find more material from Jon Savage at

The full, uncut interview between Jon Savage and Malcolm McLaren (New York, summer 1989) appears in The England's Dreaming Tapes.

For more memories of McLaren, see this April post to Robert Ebert's Journal.


  1. Touch of harmony.

    With white
    colours recalling
    sounds and a
    sweet sensibility
    you touch my
    desire, the inner
    relief and a
    delicate sadness
    that covers
    the sun.

    Francesco Sinibaldi

  2. Wow! Great post. I love the Collinson Twins—Hammer glamour at its best. I recently read about a punk group called The Twin Dracula whose name is supposed to be kind of homage to them. It's a pretty new group, and the Collinsons have been out of the spotlight for a few decades now, so it just goes to show that some things are too good to be forgotten.