Malcolm McLaren, the manager of infamous punk act the [artist id=”1131″]Sex Pistols[/artist] and the man for which the term “music impresario” was probably coined, died Thursday (April 8) in New York. He was 64.
McLaren was born in London in 1946 and left home as a teenager, attending several art colleges (all of which he was expelled from) and taking up with the so-called “Situationist” movement, which favored absurd public demonstrations as a way of enacting social change. In 1971, he and designer (and partner) Vivienne Westwood opened a London clothing shop called Let It Rock, which would become the go-to outfitter for acts in the burgeoning punk scene on both sides of the Atlantic, starting with the New York Dolls, whom McLaren met in 1972.
In 1975, he had begun to manage a London act called the Strand, who become the Sex Pistols after McLaren and his assistant spotted a snarling punk named John Lydon and made him audition for the group. Lydon was rechristened “Johnny Rotten,” and with him fronting the group, the Pistols began an assault on London’s art-school scene. With McLaren at the helm, the Pistols’ legend began to grow, reaching its pinnacle in 1977, when, during the Queen of England’s Silver Jubilee, they released their incendiary second single “God Save the Queen.”
The song was regarded by many in the British public as an assault on both Queen Elizabeth II (mostly because it equated her to the head of a “fascist regime”) and the monarchy itself, because, as Rotten sneered, England had “no future.” In May of ’77, McLaren organized a boat trip down the Thames River, where the Pistols would perform the song outside the Houses of Parliament. The boat was raided by police, and McLaren was arrested, though he did succeed in his main goal: achieving massive amounts of publicity for both himself and his fledgling group.
Riding that wave, the Pistols released their (only) album, Never Mind the Bullocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, in October 1977 and geared up for an American tour in January 1978. They would implode after only 12 days in the States, splitting after a disastrous San Francisco gig. McLaren was accused by bandmembers (mostly Lydon) of not only mismanaging them, but refusing to pay them. The two would battle it out in court during the 1980s, with Lydon winning the rights to the entire Pistols catalog in 1987. The two men never spoke to each other again.
McLaren also released albums of his own, most notably 1983’s Duck Rock, which saw him incorporate influences like pan-African rhythms, early hip-hop and even country. One of the singles from the album, “Buffalo Gals,” showcased scratching and a square-dance cadence, and the opening lines were even referenced by Eminem in his 2002 single “Without Me.” He continued to release albums well into the 2000s and branched out into painting, radio presenting and even the movie business, serving as a producer on the film adaptation of “Fast Food Nation.”
McLaren’s spokesperson told London’s The Daily Mail that he had been suffering from cancer for “some time … but recently had been full of health, which then rapidly deteriorated” and that his body would be brought back to London for burial in Highgate Cemetary.