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Malcolm McLaren, Punk Innovator, Dies

Obituaries page contributor Terence McArdle writes:

On Friday, we ran an obituary of Malcolm McLaren, manager of the seminal U.K. punk band the Sex Pistols. Throughout his career Mr. McLaren, a true eccentric, was obsessed with the intersection of fashion, music and politics.

The various Sex Pistols first met at SEX, a boutique specializing in bondage wear that Mr. McLaren co-owned with designer Vivienne Westbrook. SEX originated as the less successful shop Let It Rock, where they sold clothes tailored to the Edwardian tastes of the Teddy Boy subculture.

Mr. McLaren had earlier managed the New York Dolls, a metal band from New York, when they found themselves stuck in the U.K. at the end of a tour.

Mr. McLaren hit on the gimmick of having the Dolls dress in clothes with hammer and sickle, the symbol of the Communist party. As gimmicks go, it failed to keep the band afloat but it did point the direction for Mr. McLaren's later endeavors.

His fascination with radical politicals resulted from his early involvement with the Situationists, a group of French Marxists who sought to bridge the gap between art and politics. The Sex Pistols -- or at least the concept they represented -- were esssentially Mr. McLaren's brainchild.

New York Dolls singer David Johansen, said of him, "He was the perfect preservation against stuffiness and a lack of humanity."

The Sex Pistols railed against more than stuffiness. With "Anarchy In The U.K.," they became spokesman for an angry generation in Britain, with too little wealth and too few prospects.

Their song "God Save the Queen," recorded in time for the Queen's Silver Jubilee was banned from the BBC upon its release.

Ironically, Mr. McLaren's business partner Westwood was later awarded the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth in 1992 for her contributions to fashion.

Mr. McLaren and Westwood's bizarre fashion ideas briefly dominated the English pop scene. In 1979, after the breakup of the Sex Pistols, Mr. McLaren managed Adam and the Ants, an act that tallied 11 U.K. hits. Mr. McLaren dressed the band up with eyeliner and in foppish romantic era clothes right out of Fielding's Tom Jones. The look was dubbed "new romantic."

From the ashes of the Ants came another McLaren-managed band, Bow Wow Wow, whose records were heavy on drums and sometimes Bo Diddley beats.

Perhaps believing that there is no such thing as bad publicity, Mr. McLaren often strived to provoke a reaction. Bow Wow Wow touched off a major controversy in the U.K. when 13 year-old singer Annabella (with the distinctive quiff hairdo) posed nude on the cover of the group's 1981 album in a tableau patterned on Impressionist painter Edouard Manet's "Luncheon on the Grass."

By Adam Bernstein  |  April 9, 2010; 4:09 PM ET
Categories:  Musicians  
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