Friday, April 16, 2010

Malcolm McLaren R.I.P.

I was away last week when Malcolm McLaren died.  No matter your opinion (if you have one) of him, he was absolutely a brilliant marketer, and no small talent when it came to producing music.  McLaren's journey into music began when he owned a small shop in London with his then girlfriend Vivienne Westwood.  Basically, he found a group of disaffected youths and turned them into the Sex Pistols.  McLaren was hugely influenced by the music coming from NYC in the mid-70's (Television, The Ramones, The NY Dolls) and the Pistols were the first UK punk band to get wide notice.   He and John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) fought for a long time over exactly what influence McLaren exerted, and who owned what when it came to the Sex Pistols.  (They settled in 1987 and never spoke again).  From there McLaren managed Adam Ant (and also managed some of the band members that left when they formed Bow Wow Wow).

It's the middle third of his career that was of interest to me, as he went from being a ringleader of a musical circus to become an excellent producer.  McLaren released "Buffalo Gals" in 1983 at the beginning of hip-hop.  It became a huge hit and was followed by an album ('Round the Outside!) with the The World Famous Supreme Team Show.  There's some great music on the album, with a mix of rap and some good dance music, a combination that would morph into acid jazz in a few years.  For his next album "Waltz Darling" McLaren used influences from opera and classical music.  He was the 1st to highlight the 'vogueing' craze ("Deep In Vogue" was a single), way before Madonna even knew what it was.  Next up was "Paris" an evocative, moody mostly instrumental album he released in 1994.  There were many spoken interludes including a few from Catherine Deneuve.  The album was definitely a bit of a letdown after the previous 3 releases, but it works as good background music nonetheless.  The fact that he could make 3 albums that were so different from each other yet have each stand on it's own, was no small achievement.

McLaren can best be described as a post-modern renaissance man (if that's not an oxymoron).  Although he didn't play an instrument or sing, he was hugely influential on an entire generation of music.

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