Malcolm McLaren 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 in the world.
A professional trouble-maker by nature; and a haberdasher, boutique owner and rock & roll manager by trade, Malcolm’s life was more a “glorious accident” (a term he used to describe Sid Vicious), than a strategic campaign.
While McLaren was portrayed in the film Sid & Nancy as a cunning calculator, who cons the world’s media into giving the Sex Pistols publicity, Malcolm was more bewildered by the monster he created, and more naïve than he is ever credited for—except when it came to realizing how much money there was to be made.
Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten (Lydon) had to sue McLaren for the rights and unpaid revenues of the Sex Pistols—winning complete control in 1987. McLaren went on to have successes with Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow, before ditching bands entirely and becoming the true talent behind his own hip-hop and opera inspired pop tunes, Buffalo Gals, Double Dutch, Madame Butterfly, as well as a dozen other songs that continued to chart throughout the 1980’s and 90’s in Europe and the UK.
If the Sex Pistols were his Master Thesis in rock & roll, then the New York Dolls, one of New York City’s first punk bands, were McLaren’s boot camp. He began as an un-official manager of the Dolls in 1974 when the band was in their death throes, dressing them in bizarrely unfashionable red patent leather—complete with hammer and sickle banners—in a crap-shoot to revive the Dolls career.
As Syl Sylvain, guitarist for the New York Dolls remembered their failed final tour of Florida with McLaren at the helm, “Jerry Nolan and Johnny Thunders used to say about Malcolm, “He’s so goofy!” Because Malcolm was always making jokes with that sort of English humor that no one can understand—let alone two guys on heroin. Johnny and Jerry always said, ‘This is how we’re gonna become like the Beatles, with this schmuck?’
“They didn’t take Malcolm seriously,” Sylvain added, “which was a mistake.”
On Malcolm McLaren’s tombstone should be the epitaph his grandmother left to him, “To be bad is good…to be good is boring.”