"Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"
Johnny Rotten - Wonderland San Francisco, 1978
Born on January 22, 1946 Malcolm Robert Andrew McLaren, son of Peter and Emily Isaacs McLaren, was raised by his grandmother Rose Corre. Young Malcolm has an early taste for both the eccentric and the controversial. At the age of seventeen, Malcolm starts to attend St. Martin's College of Art, the first in a long series of British art colleges.
During his college years Malcolm expresses an interest in the French Situationists; a somewhat bizarre movement that attempts to disrupt modern civillization in the name of art and various political motives. After an unsuccessful attempt to make it to Paris for the May 1968 riots, Malcolm started to reform the extreme ideas of the Situationists to fit his own needs: the promotion of pop music, clothing and Malcolm McLaren.
Getting expelled more often than not, Malcolm finally leaves college altogether in 1971 when he gives birth to the first incarnation of his fashion boutique at London's 430 Kings Road under the name "In The Back of Paradise Garage". In the years that follow, McLaren becomes romantically involved with designer Vivienne Westwood, whom he had met in 1966 through her younger sister. Together they design costumes for Ken Russell's film "Mahler" and for "That'll Be The Day" (starring David Essex and Ringo Starr), before reopening the shop under the name Sex in 1974.
At this time, Malcolm makes his first marks in (punk) music by taking over the management of the New York Dolls, a group then at the end of their career. After stirring up quite some controversy in the United States by dressing the band in red leather and flirting openly with communist symbolism, they finally disband in Florida.
One year later, the New York Dolls experiences are put to full effect as Malcolm starts to manage The Strands; a band formed by Steve Jones and Paul Cook, two teenagers that hang out at his store frequently. McLaren completes the band with bassplayer Glen Matlock and 'singer' John Lydon, later named Johnny Rotten because of his unhealthy green teeth, and changes their name to The Sex Pistols.
The Pistols debut at one of McLaren's old schools, the St. Martins School of Art, is a ten minute assault before the plug gets pulled. It doesn't prevent them from breaking into the charts one year later with their single "Anarchy in the UK". The main reason for their succes can obviously be attributed to McLaren's clever use of media attention and the various scandals he and the band get mixed up in. At one point, McLaren makes headlines when Scotland Yard visits his store in the investigations after one of his alledged customers: a Cambridge rapist.
1979 saw the birth of the Sex Pistols movie "The Great Rock 'n Roll Swindle," which tells the story of McLaren's careful planning of the Pistols' remarkable media career in his own words. Coincidentally, the soundtrack features his debut as a singer on the track "You need hands." How much of The Swindle is actually the truth remains subject to large debate. In the same year, Pistols bass player Sid Vicious, who had replaced Matlock, dies of a heroin overdose. The band had already split up one year earlier.
At the beginning of the 1980's Malcolm is about to make a new start. Initially settling on the newly discovered Adam Ant, he soon introduces 13 year old Annabella Lwin to Ant's backing group to form Bow-Wow-Wow. McLaren writes the band's debut single "C.30 C.60 C.90 Go" getting him into trouble once more with several record companies for promoting home taping of music. Later, he attempts to add George O'Dowd to the band, but without success. George gathered fame later with the Culture Club as Boy George.
For a few more years McLaren and Westwood exhibit several collections together until they finally split up in 1984. Until far into the nineties, Malcolm continues to bring new and bizarre projects to the world, including the movies "Heavy Metal Surfing Nazis", "Fashionbeast" and "Rock 'n' roll Godfather", all titled in the typical McLaren manner.
During the 1990's McLaren releases several albums ranging from Hip Hop and Vogue to classical music inspired by Eric Satie. He also works on a tv series, "The Magnificent Appelbaums", telling the history of rock and pop music through the life story of the Appelbaum family, growing up from the 1940's to the present.
At the dawn of the new millennium Malcolm makes up to write his autobiography. He also opens the exhibition "The Casino of Authenticity and Karaoke" at the Dutch Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht, a project on which he continues to work.
In 2001 a Documentary film retrospective of Malcolm's career shows at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Malcolm himself moves to New York.
E2 editor's note: Malcolm McLaren died of mesothelioma in Bellinzona, Switzerland on April 8, 2010. His last words were reportedly "Free Leonard Peltier."
Sources: www.malcolmmclaren.com, www.ubl.com