On to the Great Rock n' Roll Swindle in the Sky: RIP Malcolm McLaren

They burst on to the music scene in the late 70s, trailing safety-pins, anarchy and a keen sense of anti-establishment behind them. They shocked the good people of Britain with their lyrics and awed with their garish attire, spiked hair and studded armbands. Though their punk rock reign was brief – an ill-fated venture from the get-go, if you will – Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, Glen Matlock and later, Sid Vicious, a.k.a. The Sex Pistols, notoriously secured their position in music’s history as five of punk’s founding fathers, alongside their manager, Malcolm McLaren.

By the end of the seventies, Malcolm had made himself a household name, not so much the result of the edgy clothing boutique he ran with then-girlfriend and fellow fashion enthusiast Vivienne Westwood, but because of his affiliation with The Sex Pistols. Malcolm used the band as a creative outlet and orchestrated outrageous publicity stunts that turned jolly ol’ England upside down. He and his band, with their filth! and their fury! were considered a national embarrassment by many, but to a generation of bored and impressionable youth, they were absolutely bloody brilliant.

The Pistols self-destructed before the end of the decade, to no one’s great surprise. A few years later the film The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle was released, a mocumentary about the Pistols featuring Malcolm as the band’s puppet master/great manipulator – a perspective that the band, especially front man John Lydon, didn’t share at all. He continued to manage bands through the 80s – Adam and the Ants, Bow Wow Wow and The New York Dolls – and put out quite a bit of solo material over the years, but it was his association with The Sex Pistols, and what they brought to the scene – disillusionment, anarchy, the voice of a generation and an undisputed influence in pop, punk and alternative music – that put him on the map.

Malcolm died yesterday in Switzerland after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 64.

Rest in peace, McLaren. Tonight, I will salute you by spinning my swirly pink Pirates of Destiny LP, watching my copy of The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle on VHS and piercing my lip with a rusty safety pin.

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