Malcolm McLaren, influential punk heavyweight icon and fashion engineer has died at the age of 64 at a hospital in Switzerland, where he was battling cancer. To say that his life was polarizing is an extreme understatement; to agree that he was integral to the shaping of modern music is a universal truth. Each popular school of thought that has emerged since he first came on the pop culture scene has seemingly been different in regards to how it treated McLaren. In the '70s, he was responsible for the destruction of the late-period New York Dolls, who were arguably going down in flames anyway, and the formation of the monolithic Sex Pistols. When he started the Sex shop with partner Vivienne Westwood in London, McLaren was on the forefront of the emerging British punk culture. He managed and shepherded the Pistols during their blast of fame in 1976, trying to wrangle the band of miscreants and detached artists into a viable act. He was seen as a profiteer, goading the Pistols into more shenanigans while not bothering to pay them, a story is chronicled in the Pistols rock-doc The Filth And The Fury. In the '80s, he dabbled in production and his own music, releasing the genre-bending Duck Rock in 1983 and overseeing Bow Wow Wow's first infamous years. Not much credit is given to McLaren for his actual musical work, with it being overshadowed by the enduring legacy of the Pistols. True musical archaeologists still worship his singles "Buffalo Gals" and "Madame Butterfly," though.
McLaren will always be regarded as a pioneer, though, responsible for bringing a cheeky crassness to punk rock and music in general. His closest American counterpart would be Runaways manager Kim Fowley. Both helped usher in a new era of music at times when things were staid and vanilla. Someone once said that if you aren't hated, you are doing something wrong. That applied to McLaren in more ways than one.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.