A well observed comment on the state of popular culture taken from John Niven’s Malcolm McLaren obituary in Q Magazine (June 2010):
“There’s a fantastic, revelatory moment in the out-takes of Julian Temple’s Sex Pistols movie The Filth and the Fury where McLaren’s voice is put to great effect. He is asked if he attended many of the very early Sex Pistol’s gigs, the ones that took place in London’s satellite towns such as High Wycombe, Welwyn Garden City and St Albans. Shows that many of us would have given anything to see, that many people have lied about seeing. “Oh God no,” he says, utterly horrified at the very thought. “I would never go to those places. To me that was fucking…” McLaren’s hand flutters limply in mid-air, a shot bird, as he searches for just the right expression. “Bumblebee Land’ he finally declares.
Later in the same documentary John Lydon tries for something similar when he describes Middle England as the “Nation of Tring”. But “Bumblebee Land” is right on the money, Betjemen-esque in its revulsion at dormitory town England, perfection for someone whose career was firmly predicated on epater le bourgeois.
For many people under 30 their idea of a music business Svengali is Simon Cowell, and indeed there were similarities between Cowell and McLaren: a willingness to use people as palettes for their own ideas, an interest in manipulation (The Sex Pistols, initially at least, when they were interesting, were every bit as manufactured as Westlife or Robson and Jerome). But there are also crucial differences. A product of art school and situationism, McLaren was interested in turning the world inside out and dancing in the ruins, not just turning it into an endless end-of-the-pier talent show and dancing in money.
In the 70s McLaren was instrumental in pushing the cultural clock forward at a terrifying speed, the numbers whirring round, an insane blurring into the future. Cowell has been slowly turning the clock back, to a time not just pre-punk but pre-Beatles, even. A time of tin-pan-alley and light entertainment (“Pop culture is no longer subversive, it’s all-round family entertainment,” McLaren said – ever ahead of the game he was speaking not last year but in 1982).
Cowell is firmly established in Bumblebee Land, proudly Nation of Tring. McLaren was W1. Manhattan.
Erase Simon Cowell from existence, and what would we lose? Various record and TV companies would suffer billions of lost revenue, and lots of awful pop records would vanish. Delete McLaren from history and you lose an entire sensibility. In a terrible cultural butterfly effect everything around you would be different: the clothes you wear, the sound and look of every band worth thinking about from 1977 until today. Advertising and cinema. Typography. The magazine you are holding. All changed utterly. All poorer.
Few can lay claim to a life as fully lived”.
My own Malcolm McLaren tribute (written in 2003):
Malcolm McLaren Wikipedia:
Simon Cowell Wikipedia: