While nobody appeared to hate classic rock as much as Malcolm McLaren, who died of cancer today, you have to credit him with practically reinventing the stuff in 1975 when he created the Sex Pistols. Perhaps the world’s greatest comedy group, the Pistols were a satanic Monkees. They parodied rock as it was with a highly stylized new sound and look that created a serious situationist-inspired revolution in British culture. You know about culture jammers? People who get inside the entertainment machinery simply to fuck shit up? That’s the only kind of jamming that really appealed to McLaren.
Me, I preferred the post-Pistols McLaren, one of the first dabblers in so-called “world music.” His 1983 album Duck Rock introduced both hip-hop and the music of Africa’s Zulus to young white consumers. I didn’t know anyone else who was mixing the music of the Bronx and South Africa with beats from Brazil, the Caribbean, and Appalachian square-dancing. He may not have been the first multiculti sampler around, but he did it with a lot more wit and panache than most.
McLaren was a riot. He was also a dandy, thanks to his upbringing in the clothing trade and association with designer Vivienne Westwood. Lauded as one of the world’s great impresarios, it didn’t seem all that weird when he returned in 1984 with a slurpy dance-music take on “Madame Butterfly” that neatly surfed the voguing wave. Earlier this decade he championed low-tech 8-bit music, which never quite caught on. But he was right on top of reality TV as a celebrity hijacker on the UK series Big Brother.