RIP Malcolm McLaren

Malcolm McLaren. Dead. The punk era with which McLaren will always be associated was probably the most over-analyzed period in music history. Everyone on the scene wrote a book about it, it seems. I certainly have nothing to add.

Beyond his controversial role as the Svengali behind the Sex Pistols (or, equally plausible, the guy who totally ripped them off), McLaren had a long and spotty subsequent career. Some of his efforts were more successful that others. Personally, I have a soft spot for Fans, his opera/pop thing, which I have listened to regularly for a quarter of century now.  For whatever reason, I posted the lovely Madame Butterfly video to my Facebook just the other night.

I also remember he wrote a funny, surreal piece for the NY Times magazine some time back, about his early adventures as an apprentice wine taster:

Every day, the trainees were blindfolded and led to a spittoon. Here we were given test tubes of wine and asked to taste but not swallow. Blueface (as the general came to be known by us for the blue veins that ran across his face, like a gorgonzola) would then lecture us about the qualities each wine possessed, followed by the inevitable question: What did we think of it?

The first time this happened, we were tasting reds from Burgundy: “McLaren, tell us! What do you think of this wine?”

Blind, unable to assemble a coherent thought, I blurted out: “Yessir! Very nice. Deep . . . uh, rich, rich, very rich! Sweet, sweet.”

“What are you talking about?” he boomed. “That’s Pommard! A premier cru —1950!”

Fair enough. But then things began to get strange. “Goddamn, tastes like an army has been through there . . . that sodden earth! All mud and slush. All right for those frogs, but what we like is something a little fresh, don’t we?” he said, elbowing me in the ribs. “Something young and untouched!”

Old Blueface made us taste another.

“Now, that’s a little girl from Morey-St.-Denis!” he said. “A virgin. She needs to air a bit. Then we can all prod it, taste it and love it as we truly deserve, as God appointed us.” While we young virgins stood frozen, embarrassed and blushing from learning about the facts of life this way, he talked about wines for men and wines for women. Wine that tastes like a man, and wine that tastes like a woman. Wine that was friendly, frilly, silly or simply handsome; heroic or cowardly and foolish. And wines that defied discussion — these were apparently homosexual.


During our lunch breaks, the general would march us past St. Martin’s school of art. One day I broke ranks and followed a pack of girls wearing mohair sweaters and fishnet stockings into the school, where I came across a buxom woman — an actual woman! — perched naked on a stool, surrounded by students sketching this sexual apparition. How can I do that? I wondered.

Mohair sweaters and fishnet stockings! McLaren endeavored successfully to get himself fired, and was off to a series of art schools (he was kicked out of most of them). The rest is history. RIP.

RIP Malcolm McLaren

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