Malcolm Maclaren And The Sex Pistols Essay

, Research Paper

So why was talk show host Bill Grundy suspended for two weeks without pay on December 1st, 1976? Why, in the late 70?s were the streets of London swarmed with vulgar kids in tattered clothing held together by safety pins; the same safety pins that pierced their ears and noses. And why were the Daily Mail, Music Week, and even the prestigious London Times in an uproar about the antics of a less- than- talented punk group out of Chelsea, England. The reason of course is the Sex Pistols, isn?t it? The Sex pistols ?hit the scene like a rock through a plate glass window? They influenced, or some might say warped, the working class youth of London and to some extent, America too. The sex pistols started a movement that rippled through culture and the music scene and found its place as an underground scene that has branched out into countless sub-genres and remains prevalent to this day. But the Sex Pistols didn?t accomplish all this themselves. Johnny Rotten (John Lundon), Sid Vicious (John Simon Ritchie), Steve Jones, and Paul Cook, were four unemployed, working class kids who could not have pulled all that off themselves. There had to have been a mastermind behind the punk rock phenomenon. There was, and his name was Malcolm McLaren; a shop owner in London.

Malcolm Robert Andrew McLaren was born in London on January 22nd, 1946. He was raised by his grandmother Rose and attended several art schools including St Martin’s School Of Art and Harrow Art College . All his life, McLaren was very much a leader and an idea man. When he was eighteen, McLaren was inspired by the works of Andy Warhol to stage an art ?happening? at the Kingly Street Art Gallery that had to be broken up by the police on account of it moving onto Regent Street and causing injuries and traffic chaos. It was clear that throughout his life, Malcolm McLaren was going to make some waves. In 1966, he met Vivienne Westwood. Over the next five years, McLaren attended several art schools such as Croydon and Goldsmiths. There he participated in several student revolts and associated himself with an art gangster group called the ?Situationists?; artists, urbanists, filmmakers and sculptors, who aimed their barbs at capitalist society while simultaneously proposing a new model of the city . In 1971, the pieces of the punk puzzle began falling in place when McLaren left art school and entered the fashion industry.

430 Kings Rd, in London, was the location of ?In the Back of Paradise Garage?. After a year, McLaren changed the name of his store to ?Let it Rock? and began selling vintage 50?s clothing and records. He and Vivienne Westwood became partners in the venture and designed clothes for Ken Russell’s film “Mahler” and for the movie “That’ll Be The Day” (starring David Essex and Ringo Starr.) In 1974, Let it Rock had been re-named once again

to ?Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die? and was visited by the new York dolls; an American neo-punk transvestite group. One thing led to another and McLaren took over the management of the Dolls and he and Vivienne returned to new York with them. He tried to revive their failing career by dressing them in red patent leather and draping their stages in communist flags and banners reading ?what are the politics of boredom??. When the dolls broke up in the middle of a gig McLaren returned to London in 1975. If he took two things away from his managerial experience with the New York Dolls, one was an idea for a new fashion trend. In New York City, McLaren was influenced by Richard Hell. Hell was a member of the band Television and wore his hair spiky and mended his clothes with safety pins. McLaren?s store once again underwent a name change.

The other was the realization that there was some brilliance in how bad the Dolls actually were. It was time for McLaren to create something just as bad, and make it huge.

The newly named ?Sex? sold X-rated tee shirts, bondage wear, leather clothing, and it sold a lot of it. The shop soon became the preferred hang out for teenage malcontents, some of who dabbled in music. Business was thriving and the next step for Marshall McLaren was to form a band that adopted the image that his shop promoted. He drafted some Sex regulars in hopes of accomplishing on his home turf, what he failed to do in New York with the dolls .

Aside from dressing in the clothing found in Sex, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook, and bassist Glen Matlock were regular looking kids. The search for a frontman ended when John Lyndon slouched into Sex wearing a cut up ?I Hate Pink Floyd? tee shirt and auditioned for the band by lip-syncing to Alice Cooper?s ?School?s Out? in front of the Sex Jukebox. His rotten teeth earned him the moniker ?Johnny Rotten?. McLaren tagged the unsettling word ?pistols? onto the end of his shop?s name and his band was formed.

The first gig that Malcolm McLaren arranged for the sex pistols was at the same art school that he attended earlier n his life: St. Martin?s School of Art. The school?s social secretary was not pleased with the show that the pistols put on and therefore it lasted only about ten minutes .

In 1976, the Sex Pistols signed on with EMI records and released the single ?Anarchy in the UK?. On December 1, of the same year, the Pistols found their way onto a Thames talk show where they swore after being promoted by the interviewer, Bill Grundy. Mr. Grundy took a two week paycut for that stunt. As a result EMI dropped the band from their roster claiming the contract cancellation was by mutual consent. McLaren, of course denied this, and the Sex Pistols walked away from EMI with twenty thousand pounds severance pay.

Glen Matlock, the Sex Pistols? bassist was not happy and wanted out of the band. McLaren had to find a replacement. Sid Vicious became the new bass player. Ironically, vicious had never even pick up a bass guitar before but he looked good onstage playing it.

A&M signed the sex pistols in March in the year 1977 and dropped them two weeks later. Other A&M artists were appalled at the idea of the Sex Pistols for label mates. Disc Jockeys, distributors, and even A&M employees pressured the company to dropped the band. Once again, the Sex Pistols walked away much richer. McLaren was handed a twenty five thousand pound severance check and was quoted as saying that the sex pistols were ?like some contagious disease- untouchable.? As a result of their dealings with the record companies, the Sex Pistols were declared Young Businessmen of the Year by the city’s Investors Review.

The name of McLaren?s shop was changed again to ?Seditionaries?. He was still selling punk clothing with his partner Vivienne Westwood, and still inspiring fashions among the youth that included some bizarre components such plastic clothespins, garbage bags, razor blades, tampons, and toilet chains.

In May of 1977, McLaren signed the Sex Pistols on with Virgin Records. They released ?God Save the Queen? which was looked down upon by the majority of Britons. There was an almost total ban placed on the record and the BBC refused to play it on the grounds of it being in ?gross bad taste?. Retail stores refused to stock the record but despite all these bans it kept moving up the charts.

1977 also marked the celebration of the Queen?s Silver Jubilee. McLaren arranged for the band to play on a boat on the river Thames. Sex Pistols fans were crowded on the banks and on the bridges. This stunt got McLaren and Vivienne Westwood arrested and throw into jail for a night.

Later that year, McLaren flew to Los Angeles and asked director Russ Meyer to participate in his new project. McLaren had teamed up with Roger Ebert and written a script for a sex pistols movie called ?Who Killed Bambi?. One scene of this movie was shot and then it was dropped by 20th century fox. A spokesperson said that ?[20th Century Fox] is in the business of making family entertainment”.

In 1978, McLaren sent his band to the United States. It was to be their first American tour but it was fraught with disaster from day one. Initially, the sex pistols were denied visas from the American embassy in London. Unfortunately, the reception they received was just about as warm as they were used to back home. The New York Times was not happy about the tour, and about the media coverage that a band who?s sole claim to fame was ?bad taste? was receiving.

Later that year, Johnny Rotten walked out on the band claiming he had had enough. Rotten said that McLaren, in his lust for fame and money, had betrayed everything that the Sex pistols ever stood for. Twenty six months after forming, the sex pistols had broken up.

The following year, McLaren put out a two- record documentary of the rise and fall of the Sex Pistols entitled ?The Great Rock ?n? Roll Swindle?. This documentary was orchestrated to prove that the whirlwind career of the Pistols, and all their ?adventures? were planned and plotted long in advance.

Sid Vicious was also arrested in the same year. He was charged with stabbing his girlfriend Nancy to death. McLaren immediately started printing and selling shocking ?I?m alive- she?s dead- I?m yours? t-shirts claiming he was raising money for vicious? defense. McLaren hired the famed attorney F. Lee Bailey to defend. Unfortunately, four months after the death of his girlfriend, Sid Vicious took his own life by overdosing on heroine in New York City.

After Sid?s suicide in 1979, McLaren was accused of fraud by numerous record companies and forced into exile in Paris. The courts told him that he could not speak about or use the name ?Sex Pistols? again. Thus, a chapter of Malcolm McLaren?s life was closed.

20 years later, the Sex Pistols phenomenon the McLaren created is anything but forgotten. With countless websites, books, records, bootlegs and movies (even a feature length slated for release in 2001) it?s clear that McLaren?s ?frankenstein?, although not impressing everyone, had left some sort of impression.

McLaren accomplished what he set out to do with the Sex Pistols. The whole thing was a three-ring media circus. McLaren was an anarchist himself. He always went against the grain and he wanted to slap the music industry in the face. He once said of the sex pistols,? We wanted to create a situation where kids would be less interested in buying records than in speaking for themselves.? He intended the whole project to last for no more than nine months and if nothing else, to stir things up for a laugh. Stir things up it did. He drafted the sex pistols, named them, funded them, gave them a place to rehearse and preached to them about the emptiness of pop music and how they had the right to make just as much noise as anyone else did. He didn?t expect the Sex Pistols to turn around and shake the world.



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