Malcolm McLaren was a walking parody of himself. A joke. Prankenstein. The sort of wide-boy everyone knew, and he lives on in the thousands of bullshitters who run second-hand record shops and boutiques, who charge you a fortune for a t-shirt some child in Bangla Desh made for tuppence or a scratched Captain Beefheart LP.
Always the plan. Always the bullshit.
McLaren was a prating coxcomb, a ridiculous poser, the sort of guy you’d avoid in the pub unless you were that sort of guy too, and you could huddle in a corner calling each other maaaan and tapping each other for money.
And yet, somehow, the ludicrous chancer detected something in the mood, took the ball on the bounce, hired four nihilistic losers, dressed them in his girlfriend’s stupid designs and blew popular culture wide open.
He didn’t invent what was happening. By 1976, popular culture was ready to collapse under the weight of its own smugness anyway. Already, credible musicians were starting to reassert themselves in the face of universal blandness. That was the year the Clash, the Cure, the Damned and Joy Division formed. Elvis Costello set up shop with the Attractions. Madness appeared, and – God help us – U2. The Ramones had been going for two years.
McLaren knew the Sex Pistols could dominate the public perception of the new wave if he offended the right people; the News of the World and Sun readers, and that’s what he did a year later with God Save the Queen. The Pistols were a bunch of idiots with only one decent musician, bass player Glenn Matlock, quickly disposed of by McLaren in favour of the cretinous Sid Vicious, who couldn’t play bass at all and spent the rest of his short life trying to learn.
The crappier the better, as far as McLaren was concerned. It was how he hoped punk would be and the gullible British public lapped it up. The tabloids took the name punk and applied it to every new band that appeared on the scene. The Clash were called punks. The Cure. Even Elvis Costello. It was ridiculous, but it blew over as quickly as it started, ending for the Pistols in heroin addiction, violence, mutual hatred and murder.
McLaren couldn’t have been happier. He was The Man Who Invented Punk, and he spent the rest of his life basking in the spurious and unfounded glory, turning up regularly on TV chat shows as the guru of the alternative.
He was never that. McLaren was King’s Road wide-boy with an eye for the main chance, and yet, at the same time, he probably marks the spot where popular culture briefly stood still and said no to all the smug bullshit that it had been wallowing in, before it came to its senses and went back to the smug, corporate bullshit. After all, less than ten years after the punk revolution, popular music was dominated by the dross pumped out by Stock, Aitken and Waterman.