Friday, 9 April 2010

The great rock’n’roll swindler

Thirty-odd years ago, when I was a teenager, I thought Malcolm McLaren was old. Things look different when time passes. Today, I think he was young. Too young, anyway, to be dead.

I’d be lying, though, if I said I was mourning. I’m just thinking... Was he a visionary or a charlatan? Or something else?

Pop culture needs its posers and its pranksters and McLaren was certainly one of those. But when that's your persona you can't let anyone see you take anything seriously.

I hated The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle because it proved to those who were waiting for proof that punk was only a joke. I thought McLaren meant us to believe his revisionist narrative, and it felt like a betrayal. Now, I’m guessing it was more likely to be some kind of postmodern double bluff.

It took me a long time to forgive McLaren for allowing the Sex Pistols to rust instead of burning out. But time passes, the band re-forms, Lydon sells butter, and Dame Vivienne is something to do with the British Empire. Things look different when time passes.

The obituaries have veered between high praise and vaguely dismissive. They are both sort of right. Yes, McLaren was important. But not that much.

No one person invented punk. It would have happened anyway. Would it have made the charts? Of course. Would it have made the front pages? Possibly not.

As for his legacy.. well, punk’s not dead... Or is it?

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