words and literary comparisons are not part of their everyday language, you have to throw them all away. Here of course people indulge in language much more, because storytelling here is much more of a winding road. In America it doesn’t wind, it goes from A to B to C. That’s why they make great action movies and here they make more relationship stories that wind on, that don’t have a beginning, a middle and an end. Those formats are very different, and you have to learn that very quickly. There’s less words in America.’
Which, for a man who likes to smother his basic product in a thick sauce of hype and verbiage with a side salad of metaphor and analogy, must have been profoundly frustrating. He’s based in Britain at present, rediscovering his Dickensian Englishness. ‘I think that at the end of the day, you do have a sense of where your roots are,’ he says with only a trace of sarcasm. ‘With respect to myself] feel genuinely more European than I do American. I pay homage to many, many more English ideas than I do to American ones. I tend to understand, relate to, I don’t know, have more passion for them. It’s the way I think I guess.’
In a delicious piece of historical irony the man who gave us the Sex Pistols so that they might destroy the rock dinosaurs is currently engrossed in the film biography of Led Zeppelin and their legendary manager Peter Grant, using their story as a framework for covering the whole history of rock. McLaren is working with director Jeremy Thomas on the film which has the working title Hammer Of The Gods. In true McLaren-style the film promises more than the straightforward rock biopic. ‘It’s time to tell the story of English rock ’n’ roll,’ he says. ‘We’re 40 years into this culture and we’ve never had a movie that tells the whole story. It’s a worthy, noble pursuit and that’s what I’m hoping I’ll be doing next year.’
‘Worthy, noble pursuits’ have not hitherto been the McLaren style. American journalist Craig Bromberg’s biography The Wicked Ways of Malcolm McLaren dwelt heavily on McLaren’s seeming amorality. Among the stories Bromberg recounts with puritanical glee are tales of McLaren’s casual disregard for his son, his involvement with French pornographers, his trips to Soho brothels with the members of Bow Wow Wow and his demands that one of the band deﬂower schoolgirl singer Annabella Lwin.
With sideswipes at McLaren’s cowardice , infidelity and manipulative personality, Bromberg’s book was a pithy character assassination undermined only by the author’s very American inability to Lappreciate irony and the art of the wind-up.
12 The List 20 December 1991 — 16 January 1992
“Bromberg recounts with puritanical glee tales ol McLaren’s casual disregard for his son, his involvement with French pornographers, his trips to Soho brothels with the members at Bow Wow Wow and his demands that one at the band detlower schoolgirl singer Annabella Lwin.’
‘I found it a bit horrifying,’ McLaren laughs, completely unhorrified. ‘I liked it actually, but it was a bit one-dimensional. It ended up like a man ranting and raving.’ McLaren then launches into a touch of playful retaliatory character assassination himself. ‘The guy is an old queen and I know he had a boyfriend who was an extraordinary Sex Pistols fan. The boyfriend left him and ran offwith another boy. Apparently at the end of that situation he discovered that the boyfriend had left all his old Sex Pistols cuttings. And he decided, almost as a bitch, that he would take the boy’s cuttings and turn them into a sort of journalistic essay. So he set offon the road to write about the Sex Pistols. He never knew anything at all about the world of punk rock, or what it was or what pop managers were or anything about it. On one level that can be good, but in this instance I think I must have become the substitute for his boyfriend. I was the object of all his bitchy venom. he took it all out on me!’
In the unlikely event of there being much truth in that account, it doesn’t alter the fact that certain of McLaren’s past deeds do require some explaining away, although he’s loath to admit to feeling any degree of embarrassment or regret. ‘You do and you don’t,’ he says. ‘You’d like to try and change yourself, but it’s one of the most difficult things to do. You can only learn a little by your experience and in doing so, become more controllable with your emotions. They use this word “mature”, meaning middle-aged I guess. You mellow-out man, become less arrogant. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad. To some extent it’s a good thing and to some extent I think it’s absolutely dreadful.’ The last is delivered in
a plaintive falsetto that verges on the tragic.
In a sense though, McLaren has always been a little middle-aged. Selling clothes in his early 205 he discovered the importance of addressing ‘the kids’ and staying aware of what’s happening at street level, without necessarily becoming one of them. It was a dubious but resoundingly successful approach that he still adheres to, name-checking bands and clubs with infectious enthusiasm , tainted only by disillusionment at the state of the music industry. ‘Lots of bands still get me excited,’ he claims, ‘I love watching Top Of The Pops, I love going to all the clubs. I never tire of that, but I don’t know whether I could still manage bands full-time, and it’s a game that really requires a lot of night and day thinking in the business.
‘Sadly the whole record industry has become just too corporate. It’s very difficult to see any joy in there. It’s just giant corporations, there’s very little entrepreneurial activity, very little movement for any change of scene apart from what’s spurtin g from the backrooms of dance clubs here and there. It’s only black music in the ghettos of America that’s actually risen up and used their own form of language to do anything new, and consume everyone else’s musical genres for their own benefit. The rest of us have all dilly-dallied in other things. I even went off into Europe with waltzes, which was fun, but was more stage-bound, it wasn’t record industry stuff. It wasn’t about laser lights and rock ’n’ roll, it was more about curtains and proscenium arches. Following in the footsteps of Andrew Lloyd—Webber.’
The giggles finally drown the spiel as he contemplates the latest scam. ‘I’m definitely going to try and do something for the stage,’ he insists. His previous theatre idea, Fans, a sort of opera about obsession, was aborted when he realised it would have to run for more than a week. Perhaps he might just have stumbled onto his natural genre though, with his new ‘luvvie’ image and his love of glamour and the spoken word. ‘I think I am very theatrical, he says. ‘Even when I managed the Sex Pistols, they were in all respects a far more theatrical band than the Clash or Buzzcocks, almost a fantasy at times.’ There’s plenty of possible epitaphs for Malcolm McLaren. Maybe the latest could be that line Sid Vicious once muttered to Freddie Mercury: ‘So you’re the bloke that brought opera to the masses.’
The Ghosts Of Oxford Street is shown on Channel 4 on Christmas Day at 10.05pm. The soundtrack is available on RCA Records.