Punk's Founding Father Is; Sex and Malcolm McLaren Are Inextricably Linked. So David Whetstone Offers No Prizes for Guessing the Theme of the Art He Is Bringing to Gateshead

Article excerpt

IN THE mid 1970s, when Anarchy in the UK and the Queen's Silver Jubilee were part of the rich tapestry of British life, the name Malcolm McLaren was on many people's lips.

It was murmured in awe or hissed with contempt depending on your attitude to the new phenomenon of punk.

Punk music was loud, frenetic, raw and played by people who sneered, swore, spat and jumped up and down.

Punk fashion was worn by the above. It was stained, torn, graffitied and coupled with self-inflicted body piercing.

What you thought about punk had a lot to do with your age. Genesis or Vera Lynn it was not.

McLaren managed - you could say created - The Sex Pistols, punk's brand-leading band (led by John Lydon, alias Johnny Rotten).

They burst on to the scene in November 1976 with their track Anarchy in the UK.

McLaren also had a clothes shop called Sex on London's Kings Road, which he ran with his then girlfriend, Vivienne Westwood (previously it had been called Let It Rock and then Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die).

Sex, The Sex Pistols... the subject of the artwork McLaren will show at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art this month shouldn't come as a surprise, even if the title is Shallow.

"It's a piece of work that is basically about men and women about to have sex - wishing, wanting, anticipating, preparing, imagining, etcetera etcetera," says McLaren, on the line from his home in New York.

He works and revels in the city's constant flux before heading off to relax at his other home in Paris where, he says, things never change and your coffee will be served by the same waiter who served it five years previously. I didn't know what to expect of Malcolm McLaren. What sort of conversation do you have with a founding father of punk? But I ask one question, about the nature and inspiration of Shallow, and he leads me on a journey into his past and up to the present day that is eloquent, funny and self-deprecating.

McLaren is a poet and a raconteur with the voice of one who has seen and been amused by many things.

"I was asked about two years ago to contribute to a group arts show here in New York City. The title of the show was to be Shallow.

"I'm always being asked to do these things and more often than not I've turned them down because they can end up taking over your life. But at the end of the day, this person was incredibly persuasive. He was a Mexican.

"Sometimes your gut, your instinct or whatever, makes you smile and just say, 'OK'. You close your eyes, roll up your sleeves and think, 'now what?'" McLaren decided the most shallow thing he could think of was also the thing he knew most about - popular culture. He has been there, done that and certainly has the (ripped) T-shirt.

In his view, popular culture is pretty much always about one thing - that three-letter word beginning with 's'.

"Sex is so often the end story to any wishing, wanting, hoping, angst-ridden pop song and will always be in most people's thoughts.

"So I thought that if I were to make a statement using the word 'shallow', my best beginnings were in popular culture."

Since so much of pop culture was wrapped up in "what Mick Jagger called I Can't Get No Satisfaction", he focused on that word, that concept, that activity, which has served him so well and ensured the survival of the species. …


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