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Friday, 9 April 2010

"Be reasonable - demand the impossible!!"...

It's some time in 1977 - early spring? Late summer? (Or was it 1976?) The years and the seasons blur, but whenever it was the sky was washed out blue, suburban and vast overhead. A youthful John Lennon was on the front of the New Musical Express along with the strapline "Oh no - not another bloody punk rocker!" as David Lawrence and I stood waiting for the 90B bus that would take us to school. He was about three years ahead of me and the obligatory sneer that someone with that sort of advantage over you would adopt by default was beginning to fade as our halting, maroon blazered bus-stop conversations grew a little more animated and unguarded with each daily wait.

The Hamburg-era Lennon photo was a valuable if tenuous link between us; a rare bit of shared rock grammar. That apart, we spoke two different languages. He was a punk, you see and I was...well, I was 11 going on 12 and all I knew about pop music was contained within my copy of The Beatles: an illustrated record by Roy Carr and Tony Tyler. 1977 for him was 7 A.D. as far as I was concerned. I think it was during one of these bus-to-school meetings that David revealed to me that he was forming a punk rock group and had started building his own guitar. "It's just a simple plywood thing, nothing special," he said. "Besides, I'm only going to be bashing it over people's heads." Despite my already heavily entrenched rock classicism, this still sounded pretty impressive. And somewhere, no doubt, the wily, wiry art school dropout who'd played no small part in sparking this nice young Jewish lad's urge to destroy was probably chortling with delight at the thought of it.

It took some time for the astonishing import of its ethos to filter down to me and I was never a part of the original punk explosion, but it still came as a bit of a jolt to learn this morning that Malcolm McLaren had died, aged 64. The BBC breakfast news used a nice photo of him in later life. I think it's the one at the top of this post. Aside from a slightly faux-aristocratic bearing there's no real clue as to the puckish, prankster spirit that animated him. No, Malcolm looked what he'd probably become; urbane, relaxed and perhaps a little smug and haughty. Combined with the knowledge of his death, this serene bearing felt surprisingly right - where one would have expected to feel disappointment at such a sell out; the complete absence of the confrontational attitude that will probably elsewhere loom large in his legacy. This benign image of the man was reinforced by the conciliatory tone of the statement made by his once bitter foe John Lydon - "I'll miss him. So should you" - and I'm reminded of Larkin:

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

"Only an attitude remains". Attitudes were Malcolm's stock-in-trade, but you feel that a lot more love than you'd ever have thought while he was alive survives of him too.

(Oh, and for the record; the last time I met him, David Lawrence had become an architect...)



  1. I'm afraid, as you may have guessed, that punk passed me by. I did hear the R4 tribute, but I knew not about whom they were talking.

    ps I do remember the Beatles.

  2. I Guess we all become a parody of our younger selves.Non?
    MM always came across as a level-headed sort of a bloke.As with all fireworks, he lit a fuse and retired to a safe distance...........

  3. Dave: you disappoint me! (There must be *someone* out there who hasn't heard of 'em...)

    Tony: yes, it's a good policy but one that can take several years to learn! I always found him a bit irritating personally, but as I said above, I was surprised by how much the news affected me.

    Have a grand weekend lads


  4. A chap I know who used to work for EMI was telling us how he once had to smuggle Malcolm out of the London HQ in his boot after he'd given a typically ascerbic review of Dexy's Midnight Runners new single on "Round Table" on the Radio - Dexy's were besieging the building after his blood.

  5. He achieved, briefly, a delicate balance of marketing and mayhem.

  6. Rog:

    Never could take constructive criticism that Kevin Rowland. Nice pairt of pins mind, to be fair...



    True. But I'm sure he'd be the first to admit; he was no Bruce Lacey...


  7. Charmingly cynical, and once you realised that he was OK and exactly what was needed at the time.