Monday, April 19, 2010

I like his style. He being JOE CARDUCCI. His blog - The New Vulgate - is one of the best on the 'net: mandatory reading. Here's what he's got to say about Malcom McLaren, the Sex Pistols, NY punk, Nirvana... and all that. I don't necessarily buy the theory that the entire punk-as-front-page-news phenomenon in the UK may've inadvertedly been born from young men's desires to keep their horde of women to themselves, but he nails it in discussing Please Kill Me, as I thought I was the only one who seemed to be a little depressed by the fact that Danny Fields comes out of that book as perhaps the only participant willing to acknowledge a genuine love for the music.


Here’s Jon Savage’s summation of Malcolm McLaren in The Guardian, which touches gently on his limitations without measuring what those did to the one important thing he had anything to do with. Savage’s book, England’s Dreaming, goes deeper into it all but even that is a bit charitable to McLaren.

Contempt is something few can carry, primarily because it argues ultimately for either murder or suicide. Godard named it with his film which involved international film production itself, but in popular culture it was probably a New York thing even then, introduced and branded as we now say by Andy Warhol. That story as it pertains to music is told very well in the book, Please Kill Me, by Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain; it begins in 1965 (before Hippie let us note) with the Velvet Underground as presented by Warhol. Of the figures riffing by in this oral history’s prologue, only Danny Fields has anything one could call a love for music and he explains being unable to convince Lou Reed and John Cale that they should get away from Warhol’s “corny” presentation and trust in their music.

Savage’s book covers McLaren’s experiences in early-seventies NYC with the New York Dolls. It's hilarious. Taking what he’d learned back to London he was allowed a do-over he may not have happened upon had he stayed in NYC and tried to get involved with the earliest punk bands there. The media and money were tightening up in the American music industry after 1972, but in the hot-house London-based economy of British newspapers and record labels the punk paradigm shift could happen on the front pages, on the BBC, and at the top of the charts.

England’s Dreaming was one of the few books I read before updating my own book, R&TPN, and what struck me most reading the impressive blow-by-blow was that all the hubbub in the media was caused by the simple, natural loutish behavior of Steve Jones and Paul Cook topped off with the reaction shots of Johnny Rotten grinning. All Malcolm had to do was blithely defend it, which according to Savage he decided to do only the day after the infamous Bill Grundy “Today” program appearance; Malcolm had originally been unnerved himself by the swearing. But that show was actually the perfect demonstration of what it was all about! Grundy, a middle-aged straight, was flirting with the punkettes with the band on live television and the Sex Pistols were disgusted at him! And one motor of cultural revolt is surely that young men attempt to keep the females of their cohort for themselves against the poaching of their elders who always have more to offer. So culture and fashion, where young males can with a little ingenuity and gall pull a cool-switch and make older males look suddenly hopelessly out of it is a perennial tendency. Again Britain was ripe coming off the hippie boom due to the careful and conscious tribalizing of youth factions and the Sex Pistols were suddenly hunted by the same Teddy Boy fifties-styled rockers that Malcolm had given up on just five years earlier.

It was McLaren’s perverse American tour-dates and his use of Sid Vicious thereafter in NYC that really turned off many; it was passive cruelty worthy of Warhol but McLaren didn’t get shot. And its major accomplishment was to plant a useless Sid-clone in every American punk rock scene thereafter -- those scenes necessarily made up of far less decadent go-getters for all the decadence of the American music and media industries. And this doesn’t even address the problems this Brit re-branding of punk rock with Situationist pretense and vomit made for the ongoing attempt to crack that American music blockade by The Ramones, Television, The Weirdos, Black Flag, etc.

In any case it wasn’t until after Nirvana’s galvanization of the industry for punk in 1991 that the deal was easy enough for the now older, wiser ex-Sex Pistols to reunite and tour. When John remarked that now they’d finally get to be a band, that was not an indictment of the London newspapers or ITV but of their manager who had thought them terrible. The Sex Pistols weren’t the only thing Malcolm had contempt for.


There's this little gem, too:

It was hard for midwesterners, easterners, and Europeans to really feel in sync with what was going on in L.A. In recent ILX board polls on the best SST releases by year, Husker Du seems to be the safer handle on the label. The L.A. bands (BF, Minutemen, Saccharine Trust, Stains, Descendents, Saint Vitus, Overkill…) plus the Meat Puppets were certainly respected but they could never be fully, comfortably, embraced.


I'm gonna ponder this for a while...


Pig State Recon said...

I really dug this particular bit on McLaren too. I know a few people here in London who told me they mourned his passing, but I didn't actually believe them or anything. The dude was a whore, a vampire, a leech at best. Glen Matlock was the only real songwriting talent in THE SEX PISTOLS - ya gotta wonder what they might've created had he stayed in the band.

Dave said...

Malcom WAS a vampire and a leech, but a necessary one. The relationship between him and the band was entirely symbiotic: the band never would have succeeded without him. The problem, as Steve Jones pointed out, was that McLaren would like to think that the whole idea was his, which of course is rubbish as he doesn't have a musical bone in his body, nor is he even really a music fan. I certainly didn't mourn his death, but I'm glad McLaren existed, as, despite what Carducci says, punk never would've had the reach it did without him. McLaren was into the circus aspect of it, not the music. Fine with me: circuses can be fun, too. As for Matlock, I simply don't buy the idea that he was the musical talent of the band. What did he do of ANY musical worth once he was kicked out? Zip!! "Holidays In The Sun", my fave Pistols song of them all, was written after he left. Again, it was a group thing. Lydon's only good when he's got Jones or Cook or Vicious or Levene or Wobble around him. On his own, he's useless. Same for Jones: some of the best guitar lines ever in the Pistols catalogue; on his own he's just another cock rocker. Probably shouldn't have gotten me started! I still rate the 'Pistols of 1975-78 as perhaps THE great rock band of all time.