clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Malcolm McLaren 1946-2010: As carny as any wrestling promoter

Malcolm McLaren died of mesothilioma yesterday at the age of 64.  Described by his Wikipedia entry as a "performer, impresario, [and] self-publicist," he's best known as the manager of The New York Dolls, The Sex Pistols, Adam & The Ants, and Bow Wow Wow, as well as a recording artist who scored a hit with "Double Dutch."  This really has nothing to do with wrestling, but as perhaps the most carny man in the entertainment industry, I feel that he's worth discussing here.

He designed costumes for the Dolls and ran an S&M shop.  He was at the forefront of punk and hip hop.  He manufactured stars like boy band svengalis would later.  And he was completely fucking insane.  Find out why after the jump.

My favorite McLaren story comes from the excellent book "Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984" by Simon Reynolds.  But first, I have to explain Bow Wow Wow a little bit.  Bow Wow Wow's lead singer Anabella Lwin was young, joining the band (who McLaren had from Adam Ant) at 13.  Those who only know the band via their one US hit, a cover of The Strangeloves' "I Want Candy," probably wouldn't be aware of how much of McLaren's marketing and lyrics for them revolving around sexualizing the very much not legal Anabella.  A photo featuring a nude, (albeit strategically covered up) Anabella was planned to be used as the cover art for their first full-length album, "See Jungle!  See Jungle!"  When Anabella's mother found out, she alleged that her daughter was being "exploit[ed] for immoral purposes" It was clear what McLaren was trying to sell, and it also took attention away from the strength of the band's excellent musical output, which was unsurprisingly similar to Adam & The Ants, only with more of an emphasis on the African-style drumming and the addition of some surf-rock style guitar.  Even behind the scenes, "sketchy" would be too kind a description for McLaren.  At one point, he decided that Anabella wasn't fitting in with her older, male bandmates because she was a virgin, and convinced them that one of them needed to deflower her.  Guitarist Matthew Ashman drew the short straw, but failed to complete the task.

Anyway, McLaren was always looking a new marketing angle.  Bow Wow Wow's debut was an EP (remember those?) released exclusively on a low-priced cassette in a box styled after a cigarette pack (and labelled as "flip pack pop"),  with the idea being that pop music would become more of a impulse-buy commodity that was easily disposable.  With audio cassettes not being up to the standard of audio quality required for radio airplay, it didn't get the needed publicity and didn't chart.  Their first single was released on multiple formats, but the cassette release was unique in lacking a B-side track.  Instead, the B-side was blank, as part of the theme of the A-side: "C30 C60 C90 Go!", an ode to taping songs off the radio, which was, at the time, a major concern of the British Phonographic Industry, who claimed it was a crime.

So...yeah, time for that story I was talking about.  McLaren decided to launch a magazine with EMI's backing, all while the BBC was shooting a documentary about the marketing of Bow Wow Wow.  First called "Playkids" and later "Chicken," he claimed that the new periodical would be about "pleasure technology for the primitive boy and girl."  If that isn't creepy enough, the photo sessions included McLaren asking Anabella to pose nude (she declined) and then "badgering" a different 13 year old girl into stripping nude, during which she was crying.  It was clear to Fred Vermorel (an old friend who McLaren hired as editor) that the situation was massively screwed up.  His theory, seemingly proven true to him in a conversation with McLaren (where the latter expressed his intentions to flee to South America before "the shit hits the fan") was that his old friend wanted to engineer a wide-ranging child pornography scandal that would take down EMI, the BBC, and everyone else involved, including Vermorel.  McLaren wanted to prove that pop music was pornography for and using children, and this was his opportunity.

Vermorel realized he had to put a stop to this whole mess, telling New Music Express that while at the beginning, he thought the project would be an edgy alternative to "Smash Hits," a teeny bopper music magazine, it turned out to be "a magazine for adults that features kids as objects."  In response, McLaren called his estranged friend a closet puritan.  The project pretty much disappeared after that.  The BBC locked the raw documentary footage in a vault, the photos went largely unused aside from a handful that ended up on later Bow Wow Wow releases, and, as Vermorel put it "The only physical evidence of Chicken's existence" was the card listing the advertising rates.

Now, after reading that, don't you wish that this guy could have met Vince McMahon for a brainstorming session recorded for some sort of home video release?

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Cageside Seats Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your pro wrestling news from Cageside Seats