Saturday, April 10, 2010

Malcolm McLaren R.I.P.

It was just a few days ago that Malcolm passed, for some reason i was saddened more so than i thought i would be considering he was not someone i knew personally. I guess over the years I felt some kinship with him and although we were in the same room a few times over the years - we were never actually introduced. I always thought I would eventually have a chance to have a conversation with him, unfortunately this will not happen.

After all it was once brought to my attention that he was very inspired by the DogTown crew, and of course came the Sex Pistols with their glorified horrifying swastikas much as the surf/skate nazi's of the west side of Los Angeles in the mid-seventies. I know one thing for sure, none of the DT crew were into the Sex Pistols until they were already broken-up, so which came first with this patently offensive statement on your gear or fashion? Well it was the Z-Boys of course! But only Malcolm or Stecyk could tell us for sure if that was the inspiration for the Viviene Westwood designs at Malcolm's shop on the Kings Road in London, that Johnny Rotten and his crew were wearing. That all said Malcolm's next popular music dip would be with Bow Wow Wow. Then the "Buffalo Gals" single with the "World Famous Supreme Team" from Malcolm's own "Duck Rock" album came out, it was an instant hip -hop classic if for no other reason it showed people scratching records on MTV long before they would ever expose Grand Master Flash or Run-DMC, but more importantly to me it showed the world the ROCK STEADY CREW before anyone else, (they blew my mind the first time i came across them by accident at the Roxy after the 1st NYC screening of "The Great Rock And Roll Swindle" coincidentally). When I was a columnist for Maximum Rock'n'Roll in 1984, I named my column "The Great Rock'N'Roll Swindle". He may not have been a mastermind (he often got credited as, and dis-credited almost as often), but he certainly was a master of something.

I came across a nice post from my friend Shepard Fairey today discussing his shared time with Malcolm (which i never remember hearing about before) and a great interview he did with him, another friend Ryan Murphy also happened to take the current portrait for the interview. Here's one of his answer/stories I never heard before:
First Experience with Hip Hop
I first listened to hip-hop in the South Bronx in the days when Afrika Bambaataa was a DJ with a crew. It was around 1980, I was managing Bow Wow Wow and they were playing a showcase gig for the local record company, RCA, then. I had never been further than 62nd Street and I always wondered what was further up there. So I decided to take a walk that afternoon. I saw a humongous guy on the streets of Harlem wearing a bright-yellow t-shirt that had, adorned across it, “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. ” I went up to him and said, “I had something to do with that t-shirt.” He had never heard the music of the group that was fully paraded on that t-shirt, the Sex Pistols. He just loved the name.

Then he invited me to a party that night and wrote the address down on a piece of paper. And then I asked him his name and he said Afrika Bambaataa, and I thought, “That’s a hell of a name.” I went back to my hotel and I phoned my friends, and they said, “Shit man, that was the name of the last Zulu uprising against the English.” I thought, “Wow, what an incredible narrative, just in the name.”

So I decided to go to this party up in the Bronx. It was the most difficult place I have ever in my life tried to get to. I think 26 cabs passed as I waited outside my hotel in midtown Manhattan – no one would take me there. I actually was about to step back in the hotel; then this last cab decided to take me there. He told me to roll up my windows and put my money in my socks.

Then we arrived. I thought it was going to be an apartment building, but it was just waste ground. I was very scared, I have to say. There was a volatile crowd of kids on this waste ground in the middle of two fired-out condominiums, far, far, far into the Bronx. I decided to pretend I was the representative of a major American record company: “Hello, I ’m from CBS. Excuse me, I need to get to the stage.” A bit like Moses, I just wanted to part the sea. At the end of the debris field there were these massive tables with record players on them and piles and boxes of records. The guy that I had met in the afternoon was standing back, just looking like he was protecting his speakers,stereo systems and stuff. I literally dived under the table and through the legs of people so I could stand next to him. I was the only honky and I wanted everyone to know that this guy was my man. I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Do you remember me?” He seemed to vaguely remember me. I said, “I’m just going to stand here next to you.” That was my first experience of hip-hop.

I asked him if he ever played in clubs, because I had this group Bow Wow Wow and I wanted him to open for them. He said, “No, we don’t play in clubs,” but eventually he agreed. Bow Wow Wow was playing for a typical college, Anglo-Saxonish crowd of kids. Suddenly, Afrika Bambaataa and his crew were knocking on the back door. Security wouldn’t let them in so they had to come to the back door. I dragged them all in and they mounted the stage, literally laid out all the equipment as they had at that previous show on the debris site. They started to go at it, and a couple of their guys jumped into the crowd. The college kids were terrified. They ran. They all ran upstairs until the ground floor was totally empty. It was extraordinary. These guys tarted to spin on their heads and it was phenomenal. They already had the attributes that would become ubiquitous in hip-hop style: the caps, the baggy t-shirts. . . all of that was already assembled, but it hadn’t hit anybody downtown on a commercial, even independent level.

I went to RCA the following day and said, “You have got to sign this group; they are going to be massive.” This was the newest thing I had ever heard. Not only was it brilliant, it was ecological.

They were making music out of all this disposable pop rubbish from the past. They were making sense of it all. I said, “This is fantastic!” RCA was absolutely not interested.

I always thought hip-hop was the black punk rock. It had similar DIY aspects and it was definitely a music that, at first, the industry had no interest in. They knew the idea of recycling all this disposable pop rubbish into something else was not something they would necessarily have control over. They were protectionists, jailers: “Hey, that’s our copyright! Since when do you own this?” Then it was like the jailer had opened up the vaults and all this music fell out. Like the storming of the Bastille: “Hey it’s all out here! We can do something with all this stuff! It belongs to the world!” I think hip-hop had that in the beginning, but of course everyone started to sign forms and the music became inherently controlled by the industry again: “You might be able to use this sample if you pay this much; you won’t be able to use that sample because you can’t pay.” There was a censorship by the industry on that culture and I don’t think it ever recovered. It was natural that it was going to follow a road map that would become increasingly driven by money and, thereafter, power. And to some extent, people really looked up to that power. The bling culture for instance.
check out the whole piece here in Swindle Magazine .

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