Malcolm McLaren’s Funeral Rites: A Puckish Send-off For A Punkish Legend
What’s an appropriate funeral for Malcolm McLaren, given the man’s congenital antipathy to convention? A deconsecrated church in Marylebone was a good place to start. A coffin spray-painted to look like a boombox with the motto “Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die” written along its sides fitted McLaren’s niche in history as “the godfather of punk.” So did the wreath sent by Boy George, “A” for anarchy picked out in red roses.
A smattering of punk dignitaries showed up at St. Mary Magdalene for yesterday’s event, but—time being one convention that won’t abide resistance—the pretty, skinny young things of yore were an age-ravaged rogues’ gallery, with a few striking exceptions. Adam Ant made an effort, his striped frockcoat and bondage pants a striking reminder of why the vagabond style pioneered by McLaren and his ex, Vivienne Westwood, still resonates in fashion history. And Viv herself, straw yellow hair bound in a Chaos headband, proved she’s still flying the flag for creative illogic with a speech that typically roamed into impenetrable thickets of verbiage. McLaren’s old ally/adversary Bernie Rhodes, who shaped the Clash as direct rivals to the Sex Pistols, heckled from the back of the hall, “This is about Malcolm, not you, Vivienne,” and accused her of being an imperialist agent of the Establishment. That claim would’ve carried more weight if Rhodes himself hadn’t just made a garbled plea for intellectual copyright on behalf of all those brilliant iconoclasts—himself presumably included—who’d opened the door for the future without being appropriately compensated.
McLaren himself was one such iconoclast, so it’s hard to know what he would have made of his send-off. It had a surreal flavor (a boys’ choir sang the schlocky crooner’s fave “You Need Hands” from The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle while a stage-school baby tap-danced) which was true to him. But truer still was the emotion in his girlfriend Young Kim’s poignant speech, or the choke in his son Joe’s voice when he spoke. Westwood was right on the mark when she referred to people in the crowd who’d made a career of their 1977 highpoint (presumably many of them piled onto the banner-draped green double-decker that followed the horse-drawn glass carriage to Highgate Cemetery). “Get a life,” she sagely counseled. What was missing from the memorial was any sense of the wonderful, strange, and inspiring life that Malcolm had got himself since the punk era he helped shape three decades ago.