Malcolm McLaren


“The British music industry… It’s just so Haywards Heath”
– Malcolm McLaren

The Pitch:
A journalist, photographer and press officer fly club-class to Los Angeles to cover the making of a music video by reggae artist Michael Rose, with Malcolm McLaren making his debut as director. This is to be filmed in the L.A gang heartland of Compton, the Grand Canyon, and LA’s surf beaches. Budget: $75,000. Key words in the management/magazine/record company discussions: “Compton”, “Grand Canyon”, “McLaren.” Emphasise contrast between the militant Jamaican Rastafarian and the mad English mischief- maker. Gang Threat, LA backdrop. Great story.

Press officer: “I feel like I’ve been away from England for a year. Never again.”

Scene: Holiday Inn, Hollywood Babylon
A manic, Hispanic LA taxi-driver pulls in at the hotel at the end of the journey from the airport, still firing GCSE-level questions on Lady Hamilton, The Battle Strategy of Oliver Cromwell and Edwardian Fashion at the trio of English passengers whose grey faces bare the strain of 10-hour flight fatigue.
The cabbie blames the ’84 Olympics for the decline in prostitution and seems to think the press officer’s name is Horatio. LA boredom already has them in her clutches; is pulsing round their bloodstreams.
The hotel staff’s English is so broken, there’s nothing really left of it. The press officer receives fax. The Grand Canyon location is cancelled. Cue huge, canyon-sized, disappointment. The hotel’s mini-bars are ‘dry’, not meaning ‘non- alcoholic’ but DRY. Empty. Pointless. The mini-bar sits in the corner of the room as absurd and useless as a dead television. The press officer receives another fax. The plan to use Compton as a location is cancelled too.

Scene: Dawn.
Driving to San Onofre California State Beach in a hired Lincoln Town Car. Michael Rose’s ‘Mother & Child Reunion’ is playing on the car radio. “No I would not give you no false hope/On this strange and mournful day…”

Scene: Video shoot.
Beach-bimbo-body-goddesses and Surf Nazis litter the sands like… litter. Their camper vans look like serial killers’ vans. Looming over it all ominously, high on a cliff, like a ridiculous, clichéd Hollywood CGi is a black, military-looking nuclear power station: barbed fences, cone-shaped loud-speaker sirens and two huge breast-shaped nuclear domes.
The morning heat is already hounding them. The English contingent turn up wearing coolie hats the size of satellite dishes.
Malcolm McLaren is wearing a blue-and-white striped City shirt, culottes and black Reeboks, shouting at a groovy gang of black kids (ages 8-14), dancing round a tight voluptuous dark model. Dressed in high heels and a blood-clotting bikini, adorned by peace signs, ‘Consuela’ has taken Neneh Cherry’s body and fed it up on steroids. The strings of her hammock-style bikini cut shapes into her flesh. McLaren has the kids ogle her, grope for her breasts.
“Look at her body !” he orders them. “Smile !”
Even at the age of between 8-14, they realise Consuela should make any male smile. Everyone on the beach is either looking at her body – doleful expressions of wonderment on their faces- or phoning their mates to get them to come down and look at her body.
Like a cross between Harpo Marx and Ronald Macdonald, McLaren has missed his vocation as a Sesame Street presenter/character.
“Havoc. It’s got to be havoc” is his mantra. He starts running round and round in wide circles, kicking up sand, laughing and screaming, creating havoc.
Moral: Havoc is still the name of the game. Cash from Chaos, Dollars from Disaster… nothing changes.

Recap: No Compton, no Grand Canyon… No McLaren. Under pressure, and not expecting press, Malcolm announces he cannot contribute to the article. We have a new (unapproved) script, a new schedule (a one day shoot instead of three), skilled, experienced crew working for costs and for privilege of working with McLaren.
It all looks like a sweet con, from the most (self- publicised) con-man of Pop history.
Like a fashionable Fagin, McLaren’s gang of baby LA hipsters have passed on to him word of a new trend: Hip-hop fans are wearing Surf fashion, notably Stussy.
The Surf Nazi’s are listening to rap, reggae and raga-house- notably Michael Rose’s assured new LP, a sweet fusion of the ex-Black Uhuru singer’s velvet voice, distinctive swing and lithe rhythm. It’s tasteful and polished enough to be big in America, graceful and different enough to be big in Britain, putting the former Black Uhuru star back on the map.
Malcolm feels a trend coming on.
“It’s the first black surfer promo, man.”
As usual, he’s probably right.

Scene: Nuclear dust blows in with the nuclear sand.
The walls of the power station sweat a sort of silver condensation.
“It’s built on the San Andreas fault line,” someone explains. A flock (a gang) of enormous American seagulls circle overhead. Nuclear-fed seagulls. They are like six British seagulls stuck together. They turn out to be pelicans.
Beyond the perimeter fence a vibrator lies in the sun. Nuclear sized.
The producer tells us how ‘hot’ McLaren’s editor and cameraman currently are in LA: Hollywood Hot. The choreographer looks like the Pink Panther dolled up in day-glo and crucifixes. He choreographed ‘Dirty Dancing’ (nuclear-hot). The production assistant is named Mike Doodah. His t-shirt says ‘Surf-or-Die’. He is gung-fucking-ho personified.
“He’s a fan of mine. I was so thrilled when I got him !” McLaren smiles like a big kid. “I got him so cheap.”
A man who looks like Jack Nicholson or Warren Beatty hangs around wearing Ray-bans, a $5000 watch and a baseball cap with the word ‘Rimbaud’ on it. He corners me and tells me about his screenplay about Verlaine and Rimbaud – “Artie, as I call him,” he joshes.
“Rambo was French ?!” I say to wind him up.
Rose’s beautiful locks hang to his waist. The wicked shades match his wicked grin. He looks like he’s posing for ‘Miami Vice’. He spends his day passing a lewd look and warm Jamaican charm from one female on the set to another. McLaren orders the artist and the kids 20 metres out into the sea.
“Jump up. Dive down. Go under. Dance around,” instructs Malcolm. “It’s the New Edition Go Nuclear.”
This is unfortunate turn of phrase.
The nuclear power station watches over them impassively, like a looking metal lion ignoring flies taunting it. Someone is actually fishing (two-headed fish are better than one ?). As a wary Michael Rose mimes, McLaren mutters: “A Jamaican that doesn’t like water. He looks as if something is trying to KILL HIM !”
Or someone – Malcolm McLaren. It surely wouldn’t be the first time.
Journalist: “Are you telling me that you’d go out in that water Malcolm ?”
McLaren: “Don’t be stupid, man. No fucking way.”
Laughter. McLaren’s laughter.

Scene: Consuela is wearing a dress the size of a handkerchief. No underwear. More choreographed junior ogling.
Casting agent: “She was cast for one thing: butt.”
Journalist: “Where did you get the kids?”
“Well… two of them are real.”
“What are the other ? Holograms ? Midgets ?”
“No, they’re pros. Showbiz kids.”
All day and all night, the kids are given Pepsi’s and Snickers bars in abundance. Satiated, they work like dogs (for $150/day, a day and a half $225). The legally-required children’s Social Worker is a friend of the video company’s: tame. Invisible.
The 8-year old’s favourite group is NWA. He blags Stussy gear like a veteran and has an ‘I don’t talk to the press’ approach.
The kid is scary professional.
Agent: “What’s your social security number again, honey ?” “829546379201,” he bats back without hesitation.

Scene: Though they dance like a hip-hop Jackson 5 Junior, and mime the rap with a salacious sexual innuendo and a macho misogyny that LL Cool J would be proud of, the kids are outshone by Stussy, the clothes and in person. The illegible Stussy logo is plastered over their colourful caps and t-shirts like a commercial.
Shaun Stussy is a beach bum and a star. Just back from Surf Camp in Fiji. He calls religious Surf Nazi’s ‘old goats’. Last year he made $18 million without trying or caring.
Michael Rose’s management blow any chance of a free Stussy/Rose logo by asking “So this guy Stoogy yeah ? Er, Sushi… Um, Scuzzme… Wait. Starshi… Starski. Erm… Stuffy.”
It goes on.
“Sarki ?”
McLaren takes me to one side: “You should go down to Stussy’s warehouse – get some gear. Great wholesale prices, man. Then go down Camden Market – you’d make a killing.”

Scene: what appears to be a cute American-market beach video. Eddie Grant. No action. Recriminations, accusations fly. It’s the British industry in micro-cosm: press, management and record company, all thriving on one solid principle – not making money (nothing so reliable): getting away with it. It’s symbolic parasitism: blaggers blagging from other blaggers. Wide-boys, chancers, cowboys, fools…Boys.
It seems no-one had realised that the Grand Canyon is in fact in another state. It seems the Compton location was scrapped 3 weeks prior due to requirements of $ 15,000 cash for the three gangs in the are that wield real power: the Crips, Bloods and Cops.
It seems Rose is not happy being photographed – even cycling into the photographer. Upon their return the management will ask the photographer if there are any possible cover-shots they can use in the artwork for the single.
They insist McLaren was not hired for publicity value, credit him with directing Tony Kaye’s exceptional ‘Jumping In My Shirt’ video and suggest a 5-page Michael Rose feature.
There is talk of lost artwork, the record company ‘forgetting’ to pick up Rose’s option in North America. The only victim, potentially, is the shy, suspicious Rose, whose comeback single this is.
A dignified, commanding character with a hypnotic voice, Rose’s moods are erratic, picking up notably after a nip of brandy or a sip of neat Ginseng.
“Me used ta drink it when ‘twas called ‘PYT’ – Pretty Young T’ing. Was the same, ya know, but it was wickeder. Haha.”
He likes Malcolm but keeps his counsel; keeps something back. It transpires that none of the video budget has been paid. Weeks later half is forwarded, and later the rest, a development which casts McLaren in the unlikely role of shock philanthropist, more than the usual chancer or swindler.
Moral: “The British music industry IS very Haywards Heath.”

Scene: Darkness descends. After an exhausting day under the searing nuclear sun, the entire crowd adjourn to the cliff top, scrambling up a perilous dust path over 40 feet drops with only the power station’s fence, solid silver crates are piled high. They have ‘Nuclear Waste’ written on the side.
“Watch out for rattlesnakes,” McLaren giggles. This is his idea of fun. The photographer picks up a beer bottle. Inside is the perfectly formed skeleton of a mouse. David Lynch, eat your heart out.
Suddenly, the rising drone of warning sirens in the nuclear station goes off like a bad movie. We rehearse the hose-down scene from ‘Silkwood’. Over the loud-speakers, a bad American movie voice announces ‘Tommy Funk – report to HQ. Tommy Funk.’ It booms out over the ocean.
At 10pm the sun dies and night arrives. The nuclear power station lights up like a birthday cake, makes it look sinister and beautiful. McLaren lines up Michael Rose and the kids against the cliff’s edge, two steps away from a 60 foot fall.
“Do a little war dance along the edge,” Malcolm tells them eagerly.
The youngest flicks his feet in a funky war dance, deliberately tripping himself up. Not paying attention, McLaren is two steps back away from legend.
He tells them to give a black power salute then superimposes their hands over the nuclear breast of the power station behind them.
“And… squeeze it. Tweak it. Squeeze it.”
It could ‘A Mother & Child Reunion’. Or children fondling nuclear power. Or it could be endorsing pragmatic compromise: future generations might as well accept it. The only thing sure is Rose was not consulted and has not realised.
“It’s metaphorical, man. It’s metaphorical.”
The eldest (14) grinds his hips as he squeezes. No-one has asked him to, but it has the authority of experience.
“Grope it. And… Suck it. Go on. Lick it.”
A red light on the nuclear nipple lights up. Across the clifftop, crew members cry: “Did you see that? He made it light up.”
McLaren (dubious): “It was an accident, man. A total, wonderful accident.”
Rose’s eco-friendly militant Rastafarian philosophies seems rather random.
“It’s making nuclear power sexy, man, that’s all.”
Rose genially hopes for the best. The possibility remains that RCA have paid $75,000 for an Epic artist to make a video full of so much sexual innuendo it will not be played on British television. At one stage Michael is in danger of not actually being IN the photos, the article or the even the VIDEO.
When, by noon the next day, before the press officer can blink, Rose has departed for Kingston, they’ve left it all in the hands of a tireless media-manipulator, Situationist subversive who’s signed to another label. Then come three magic words, those magic movie words: “It’s a wrap.”
Moral: Rose’s video ends up rather quietly than acutely subversive. And his performance light up the screen.

Scene: Hollywood Blvd. Lunchtime.
McLaren signs his name on a Hollywood star, Anarchy sign round the letter ‘A’. Tourists video it. A man in a gorilla suit watches untroubled by the side.
‘Malcolm McLaren ? Invented the Sex Pistols, owns Virgin Airlines, right ?”
We adjourn to the Border Grill on Melrose. Chihauhau beers and Mexican cactus salads all round. McLaren has a drink. Then another and another. Malcolm’s life has been a sequence of ways to alleviate boredom. Stories fly. The Big Adventure: Rotten, Westwood, Biggs, Hollywood.
* How his grandmother befriended Agatha Christie, took in Marjorie Proops off the street – “paying for her entire education.”
* How Glenn Matlock’s socks split up the Sex Pistols.
* How his girlfriend Lauren Hutton broke her leg. “Fag’s day-out wasn’t it ?”
* On Boy George: “it all looked terribly popular.”
* On Sid Vicious: “Sid was the greatest Voguer of all time.”
* On the LA gang scene: “Compton’s just the Southend gangster scene.”

“I’m trying to change myself. People think I calculated everything. Look at me. My whole lifestyle is chaos. Life changes and designs you.”
“People in LA have a genuine and sincere lack of taste. Never in my life have I been paid so much money for not doing anything.”
“When I met Orson Welles, he said ‘when I came to Hollywood I was 26. They gave me a beautiful chair. When I got up I was 66.’ He told me, ‘Go home boy’.”
“I always wanted to make records by telephone.”
Malcolm’s re-mix album for his old label, Virgin, has been hampered because they have lost the master tapes for ‘Buffolo Gals’, ‘Madame Butterfly’, and others. He has replaced them with: ‘a House version of my British Airways commercial’ (for BA’s rival Virgin) and “filthy rap versions of the speeches ‘to be or not to be’ and ‘where for art thou Romeo’ ?”
Compton homeboys auditioned, watching Olivier’s originals.
“They all said ‘Yo. I get this bitch Juliet man, but why is this Laurence O-liv-ier wearing pantyhose, man ?”
He got BBC2 to film the auditions. He sold the rap to Coca-Cola (advertising another label’s product – new-product – with a worldwide commercial.)
Malcolm: “Epic might not be too happy, no.”
Moral: Malcolm McLaren is the sanest man in Los Angeles, the one that got away.
“I’ve never spent more than 4 months here see ?”
He is now making a movie of Led Zep manager Peter Grant’s life story and will be there for at least 9 months solid.
Whether he can survive the insanity, and, like his former protégé, John Lydon, LA becomes his spiritual home, remains to be seen.


Malcolm McLaren’s film on Peter Grant never did materialise.
A couple of years after the shoot I met him in a bar and tentatively asked if he remembered me. “No ! !” said McLaren.
“You shot a music video for Michael Rose at a nuclear power station on a beach in LA.”
Malcolm looked at me again and frowned. “Did I ?”
He died in October 2010, aged 64