Saturday, November 22, 2008


CHAPTER 16 SEX GANG CHILDREN: Malcolm McLaren / Adam Ant / Bow Wow Wow

[Chapter 15 in the US edition]

[all pages references are UK edition]

page 304

>Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle

Swindle heaped insult upon injury, as far as the Sex Pistols were concerned: not only had the movie swallowed up most of the group's earnings, but its script portrayed the band as mere implements of their manager’s machinations.

page 305

>“a children's club… love"-
-line from script, quoted in Craig Bromberg’s The Wicked Ways of Malcolm McLaren. New York: Harper & Row, 1989.
P. 210

>Richard Branson had “outswindled” him

McLaren was exasperated by Virgin's "repressive tolerance" (a Situationist concept, that)

Malcolm McLaren's Max Bygraves-y vocal turn for the Sex Pistols Great Rock'n'Swindle, as featured on one of the endless series of flogging-a-dead-horse singles released by Virgin off the album

page 307

>Burundi rumbling

The Burundi beat is a tribal rhythm that was recorded in a village in the small landlocked Central African republic of Burundi in 1967 by French anthropologists Michel Vuylsteke and Charles Duvelle. The tribe in question is the Ingoma and the rhythm was played by 25 drummers. Ocora, the celebrated proto-world music label specializing in ethnomusicological field recordings, released the album Musique Du Burundi in 1968.

In 1971, Barclay Records--like Ocora, a French label, and one that McLaren later had an close association with, especially after going into exile in Paris--released out a pop version of Burundi, arranged by British musician Mike Steiphenson, as a single. “Burundi Black” sold over 125 thousand copies as a single and was a chart hit in Britain.

page 308

>Africa as the cradle of rock’n’roll

Think of how the title of Paul Simon's Graceland linked Elvis and South Africa, just as the music fused Everley Brothers and Soweto township guitarjangle.

page 309

>postpunk… the path taken by johnny Rotten

Despite himself being the product of an art school, and seeing his “creation” of the Sex Pistols and punk rock as a form of art, McLaren loathed the turn towards artiness that took place with postpunk. This was become for him pop music was “at the end of the day… only a bloody Mickey Mouse medium really”

rock'n'roll fan McLaren flogging Teddy Boy jackets in his King's Road store Let It Rock

>"I don't find… understand it."
--McLaren. Sounds. 7/26/80

>“They didn't like… so hung up"
--McLaren. NME 8/9/80

>faith in thirteen year olds instead

Again, this was pretty prescient, because all through the Eighties kids in their early teens and late prepubescence would dominate pop culture, simply because they had more disposable income than impoverished college students or school-leavers-at-age-16 going straight to the life-on-hold purgatory of supplementary benefit (the lower amount of benefit you got if you’d never been employed; unemployment benefit was for those who had had jobs but were laid off). McLaren himself felt he was just a big kid--a "Giant Sized Baby Thing", as he titled one of the first Bow Wow Wow songs.

>"kick out that… generation”
-- McLaren. NME 8/9/80

page 310

>"poverty stricken… feeling"
--McLaren. NME 8/9/80

> grocers… postpunk tradesmen

Rough Trade, of course, started as a record shop, as did many other punk and postpunk independent labels like Small Wonder, Revolver, etc

>bemoan mass unemployment

As in Rock Against the Dole protest marches and benefits; or UB40 naming themselves after the yellow unemployment benefit claim form and doing songs like “One In Ten” about the plight of the 10 percent of the population who were jobless.

>“So what if… are worried."
--McLaren. NME August 9th 80

>“Be a pirate… job”.
--McLaren. Sounds 7/26/80

> wear gold… gold and sunshine

“Work is NOT the golden rule”, Annabella proclaims with glee in “W.O.R.K.” But gold--in both a literal and spiritual sense (shades of alchemy here) was the secret of how to beat Thatcher, according to McLaren. "All of them should be wearing gold,” Malcolm said of the unemployed. “Going down the social security, they shouldn't be paid in pounds, they should be paid in gold dust and sprinkle it all over themselves... It's an upper.” In numerous interviews, he waxed fondly about a fellow art college student, probably fictionalised, who had wanted to make his sculptures in gold and didn't see why he couldn't. As per the Situationists, “ be reasonable, demand the impossible”.

C.f Bataille’s exaltation of expenditure-without-return and helioatry (the will-to-glory in us that would have us live like suns) (for more see this review of his book The Accursed Share,

C..f. also DAF’s Gold Und Liebe, and rap’s imagery of bling and blazin’.

page 311

>Politicized punk

"Bands talking about problems and not really giving you information", McLaren sneered in one interview. He particularly disliked the greyness of 2-Tone, making an exception for Madness.

>"Don't be a grocer… it"--McLaren.
Quoted in Craig Bromberg’s Craig. The Wicked Ways of Malcolm McLaren.
P. 223.


The cover of Sounds in July 26th 1980 featured a photo of a cassette and the headline ‘Has Malcolm got the future taped?

page 312

>“I think ‘cult’…. ‘loser’--
Adam Ant, Sounds 11/15/80.

flyer from the early dayZ when Adam and his Antz woz a right cult

page 313

>knight in shining armour

The damsel Adam rescues: Lulu. By the early Eighties she was a light entertainment/variety celebrity as opposed to a soul-blasting Sixties pop star. So--c.f. the Diana Dors’ cameo in the Prince Charming video--an indication of Ant’s intention to crossover into the world of MOR showbiz.

>The Prince Charming Revue

Three hours of video, dance, and performance

>pure showbiz

Adam, talking to The Face in April 1981: “Such a new puritanism has grown up of late. I’d rather dress up like Liberace”

>“the rock rebellion rubbish… establishment”
"It would have… do with that"
--Adam Ant. NME 1/16/82.

>“I don't like drugs”

This anti-drugs/drink/smoking (but pro-sex) stance inspired Adam’s next big hit--and US breakthrough--the rockabilly-flavored ditty “Goody Two Shoes.” Chorus:

Don't drink, don't smoke
What do you do?
Don't drink, don't smoke
What do you do?
Subtle innuendos follow
Must be something inside

page 314

>"a junior Playboy… girl"--
McLaren. NME 11/8/80. Chicken news story.

>Only after reducing her to tears

Vermorel describes McLaren badgering the teenager to strip. “Which she did, but not unnaturally she put a cushion in front of her. The photographer carried on clicking, but Malcolm started shouting at her ‘take that cushion away’ at which point the girl erupted into tears, and the mother came in and wanted to know what the fuck was going on. The way the photographer described it, suddenly it was like a spell had been broken and he thought ‘what the fuck am I doing photographing a nude kid for this so-called pop band?’”

>A documentary crew…. Following McLaren around

Vermorel: “So there was BBC footage of McLaren’s meeting with EMI, where some of the shots produced during this photo session were produced--not the nude ones, but as far as the tabloids would have been concerned, this would have been EMI, the music industry, involved in child-porn. So then McLaren’s rhetoric would then be, ‘isn’t it always?’.

page 315

"the anti-Smash Hits… kids as objects"
--Vermorel. NME 11/8/80. Chicken news story

>Frantic-but-funky slap-bass

Gorman admired the nimble, superfast fretwork of jazz-fusioneer Stanley Clarke

page 317

>Great Man theory of history

A mediocre painter, McLaren had turned to pop music and fashion as his canvas, with people and publicity as his palette.

>change as top-down process

Although he liked to think of himself as a catalyst for disorder, McLaren's idea of how culture worked was actually the opposite of chaos theory and its notions of self-organizing phenomena.

>an improviser

McLaren saw himself not as just the creator of the Sex Pistols but the author of punk rock itself. But while the Pistols were indisputably punk's most important band, the movement was not reducible to their story; neither was their story reducible to McLaren’s maneuvers.

>Planned out in detail

Vermorel: “There was a dynamic and an ideology, but no masterplan as such”

page 318

>"I got really pissed… but better"
--Boy George. NME 5/1/82


Another lyric: "I'm unintelligent and no one can stop it/So don't think this fool is human too”

Chihuaha: presumably to suggest the idea of “little bitch” but also phonetic proximity to “chicken”, a jail-bait age child-woman.

>See Jungle

The first track (and follow-up single to “Go Wild in the Country” is “Jungle Boy”, a deliriously euphoric bundle of polyrhythmic and melodic joy. I was quite shocked then a few years ago to get a CD of African pop music from a friend and discover that “Jungle Boy” was stolen hook, line and sinker from “Umculo Kawupheli" by the Mahotella Queens, the most famous female exponents of the South African township music genre known as mbaqanga. You can find the original on the Shanachie compilation Soweto Never Sleeps: Classic Female Zulu Jive. McLaren would later take South African traditional and pop songs he encountered during the making of his “folk dances of the world” album Duck Rock, give them new lyrics and copyright them as his own compositions.

Bow Wow Wow enjoying Dejeuner Sur L'Herbe; the suppressed-at-Annabella's-Mum's-insistence cover for the See Jungle album, which was not that long afterwards used on an EP sleeeve (Lwin having passed the age at which she could consent to the image's use without her mother's permission)

>”Go Wild In the Country”


I don't like you, I don't like you, town
I don't wanna like you, I'll shop around
I don't want you, I don't want you, town
I don't wanna want you, I'll shop around, I'll shop around

I can get a train, I don't need no hamburgers
No take-away, I want my own game
No bacon steak, no strawberry milkshake, I wanna keep it
I'm sick of seeing signs to eat walking down these lonely streets

Wild, go wild, go wild in the country
Where snakes in the grass are absolutely free
Wild, go wild, go wild in the country
Where snakes in the grass are absolutely free

I don't know you, I won't know you, town
I don't wanna know you, I'll shop around, I'll shop around

I can get a train, I don't need no hamburgers
No take-away, I want my own game
No bacon steak, no strawberry milkshake
I do better, well, I do better

Swing from the trees, naked in the breeze
Don’t want no boiled chicken, I wanna go hunting and fishing

I can get a plane, I don't need no suitcases, 'cos truth loves to go naked

I wanna picnic, 'cos I get sick
Got no boiled chicken, I wanna go hunting and fishing

I can get a train, I don't need no hamburgers
No take-away, I want my own game


"Elimination Dancing" imagined de-evolution transforming the disco floor into a Hobbesian killing field of all-against-all.

page 319

>art school milieu… music as a lesser form

As revealed in Vermorel’s remarkable Vivienne Westwood biography,
Vivienne Westwood: Fashion, Perversity, and the Sixties Laid Bare. New York: Overlook Press, 1996. Which is really much more about Malcolm McLaren and Vermorel’s relationship with him, and equally Vermorel’s memoir of the Sixties as an art school bohemian/wastrel/troublemaker.

The non-importance of music in the grand scheme of things is a running theme through McLaren’s career, something which he sticks to doggedly and continues to preach. Including at a British Consul-sponsored and hosted record industry event in New York I went to in spring 2007, designed as a warm-up for UK label and PR scum on their way to SXSW in Austin. McLaren, amazingly, was invited and presumably handsomely paid, to give a talk, which naturally was a monstrously self-serving/McLaren-myth-burnishing, intensely digressive, if hilariously cheeky--oh, the frozen look of horror on the British consul’s face--anecdotal ramble across his career with nothing in the way of advice to UK music bizzers on how to shift units in foreign territories (thereby boosting the UK’s balance of trade figures). Rather McLaren insisted on the fading importance of pop music compared to videogames and such-like.

“Christ, if… ago”
--Malcolm McLaren. Sunday Times (London) 11/19/77

See also this 1981 comment, against the backdrop of New Pop and the cult of Trevor Horn and Martin Rushent (quoted page 258 of Bromberg’s biography). McLaren:
“The audience was what was exciting about punk rock, the attitudes. The music was only a vehicle. Today the music has become the most important thing. they all talk about what great production, about the machanics and the mechanics are selling the record. The content is irrelevant. That shows you where we’re at. That’s why the records are depreciating.”

>"I Want Candy"

a cover of a Sixties hit by the Strangeloves.

Crucial to Bow Wow Wow's success in America was Annabella's image change -- the Mohican hair style -- which made her stand out as exotic and punky in an innocuous sort of way, but also served as a kind of visual logo for the band in the same way as Phil Oakey's lop-sided haircut did for Human League.

“Annabella wasn't… that up"
--Malcolm McLaren NME 11/20/82


Bow Wow Wow fan site

Bow Wow Wow official site

mega directory hub for Bow Wow Wow links

All non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated

No comments: