Malcolm McLaren: the man who put 'punk' into British rock 'n' roll

What musician or artist could outshine Michael Jackson at auction? Most people's guess would perhaps be Paul McCartney or Elvis Presley.

But at Bonhams in December, 2009, Jackson's iconic black shoes and fedora were outsold by a £72,000 punk rock artwork from 1979.

The original artwork, from The Clash's London Calling LP, bears many of the elements that the punk movement had already firmly thrusted into pop culture by the time of the album's release.

Original artwork for The Clash's 1979
London Calling LP sold for £72,000 at

Punk's anarchy (the artwork features bassist Paul Simonon smashing his instrument) and the movement's curious mix of contempt and reverence for the music that preceded it (the album's lettering is based on Elvis's 1956 debut LP) are both clearly in evidence.

And one man who did more than most to put these elements into punk was Malcolm McLaren, the impresario, self-publicist and former manager of the Sex Pistols (whose singer, Jonny Rotten, is pictured above).

He died yesterday, aged 64, following a long battle with cancer.

In the mid-1970s, McLaren was a 1950s-obsessed clothes shop owner who, according to music journalist Nick Kent, passionately loathed The Beatles and had never heard of Jimi Hendrix.

Then, as the story goes, US glam punk band The New York Dolls arrived in London and awoke McLaren's eyes and ears to a world of possibilities...

Famed for their bold cross-dressing, reductive thrashing music and general bad behaviour, The New York Dolls showed McLaren that fashion, anarchy and excitement could be re-injected into the dreary rock music of the mid-'70s.

Before long, McLaren had renamed his clothes shop SEX (formerly Let It Rock), stocked it with ripped clothing inspired by US punk rockers like Richard Hell, and had assembled and was managing his own punk band called the Sex Pistols.

The Sex Pistols, formed by McLaren, lead the anarchic British punk rock

The rest, as they say, is history. Thirty years later, Bonhams' £72,000 sale of The Clash's iconic London Calling artwork showed that punk's legacy as one of the 20th century's most important pop cultural movements is firmly cemented - and the value of its art and memorabilia will continue to appreciate for collectors and investors.

Although McLaren certainly didn't invent punk (as he sometimes claimed), his art-school background, creative vision and fashion ideas - in collaboration with his then-partner Vivienne Westwood - brought elements to punk which were vital to its impact, spirit and legacy.

That "punk spirit" has since remained constant in music - whether its Madonna's irreverent impersonation of Marilyn Monroe in her Like A Prayer video, or the flamboyant costumes of Aerosmith's Steve Tyler and other rockers which regularly appear at auction.

Meanwhile, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood continues to flaunt the punk aesthetic in her designs, as does McLaren and Westwood's son Joseph Ferdinand Corre with his successful Agent Provocateur lingerie chain.

As the Sex Pistol's singer Johnny Rotten (aka John Lydon) said in a statement following McLaren's death: "Above all else he was an entertainer and I will miss him and so should you."


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