Thursday, April 8, 2010
Sometime in the 1990s, in the dawning days of my writing career, I interviewed Malcolm McLaren for Ben is Dead magazine. I was accompanied by my then-editor Darby Romeo and another writer whose name currently eludes me. It was a very long, strange and kind of wonderful interview.
McLaren was notorious as a kind of Svengali in the music business, and he was often spoken of as a calculating, rather sinister character. But I found him to be one of the most charming and fascinating people I've ever met. His company was a real delight, and I had the feeling he could've kept feeding us terrific anecdotes for days.
And the ironic thing is, he was really nice, too. Not just charming. Nice. We were a young, rude and raggedy bunch, but McLaren treated us like we were big deal journalist types. He not only answered our endless questions with candor, he stuck around talking to us until he ended up being late for an appointment. Perhaps I'm flattering myself, but I had the feeling that he much preferred our kind of eager but undisciplined approach to music journalism over spending another afternoon playing musical elder statesman for Rolling Stone or whatever. He gabbed about his mom and his bad teeth growing up and whatever crossed his mind, and he didn't just hold court. He wanted a conversation, he asked us questions back. This was a guy who really knew how to talk.
And here's the kicker: hours into this thing, when the interview was winding down and McLaren was glancing wistfully at the door while we dragged out our goodbyes, Darby asked him if she could take a picture of him making a really silly face. She said it was a little side project she was working on; when she interviewed celebrities, she'd take pictures of them making silly faces. I could see McLaren deflate just a bit, perhaps wondering if he would ever be rid of these weird kids from some weird little zine he'd probably never heard of. He was the guy who created the goddamned Sex Pistols, and we were now officially wasting the hell out of his valuable time.
But then he said sure, and as Darby snapped the picture he screwed up his mug into an absolutely priceless, Upper Class Twit of the Year expression. He went all out, it was really something to see. Then we all had a laugh and said our goodbyes for real, and he drove away into a Hollywood Blvd. sunset.
Malcolm McLaren died today. I only knew him for maybe three or four hours, but they were three or four hours very well spent.
Got a tip for Monsters and Rockets? Want to contribute to the site? Send us an email.