I was one of the last journalists to interview Malcolm McLaren. I did it for Q, a UK music magazine.
I met McLaren at a coffee spot on 18th street, near Union Square (Le Pain Quotidien, if you know it). He chose the spot. If he was ill with the cancer that killed him he did not let on. Back then, in 2007, he seemed in fine form.
When the ex-manager of the Sex Pistols walked in to the crowded cafe at 11:30 am I did not recognise him. I expected a flame-haired, wild-eyed provocateur; I got a well-fed middle class man in his 60s. But then he started talking.
There was that unmistakeable nasal north London accent. There was the absolute self confidence. And there were the vicious swipes at anyone who crossed him or even so much as crossed his path.
Sid Vicious? Secretly gay, he said. John Lydon? Probably the same. Kate Moss? Too daft to be dating Pete Doherty. In fact Doherty, the druggie rock star currently accused of supplying the drugs that killed an heiress, Robin Whitehead, was the only person he wholeheartedly approved of.
He reserved his sharpest comments for his ex-partner, designer Vivienne Westwood. He only married her because she was pregnant, he said. She dripped poison in their son Joe's ear, he added. She had a lot in common with Margaret Thatcher, he finished with obvious disgust.
That Thatcher comment was the only time he seemed upset. All other insults were released with a silent "ta-da," as if he were a magician revealing and releasing white doves into the air. McLaren thought saying ghastly things about famous people -- even those close to him -- was his art. He took a page from Serge Gainsbourg's playbook, who famously advised artists to "provoke -- but stay human."
He was a journalist's dream. We got through three hours of interview tape and when I ran out I had to start taking notes.
He argued that punk, the idea he came closest to originating, had been and continues to be an unputdownable idea in modern culture. He also pointed out that he had brought the creative departments of fashion and music closer than they've ever been.
And the troubles? His break with Westwood, the costly lawsuits with Pistols singer Johnny Lydon? "The way of the artist is fraught with difficulty," he told me.
The way Malcolm talked, the emphasis he placed on ideas, his joy in spectacle, the relish with which he provoked society, was fraught with difficulty. Sometimes there was substance behind what he said, sometimes not.
But he was never boring. And how many people can you say that about?
Polite society will sorely miss him. And so will I.
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