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Malcolm McLaren - Funeral for a Friend

Mark Hagen | 17:14 UK time, Friday, 23 April 2010


Malcolm McLaren's step-son Ben Westwood put it best. Malcolm used to tell him and his brother Joe fantastic bedtime stories, spinning out exciting adventures that always stopped halfway through. And that was the thing about Malcolm said Ben, speaking at his funeral on Thursday - "he told the greatest stories, but you had to finish them yourself". I'm 52 and, like a lot of my generation, Malcolm whispered a story in my ear too and yes, it was the greatest, the most exciting story that I'd ever heard. The ideas in that story - that swirling, chaotic, glorious, beautiful story - profoundly changed the way that I thought about life and helped me to start telling my own. And on a lovely spring day in a deconsecrated church in London it was time to say goodbye.

Malcolm cut wide and Malcolm cut deep. I went to the funeral with a friend of mine who'd been there at the beginning and who confessed in a slightly surprised tone that she was more upset by his death than she had been by that of her father. Over there were Glen and Paul from the Pistols, over there Pete and Steve from Buzzcocks, over there Viv Albertine. Behind them,Tracey Emin and Dinos Chapman along from Jeremy Thomas, Alan Yentob and Bob Geldof. Don Letts with Pam Hogg, Jon Savage and Adam Ant. Paul Cook's daughter Holly, now in the Slits, and seemingly endless numbers of musicians, film-makers, designers, artists, producers, teachers, and writers standing alongside Malcolm's family and friends all touched and moved by this remarkable man.

I was thrilled the first time I met him back in 1994. He was promoting his Paris album and I was working at VH1. Malcolm talked and I listened. This was how it usually went with Malcolm - a flood of anecdote, ideas, odd historical facts and endless enthusiasm which left you overwhelmed, and over-stimulated. In the last few months of his life, I was working with him on a major Radio 2 series and every email, every phone call and every meeting brought with it another reason to be excited and to be inspired. It usually also brought with it another reason to gently bang your head against the desk but somehow that didn't really matter because at the bottom of it all you knew that you were dealing with real genius and that it would be worth it in the end.

We never knew he was ill; I don't think anybody did. Young Kim, his long-standing partner said that the day before he died he was talking about being discharged from hospital; she told me he was planning the radio programmes right up to the end.

And so we sat in the church and gulped as the spray painted coffin - "Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die", how apt - was carried in and set down. We gulped a bit harder as Young bravely and touchingly talked about the final hours. And we shuffled our feet and felt a bit embarrassed as Bernie Rhodes - "My name is BERNARD!" - staged a bizarre intervention to insert himself into the narrative and then went on to heckle Vivienne Westwood. Was it what Malcolm would have wanted? We weren't sure.

We smiled as a 10 year old girl tap danced along to the Tiffin Boys Choir rendition of You Need Hands, the Max Bygraves song memorably performed by Malcolm in The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle and then cried a little as we sang it ourselves and endeavoured to follow the order of service instructions to "dance around".

Then the exit of the coffin to the strains of Sid Vicious singing My Way accompanied by cheers and applause, out into the sunshine to the traditional glass sided hearse pulled by black horses with black feathers on their heads waiting take Malcolm away for his final curtain call.

And on the way to Highgate Cemetery we slid out of the procession in Camden to marvel at the hundreds of people lined up to pay their respects and to stand with them for a while, young Rasta guys pulling their hats off as the coffin passed, standing with Paul Cook anonymously in the crowd as they sang Sex Pistols songs at the tops of their voices.

Stories, stories stories. Always stories.

Thanks for everything Malcolm; see you later.

Related Links
Malcolm McLaren: Artful Dodger - tribute documentary on BBC2
Punks old and new bid farewell to McLaren - BBC News story


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