Malcolm McLaren: Thank his granny
Malcolm McLaren was one of the most significant cultural figures in the 1970s whose death will bring back a flood of nostalgic memories for many of those who were teenagers at the time. He will be most remembered as the impresario behind the Sex Pistols, the mop-haired catalyst for punk and for running a fashion shop called SEX with his then-partner Vivienne Westwood. McLaren the '80s pop act and the manager of bands such as Bow Wow Wow is likely to feature less prominently in the collective consciousness, but these were not insubstantial achievements in their own right.
My abiding memory of Malcolm McLaren will be none of these. It was not because of his illustrious past that I always sat up and listened whenever he popped up on my television or radio. It was because of his mind. I will remember McLaren for his intelligence, his use of language and his ability to catch a common thought and reshape it into a prescient phrase.
His arrival as an orange-haired hipster on the nation's TV screens in the late 1970s, loftily pontificating on any subject he cared with prophetic confidence, was like being given your first shot of whisky after a diet of fizzy pop acts and even gassier DJs. He understood the media game and knew he could play it better than most. Plus he had that magic media ingredient: charisma. He was colour while everybody else seemed still to be black-and-white - whatever the monochrome images on the right might suggest.
He said that his grandmother told him to "disregard anybody with any air of authority". Most kids would have thanked granny for the advice and perhaps nicked her fags, but McLaren turned it into a set of brand guidelines on which to build a career. He could have used those wise words as the tagline on any of his products, just as Apple now encourages people to Think Different.
For someone with an anti-establishment persona, it was ironic that he chose to be an entrepreneur, the career path of choice for any right-thinking Thatcherite. But it was this sort of contradiction that made McLaren so compelling. If there was a rule, he was the man to find an exception.
His days at the top table of youth culture were long gone, but he was still one of the most intelligent and entertaining commentators on the subject of contemporary arts. He was always worth listening to; his remarkable skill with words made sure of that.