FEATURE-Malcolm McLaren soaks up karaoke

By Otti Thomas

MAASTRICHT, Netherlands, Oct 18 (Reuters) – “Where are the crates. Don’t tell me they didn’t deliver them or I’m going to kill somebody,” shouts Malcolm McLaren to no one in particular. The designer of “anti fashion” and former manager of notorious seventies punk band the Sex Pistols sighs. McLaren doesn’t feel like talking because he has to finish an exhibition about himself as a work of art within 24 hours.
“This will take another two weeks,” he mutters and then asks his assistant for the Sid Vicious doll. Cursing and swearing he squats on the floor of Maastricht’s Bonnefanten Museum and puts the doll beneath a pile of bricks in a coffin containing relics of the punk era: boots, T-shirts and newspaper headlines announcing: “Sid Vicious is dead”.

Three hours later, during a tea break, 53-year old McLaren says that after fighting the establishment for more than 30 years, he accepts there’s no underground culture anymore.

Life has become Karaoke

“Life has become karaoke. Anyone can be a star for 15 minutes. You get up, you sing George Michael, you are George Michael. Everything is mainstream,” he says.
Four one-armed-bandits represent the karaoke element of life in McLaren’s new art project called “Casino of Authentici and Karaoke.” After opening in Maastricht, the exhibition is due to go to Germany, Britain, Japan and France.
By scoring three anarchy symbols on the slot machine, the player “wins” a video fragment about McLaren’s life, projected onto a screen.
“You can play with my life, without taking any responsibility for it. That’s karaoke,” he says. Relics from the past represent the authentic or romantic in life; alongside mementos from the punk era are some of the clothes McLaren designed with his former partner Vivienne Westwood, displayed pressed between glass sheets.

The assassins of fashion

McLaren’s karaoke world is a world without any particular point of view. It differs from the past, when it was possible to live life without fitting into the norm.
“I expected people to live…for adventure. When I designed fashion, I wanted people to wear it as anti-fashion, to be the assassins of fashion. It was for people outside the establishment, with a different kind of behaviour, which maybe was symbolised in the way they wore their clothes,” he says.
He took some of his inspiration from Apache Indian culture and pirates, people who went their own way.
“Pirates would beat the living daylights out of a colonel who was colonizing an island for spices on behalf of the British empire – and then take his uniform. That’s a funky kind of pirate,” McLaren said.
In much the same way the Sex Pistols era, with its chaos and adventure, was funky, he says. “Philosophically speaking, it’s very romantic to become an outlaw at age 14, leave school, wear your blazer inside out, write ‘chaos’ on your armband, steal your mother’s safety pins and walk out into the streets. Live life to the full.”

Pop Culture loses power

But at the end of the century pop culture hasn’t got the power it once had, the fashion designer says.
“The new form of dressing, more often than not, is some kind of disguise to look like nothing. You can walk through every country and not worry about passport control. We don’t dress up like peacocks anymore and get out on the street to confront everybody at the bus stop. We are immune, used to that.” Since the karaoke world is democratic, he says it’s fine.
“It’s the way we’ve all decided culture should be. I’ve come to a point, where I’m trying to understand how the whole culture works and how I can work in it. I’m still a student,” he says.
The current exhibition is a first attempt to find his place in the karaoke world, he says.
“That’s what an artist does, tries to find a position in the world. The life of an artist is whatever he paints or creates. You try to take the past and ram it right into the future. That’s when you change the culture and you move on.”
McLaren is part of the Bonnefanten Museum’s exhibition on “Taste” which runs to February 13, 2000.

Interview for Reuters with Malcolm McLaren, 1999