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Remember Them...

Malcolm McLaren Obituary By New York Dolls' Sylvain Sylvain
Ben Hewitt , April 9th, 2010 12:36

Sylvain Sylvain remembers the enigmatic Malcolm McLaren. As told to Ben Hewitt. Sylvain portrait by Chris Becker

Malcolm opened up the doors for punk music around the world. He was a visionary and took what was going on in New York City and made it global. He was a massive influence on everyone who ever had a punk shop or a punk band. His passing represents the final chapter in an era when music was exciting.

I was in total shock when I heard the news, because I didn't even know he was sick. He's an old pal of mine and we've kept in touch over the years, and it's just so sad when you see someone that talented who's such a nice person leave this world. I first met him and Vivienne Westwood at a New York clothing trade show in 1971. I had a knitwear company that was called Truth and Soul, and their company was called Let It Rock. We met during the show, and the New York Dolls were playing that same evening. They came down to check out the band, that was really cool. Their clothing line was in the Rockabilly style - or Teddy Boys, as it would have been called in the UK - and he had a Jerry Lee Lewis hairstyle and long sideburns, with a long blue coat with black trim with winkle pickers. They really dug the band, and we loved the way they dressed so tried to get some clothes out of them. I guess they were genuinely inspired by our music and our style, so that's how it all got started.

"Fast forward to 1975, and we were just about to break up. I saw Malcolm outside the front of the Chelsea hotel in New York and he was asking me why I was so down. I told him that things weren't going that good for us, and he thought that was so sad and asked if he could help us, and basically become our personal manager, which he did. He rented us a loft and we started practising and rehearsing, and we came up with the 'Red Patent Leather' show. David Johansen and Malcolm never really had many conversations together - or even got along that well for that matter - but that was the one time they both got a gleam in their eye. We had all the red clothing and the song 'Red Patent Leather', so Malcolm - who had the political agenda - was like, 'Why don't we put up the Soviet flag?'. That was probably the only time I saw them do anything creative together, and it was pretty much suicide. It was kamikaze for our career. A well-known New York journalist called me up after and said 'Syl, you guys tried the fag thing, you tried the crazy guitar thing, and now you're gonna go Communist... that's it, that's the end of your career.'

So in May 1975, in Florida, we broke up for real, so all the guys had gone home and stuff. Malcolm and me were left there alone and I asked him if he'd ever been to New Orleans. He said no, so I said, 'Man, we're kinda close' - in the States, kind of close means a thousand miles away, but still - so we went there and had such a good time. We went to all the vinyl shops and I took him to all the clubs. Then, when it was time to go, I didn't have a drivers license but we still had the rented car from Florida. He wanted me to drive back, because he didn't know how to drive, and I told him that would be impossible unless I took my test. So, we drove to the Motor Vehicle Department in New Orleans and he was coaching me outside the MVD, asking me 'Sylvain' - that's what he'd always call me - 'Sylvain, when you get to a red light, what the fuck do you do?'. I said, 'Well Malcolm, I guess you stop'. But I took my test and passed through with flying colours.

For you guys in the UK, there wouldn't have been punk without him. He was really turned on by the scene when we went back to New York - bands like Patti Smith, Television, The Ramones, Blondie - and he took it to the UK. He really turned the whole world onto it by that point. Even with The Sex Pistols, Malcolm was probably the most important star and band member. It's not that punk wouldn't have been the same without him - it would have been null. It just wouldn't have happened.

"When I remember Malcolm, I think that he taught me the idea that if you don't like something, you're the only one that can change it. That's the mentality people need to make things happen. It takes a spark to build a fire, and Malcolm was definitely that spark.

God bless Malcolm McLaren.

Click here to read a great Malcolm McLaren interview with Momus.

The New York Dolls play London KOKO on Monday April 19th.
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