English performer and former Sex Pistols manager, Malcom McLaren, died today, 8 April 2010. It is believed that he, like Wilma Mankiller who also died this week, might have died of cancer. Amongst other hats he wore, McLaren wrote and performed, in true '80s regalia, two of my favorite songs during my last year of high school: the 1983 "Buffalo Gals" and "Double Dutch" as well as the 1984 unique inspiration, "Madame Butterfly."
I remember McLaren's music providing a way out of disco and into a collaboration between hip-hop and what one might call early techno. Somehow, across the sea, this bloke merged NY's uptown with downtown. With the release of Buffalo Gals and especially Madame Butterfly, I could finally see some of the white rich kids with whom I attended high school and later college bopping their heads ever so slightly (in hiding, perhaps) to a beat other than Zeppelin or the Sex Pistols (who, don't get me wrong, were both the extremely dope of a different ilk).
Oddly, just two days ago, I was reading "Sale of the Century" by Greil Marcus in ArtForum (April 2010). The piece discusses McLaren's recent video, Paris: Capital of the XXIst Century. McLaren's "Buffalo Gals" video, an excerpt from the Marcus article, as well as chapter 13, "Le Peintre" (The Painter), from Paris are below. Enjoy and remember. . . .
IN 1991, THE SEX PISTOLS and the galvanic remakes of Madame Butterfly on McLaren's album Fans were in the past. Few had noticed McLaren's paltry album Waltz Darling in 1989 or his deeply felt BBC film The Ghosts of Oxford Street in
1991 (with Tom Jones as a singing version of the great entrepreneur and embezzler Gordon Selfridge). Now McLaren was in Paris to make his album about the city, with Françoise Hardy, Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Gréco if he could get her. "One night, sitting with friends in the brasserie Wepler," McLaren explained when I asked where the toilet-paper people came from, "I couldn't help complaining about the difficulties and horrors of working with divas. Suddenly, I was interrupted by a stranger sitting nearby. He introduced himself as a film editor and collector of old films made by artists that, if interested, I might like to see." They went back to his studio: "I discovered an Aladdin's cave of piles and piles of tin cans full of short reels of 35-mm film. They were for the most part commercials, made for French cinema"--to be shown in movie theaters before the feature--"dating back to the very beginnings of cinema itself" (including a clip by the Lumière brothers, "the first ad ever," of a naked woman, seen in silhouette, "holding up majestically, with both hands, strands of spaghetti"). The man was thrilled to find an audience; McLaren was thrilled to discover commercials the collector told him were made by Max Ernst and Jean-Luc Godard. Then he put it out of his mind and finished his 1994 album, Paris--from which some of the music and narration in the video work are taken.
Chapter 13: "Le Peintre"