Baruch Dayan HaEmet: Malcolm McLaren
In some regards, McLaren was a nice Jewish boy. McLaren might not be a Jewish-sounding name, but he was raised mostly by his mother, his stepfather, and his grandmother, who were all Jewish. He attended a private Jewish school in England for six years and had a bar mitzvah. At least one of his marriages was to a Jew. When he initially sought to put together the Sex Pistols, he offered the job of lead singer to members of the tribe Sylvain Sylvain (guitarist of the New York Dolls) and Richard Hell (bassist of Television).
His obsession with Nazi symbols and regalia deviates from the "nice Jewish boy" image. At his London store, Sex, in the mid-'70s, McLaren sold patches and shirts with swastikas, SS handkerchiefs, and Gestapo buddy rings. "Malcolm was in awe of the symbolism," said a former Sex employee in Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming. "Not just the swastika, but a lot of artifacts from that era. The Nazi Youth badges. They were extremely rare. He had a lot of rings, including gold SS wedding rings, which weren’t for sale because they were originals." (For more information, see my 2008 New Vilna Review article, "Jewish Punks Embrace Nazi Rhetoric and Imagery.")
McLaren carried over this fascination with the Nazi taboo to the Sex Pistols. Bass player Sid Vicious infamously wore shirts with swastikas on them. In the book El Sid, David Dalton wrote that "Malcolm McLaren programmed him" and that Vicious "was fed a steady diet of poisonous ideas by his cynical handlers. Books on Charles Manson, Nazi paraphernalia, murderous hatred toward the establishment." In addition, the Sex Pistols song "Belsen Was a Gas" is an offensive song about the Holocaust and a musical depiction of the Nazi imagery touted by Vicious and McLaren.
McLaren might have invited controversy and offended many, but at the same time, he deserves credit for his controversy-laden success with punk music and fashion. As Paul Taylor wrote in Impresario: Malcolm McLaren & The British New Wave, "Malcolm McLaren didn’t invent punk. All he did was envisage it, design it, clothe it, publicize it and sell it."
In an obituary, BBC News quoted Savage as saying, "Without Malcolm McLaren there would not have been any British punk. ... He could be very charming, he could be very cruel, but he mattered and he put something together that was extraordinary."