McLaren, New York Dolls, Walter Benjamin, New Music Rules in 82

Happy Sunday, music people, and thanks for tuning in to Radio K-SAT!

In my efforts to get the word out about Stealing All TransmissionsI have had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of former Clash associates, one of whom recently suggested that I hadn’t give Malcolm McLaren his due in terms of the New York-London connection. Granted, McLaren arrived to elaborate the abject qualities of The New York Dolls (see below), by dressing them up in red leather, providing a Soviet-inspired stage backdrop, and thereby extended by a few months their demise. As Jerry Nolan noted, “Malcolm caught us at a very vulnerable moment” (Please Kill Me, p. 191).

McLaren, likewise, tried in vain to recruit Sylvain Sylvain to front an early line-up of The Sex Pistols, and he stepped in to perform one-man interventions with Johnny Thunders, Jerry Nolan, and Arthur Kane. According to Bob Gruen, McLaren saved their lives.
Still, I like to imagine McLaren as a poacher of the New York scene, rather than either a shaker or a mover. He inserted himself into the ebb and flow of proto-punk life on the mean streets of New York, but he did little to sway the tide.
McLaren’s post-Pistols’ success with Bow Wow Wow and on his own reflect a real vision of mass/pop culture, as exemplified in the clips below from the July 31, 1982 of Billboard.
Billboard -- kozak July 82 - 1
If McLaren drew liberally upon the politics and aesthetics of the Situationists for the Pistols, he channeled here his inner Walter Benjamin. Benjamin’s writings from the Weimar years, including “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” inspired the generation of intellectuals coming of age during punk and after. In “Work of Art,” Benjamin sees the aura of the unique objet d’art under assault, and posits “the reactionary attitude toward a Picasso painting changes into the progressive reaction toward a Chaplin movie” (Illuminations, p. 234).
Likewise, Benjamin notes,
Billboard -- kozak July 82 - 3 “The characteristics of the film lie not only in the manner in which man presents himself to mechanical equipment but also in the manner in which, by means of this apparatus, man can represent his environment” (Ibid., p. 235).
 McLaren, as noted in the clip on the left, celebrates the boom-box-toting kid in New York City, and the virtues of the cassette. “That fellow can become, in his own right, his own DJ … they can collate their music without the added neurosis of having to go out and purchase musical instrument or records of expensive studio time.”  The shift is on, from reproduction to composition, and with music in its digital form, consumers can produce in a rich variety of creative ways–if those ways do, in many cases, minimize the physical movement once entailed in making music.
(If these images appear too small, you can find them here, on pp. 3 & 58.)
I’ve included below more coverage from the New Music Seminar of 1982 on the matter of marketing (dig the pic of X in the upper right), which includes notes on the importance of record shop workers knowing the actual music (!). “People would come in asking about the song with the waitress in the cocktail bar when the Human League song first came out,” recalled Bruce Godwin, from the Record Rack, in Houston. (See p. 14 from the link included above.)
 billboard -- kozak July 82 -- retail - 1billboard -- kozak July 82 -- retail - 2
And, now that you’re thinking about The Human League …
Thanks for checking out the whole set here at Radio K-SAT! Do let me know if there are sections of the book that you think deserve elaboration here, or related subjects you’d like to see taken up here.
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