“20 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll Style: Punk Rock”: Malcolm McLaren and John Lydon chat with Night Flight in 1988

By on April 9, 2016

“Welcome to twenty years of rock n’ roll style, on Night Flight. Tonight, Punk Rock… the first movement to react against rock itself,” says Pat Prescott in her intro to 20 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll Style: Punk Rock,” which originally aired on November 5, 1988. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

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20 Years of Rock N’ Roll Style: Punk Rock” begins with short interviews with Sex Pistols manager and artist Malcolm McLaren and former Sex Pistols frontman John Lydon, whose name is shown as “Johnny Lydon.”

Prescott describes McLaren’s relationship to the band this way:

“Malcolm McLaren was the impresario, and the Sex Pistols were some product, but some things just can’t be manufactured.”

Malcolm McLaren had stopped into Night Flight’s New York offices earlier that same year (June ’88) to promote a retrospective exhibition about his career, ”Impresario: Malcolm McLaren and the British New Wave’,” which was, at the time, still on view at the New Museum of Contemporary Art on lower Broadway in NYC until Nov. 20th of that year (it had opened in September 1988).

The Malcolm McLaren exhibition — organized by Paul Taylor, an art critic, and designed by Judith Barry and Ken Saylor — served, as Michael Kimmelman wrote in his New York Times review of the exhibition, “as a fitting extension of the 42-year-old Mr. McLaren’s self-aggrandizing activities.”

“Like him, the show’s organizers have knowingly sought controversy by replacing the paintings and sculptures typically occupying a museum’s space with pop items – rock videos, posters, record jackets, articles of clothing – that serve to outline Mr. McLaren’s flamboyant career. For its detractors, ‘Impresario: Malcolm McLaren and the British New Wave‘ may well constitute the deadening triumph of commerce over art.”

Kimmelman continues:

“A media provocateur, Mr. McLaren frankly promoted the Sex Pistols as a bunch of talentless rogues who thought nothing of insulting the Queen and who cackled on their way to the bank. Through each stage of the group’s escalating success, he openly documented the manipulative machinations of the music, media and fashion industries, all the while airing social taboos that remained, especially in Britain, closeted away. “

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In the full-length version of his vintage interview for “Night Flight,” excerpted in the “Takes Off” segment, McLaren says:

“Johnny Rotten was a fabulous actor. I think he was a fraud, in some respects, I’ll say that with all sincerity, but he was a wonderful actor and he played a great part, and he was a terrific poet at the time. He was able to be very inspired by a lot of things that I and my friends and people around him, who worked with him, gave him at the time, and I don’t ever deny everybody’s — including Steve Jones and Sidney… and all the guys — everybody made a great contribution. Not one of us on our own could have ever created such a mammoth event, and a great phenomenon, as the Sex Pistols were.”

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McLaren continues:

“With other cases, and jobs I got involved in, I’ve been probably a lot more mercenary, and those haven’t been quite as inspiring because of that. I’ve always found that the people never quite rose to the occasion as the Sex Pistols. The Sex Pistols was a wonderful piece of chemistry, but you just couldn’t invent, you couldn’t manipulate it.”

“What you did do — or what I did do — was that I hid in the toilet when an explosion was going to occur, and I allowed it to occur, rather than pretending to be the responsible manager trying to douse the flames. I never did that, I always made the flames rise as high as they could, and then would come out and say ‘God, what’s going on here?’, and the gentlemen concerned, or record company people would say ‘What do you think?!’, and I’d always sort of utter the words, ‘Well, boys will be boys,’ and that was, you know, my contribution.”

As you see in this excerpt, McLaren  — who died from cancer five years ago, aged 64, at a hospital in Bellinzona, Switzerland, on April 8, 2010 — also talked briefly about how he got into new romantic/80s new wave pop with Adam Ant, then about his unique solo career (the South African rhythms of “Soweto” and the opera-infused sexual video for “Madame Butterfly”).

Watch the original Malcolm McLaren interview (airdate May 2, 1985) on Night Flight Plus!

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John Lydon, meanwhile, offers his two cents to Night Flight about his former band’s former manager: “Malcolm is one of these people who giggle in the wings, you know. He’s not a creative person. He’s more like a thief. You can’t really give him credit for anything, if you’re going to be really honest, other than thievery, and skullduggery.”

It’s pretty clear they weren’t on good speaking terms on that the time.

Prescott then tells us that Lydon had reacted to his mother’s death of cancer by writing “Death to Disco,” a song he performed with his band Public Image Ltd. We then see a snippet of the video he did for the song, directed by Jon Roseman.

(Fun fact: Night Flight were the first to give on-screen credit to video directors, which soon caught on with MTV and other music video programs.)

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Also featured on “20 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll Style: Punk Rock” are music videos by: The Clash (their official video for “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?,” performed live at Shea Stadium at a concert that took place on October 13, 1982, which was later released on the band’s The Clash Live: Revolution Rock DVD); Siouxie and the Banshees’ “Hong Kong Garden”; The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated”; the Dead Kennedys’ “Rock of Ages,” and finally, Iggy Pop’s music video for “High On You.”

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Click here to watch Night Flight: Take Off to Punk Rock,” on Night Flight Plus. Watch the Clash video described above right here:

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.