Making high brow ideas popular

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Even though I might appear to have tastes that could be regarded as elitist in many respects, I am always happy to partake in popular culture when the ideas being expressed make sense. I have great respect for the achievements of Malcolm McClaren, who managed the Sex Pistols, because he seemed to have a special gift for popularising concepts that were originally regarded as peripheral, “fringe” or elitist.

For example, McClaren’s album “Duck Rock”, which he made in collaboration with Trevor Horn – one of the last great record producers from the UK, helped to kick start the whole “World Music” genre in the record business, as a viable mode of expression. Other artists were inspired by a fraction of the flair that this team displayed, to launch new recording stars and also give a shot in the arm to some other artists who were bereft of relevant ideas at that time.

In promotional interviews that he gave when “Duck Rock” was released, McClaren made an interesting point about the fact that great music tends to come from places where people have to deal with trials and tribulations, which could account for the potency of African American music of the 20th Century, especially the Blues. He suggested that South Africa of the second half of that century was also a great source of powerful music, due to impact of Apartheid policies on the Black majority population of that country.

This idea could be regarded as rather academic, but somehow, McClaren was able to make it filter through into the popular consciousness in a way that wasn’t earnest or worthy – no mean feat!

After “Duck Rock”, he went on to make an album called “Fans”, which help to kick start the whole popera movement, especially through his single that condensed the plot line of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly into club music, that featured excerpts from the title character’s main aria (or sung soliloquy) – “Un Bel Di”. This led to the likes of Monserrat Caballe and Luciano Pavarotti having global hit records. McClaren may be gone, but he won’t be forgotten.