Roger Cox: The Prompt

IN THE middle of the desert a band is playing, and a group of young black men in white shorts and T-shirts are doing press-ups in time to the music.

Then, out of nowhere, a man in a white suit appears in front of them, bursting with energy. It's Malcolm McLaren. "Clap clap!" he shouts, and the men doing press-ups dutifully start clapping mid-press-up. "Now," he says, "with your knees bent and your hands down, gallop like a horse across the ground!" McLaren gallops towards the press-up men, and they gallop towards him.

Malcolm McLaren, who died in Switzerland this week at the age of 64 following a long battle with cancer, will go down in history as one of the progenitors of punk.

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That's as it should be. He managed – some would say created – the Sex Pistols and also worked with the New York Dolls ("managed" is perhaps too strong a word in the latter case).

He was the man who first recognised the explosive potential of Johnny Rotten; the man who gave David Johansen and Co their controversial red leather suits and provocative hammer and sickle branding. If punk was like a violent electrical storm, McLaren was like a lightning rod, drawing all that angry energy to him, channelling it, shaping it, but never diluting it – if anything, amplifying its force.

It would be a shame, though, if he were only to be remembered for his punk exploits. History loves to pigeonhole, but throughout his life the art college drop-out from London's East End did his best to defy categorisation.

As co-owner with his then partner, Vivienne Westwood, of the London clothing shop Let It Rock (later renamed SEX), he left a significant mark on the fashion world. As a solo artist, post-Sex Pistols, he also had a notable role to play in the genesis of hip-hop, not least with his 1982 track Buffalo Gals – a top ten single in the UK that introduced thousands in this country to a brave new world of scratching and breakdancing.

You could argue that the way he fused African music with mainstream pop in his 1983 song Soweto made him an innovator too, even if he did look a bit silly galloping around like a horse in the video.

Indeed, you could argue any number of things about McLaren's life and undoubtedly people will, for years to come. In the end, perhaps he's best remembered simply as a man who sought out creative energy wherever and whenever it seemed most vital, and then tapped into it, with explosive results.

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• This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, April 11, 2010