From Vive la Commune! in 1881 to Vive le Rock! in 1972: How a Chinese Communist Party pamphlet inspired one of the great Malcolm McLaren designs
//From top left: Chinese Communist Party pamphlet, 1971; McLaren in Let It Rock 1972; Proclamation by Engels and Marx, 1881; Title lettering, Belgian film poster, 1958; Little Richard compilation, 1972; Repro of McLaren’s 1972 t-shirt collage//
A year or so ago I established the source material for one of the first designs generated by Malcolm McLaren in the fashion partnership he conducted with Vivienne Westwood in the 70s and early 80s.
Now I can reveal the inspiration: text contained in an unprepossessing Communist booklet celebrating the short-lived “Paris Commune” government of 19th Century revolutionary France.
Let It Rock was digging in the ruins of past cultures that you cared about. It was giving them another brief moment in the sun. It wasn’t about doing anything new. It was an homage. It was nostalgia.
Malcolm McLaren to Momus, 2002
Forty three years after its creation I can reveal the source of the Jerry Lee Lewis image which appeared on the Let It Rock t-shirt design “The ‘Killer’ Rocks On!”.
It is from a lobby card for Alan Freed’s 1958 rocksploitation flick High Street Confidential!; an original was just one of the pieces of 50s ephemera adorning Let It Rock’s premises at 430 King’s Road in 1972.
The London Rock n Roll Show at Wembley Stadium 1972: Memories of Oz, Frendz and the Let It Rock stall
I acquired my first underground press publications in the summer of 1972, at about the point when the sector was taking the nosedive from which it never recovered.
Still, better late than Sharon Tate, as they say. Aged 12, my taste had been whetted by sneak peeks at an older brother’s collection of magazines when a guy called Kevin O’Keefe who lived down the road gave me a few copies of Oz, including number 43, the July issue.
A few weeks later, to my astonishment, the newsagents in Hendon’s Church Road started stocking Frendz. I folded issue 33 between a couple of music papers and pored over it in my bedroom.
Neither of the magazines are shining examples of the genre, but they had something in common: the centre spread of OZ 43 contained a subscription form back-printed with a flyer for the London Rock N Roll Show, a one-day festival of original 50s acts and those who could claim kinship held at Wembley Stadium on August 5 that year.
And for me the most beguiling article in Frendz 33 was a two-page stream-of-consciousness report of the event filed by one Douglas Gordon and illustrated with photographs by Pennie Smith, soon to leave for the NME and carve out her reputation as one of rock photography’s all-time greats.
If you are of a London gig-goer of a certain (getting on to be advanced) age you will remember “Jesus”, an enthusiastic audience member at many musical events in the capital from the 60s to the late 70s.
Jesus was notable because a) he was personable and b) would often discard his clothes as he energetically idiot-danced stage-front. Jesus liked to frolic with abandon, more often than not exposing much, or even all of his rail-thin body.
A viewing of Jes Benstock’s fab doc A British Guide To Showing Off occasions this opportunity to dig out the London Belles feature from a 1973 issue of shortlived free magazine West One.
Above is milliner Diane Logan in one of her outfits as contestant Rita Ritz in the 1973 Alternative Miss World.
Logan – wife of sculptor Peter, mother of fashion illustrator Blue and sister-in-law of AMW host & hostess Andrew – is wearing a satin bathing suit with one of her own hats (from Logan’s Chiltern Street shop) and sandals from Tommy Roberts’ Covent Garden boutique City Lights Studio.
Another London Belle was Vivienne Westwood in an early media appearance wearing a Let It Rock striped suit, ankle boots, patterned stockings and an adapted Chuck Berry t-shirt from 430 King’s Road’s incarnation as Too Fast To Live Too Young To Die.
Can’t beat a bit of Chuck for a frolic.
Watch him move.
I saw him live a year or so later at The Rainbow. He played a 35-minute set and brought on his daughter for the lovey-dovey finale. It may have been South Of The Border.
When the Teds realised he had vamoosed rather than play an encore they tore up the place.
Twenty-odd years later I was in the green room for an edition of The David Letterman Show which featured him and was shot in London. What struck me was Berry’s bearing and the agile grace with which he moved among the throng of well-wishers and fans.
That and the fact he was wearing the same pair of yellow Lionels I’d seen on him at the Rainbow…