Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The McLaren Minute: Remarkable in its Orthodoxy

Lennon may be everywhere, but he is also nowhere;
McLaren is at Highgate.
no funeral service
Master publicist and Punk Rock Impresario, Malcolm McLaren's funeral and its attendant 'minute of mayhem' was a milestone in the history of funeral rites. The coverage of this ritual event and the commentary that surrounded and followed it was extensive, so I won't repeat the details here, but to remind my gentle readers that Mr. McLaren's spray-painted casket was paraded through London, following services at a deconsecrated church, that mourners were transported in a festooned double decker bus to Highgate Cemetery for burial, and that Mr. McLarens' wish for a minute of mayhem in his honor was communicated by his son, and celebrated creatively by his fans.

It must certainly be said that this was a creative, expressive and remarkable funeral, but what is most striking is how closely to established tradition it clings. This is not for a lack of imagination, nor is it an accident.

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When John Lennon, a revolutionary of a different stripe, died 30 years before McLaren shuffled off his mortal coil, a much more radical departure from tradition occurred. The public was encouraged to celebrate and mourn him wherever they happened to be, in whatever manner they chose, using whatever focal point they thought to be appropriate. Mr. Lennon's mortal remains were nowhere to be seen, and although an enormous gathering assembled in Central Park, as well as individual shrines in front of the Dakota building, none of this was endorsed, authorized or led by Mr. Lennon's family. The service was everywhere and nowhere; everything and nothing. It was a break from the constraining as well as the comforting and defining traditions of the past.

Not so with McLaren. Certainly his minute of mayhem was a departure from the traditional minute of silence, but it had much more in common that an amorphous 'do your own thing, man'. The community of the bereaved were unified and comforted in a collective act of remembrance as meaningful and powerful as any solemn or religious rite. The coffin, spray-painted with the McLaren slogan "Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die" shouted "I'll do it MY way". McLaren's way, though, was the way of his fathers and grandfathers. Carried by an honored group of relatives and associates, he was placed in a special ceremonial vehicle, and transported in a very public manner to his permanent place of rest. In contrast, Lennon was slipped away silently and secretly in an ordinary transport vehicle by who-knows-who, privately cremated, and then off to who-knows-where, for who-knows-how long. Lennon may be everywhere, but he is also nowhere; McLaren is at Highgate.

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A service held at a deconsecrated church has a lot more in common with a service at church, than an open invitation to do whatever you want wherever you want. Remembrances and eulogies, and a recording of Sid Vicious singing 'My Way' bring a community and a family together to remember and share the burden of loss. They do this just as effectively if they are using four letter words and a few repeated notes on an electric bass, as would communion, a homily and 'How Great Thou Art' played on the organ. In fact, all of the important elements of a meaningful funeral were present at McLaren' s service.

Just as Punk Rock needs something to be angry about, something to rebel against, something to contrast with, McLarens' funeral needed those traditional elements to riff off of, to bring what is important into focus. Let's not forget that Sid Vicious sang Frank Sinatra and Eddie Cochran. It may not have been your grandfather's music, but it wasn't the sound of one hand clapping either.

In thirty more years, McLaren's service will seem more like Queen Victoria's than John Lennon's, but I hope it doesn't seem foreign or revolutionary to us then. If our funeral traditions in thirty years don't have the timeless elements of participation, ritual, community and public acknowledgement of the loss, we will have, as the Sex Pistols lyric goes, "No Feeling".

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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization. dailyundertaker@gmail.com