Like him or loathe him, Malcolm McLaren was a visionary, and in our increasingly myopic world, that’s something we really need to cultivate. So what is the visionary archetype all about? The capacity to imagine.
If we want to conjure up some new ‘fit for the 21st century’ patterns, imagination is key. So why isn’t there more of it around? Because in order to imagine, you first have to get rid of your assumptions.
There was a popular phase coined over 30 years ago in the rock and roll industry…’assumption is the mother of all fuck ups’. (It was later adopted by Hollywood but you can imagine Frank Zappa saying it first). We can all relate to this at the surface level…’I didn’t lock the door, I assumed you were doing it’. But we don’t stretch the definition to include our deeply held assumptions.We assume there has to be a banking system. The system could be operated by thieves and charlatans, but we assume we have to put up with them. If the system completely breaks down, we assume we have to bail it out with tax payers money. How many other ‘necessary evils’ do we endure because we assume we have to? Inept governments? Bureaucratic councils? Trashy free newspapers? Badly designed airports?
Our assumptions are deeply held beliefs. They need shaking up a bit by some penetrating questions that bypass the left brain. How many times have we asked or been asked a question to which the response is ‘I don’t know’. We then go off to ‘find’ the answer, assuming that all knowledge is held either in somebody else’s head or in Wikipedia.
What if we stopped and asked one simple/complex question…’I don’t know the answer but if I were to know the answer, what would it be?’
This sends the left brain into chaos. It can only process the past, the ‘known’, the ‘available’ data. While it is frantically searching the empty filing cabinets, the right brain has an opportunity to pluck a new answer from the world of infinite possibilities in the surrounding cosmos.
I once worked with Malcolm McLaren on a Bow Wow Wow concert. His ideas for the show included turning the Finsbury Park Rainbow Theatre into a fun fair by removing the seats and installing dodgem cars, penny arcades and stalls. The piece de resistance was to be a helter skelter, down which a 16 year old Annabella Lwin would descend while singing the opening bars via a new fangled radio mike (remember this was 30 years ago!).
At the pre production meeting every suggestion was vetoed by the Health and Safety executive of the Greater London Council, who constantly repeated ‘you can’t do that at a public event’. Malcolm became increasingly agitated as his dream show idea was slowly being dismantled. Suddenly the word ‘public’ filtered through his right brain. ‘So what would happen in the case of a private event?’ he said quietly. The GLC man frowning at this seeming irrelevance said ‘We don’t have any jurisdiction on private events’.
‘In that case’ said Malcolm, ‘I am cancelling this show’ (the promoter turned grey at this point). ‘Instead I am going to hold an inauguration party for the Bow Wow Wow fan club. All ticket holders can swop their concert tickets at the box office for party tickets. We shall have our own security on the door. Gentlemen I think that concludes our business here’.
The meeting was adjourned. The ‘party’ went ahead a week later.
Malcolm never assumed that anything was set in stone…a bit like the young King Arthur!
If we rekindle and cultivate the visionary archetype, we too could pull a sword of truth from a stone…and that sword could cut through all kinds of assumptions.