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BOW WOW WOW
Looking to duplicate the subversive pop’n’packaging success he’d achieved with the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren created Bow Wow Wow in 1980, absconding with three members
of briefly-managed Adam and the Ants— bassist Leigh Gorman, drummer Dave Barbarosa and guitarist Matthew Ashman— and teaming them with a hopefully more malleable protégé, 14- year-old singer Annabella Lwin.
The daughter of Burmese immigrants, Lwin was discovered by a McLaren associate working in a London dry cleaner that summer, singing along to Stevie Wonder songs on the radio. Though that was the extent of Lwin’s musical experience, she passed a formal audition soon after, ending McLaren’s six month search for the right singer.
Or at least the right-looking singer. McLaren would later say “one look and I knew she was the face of the ’80s.”
The Face, the influential British music, fashion and culture magazine, agreed, featuring Lwin on the cover of its first anniversary issue in May 1981 (with a McLaren feature on the inside).
Later that year, The Face devoted a two page spread to the infamous cover of the band’s debut album “See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang Yeah! City All Over, Go Ape Crazy.” A photographic recreation of Edouard Manet's classic Impressionist painting “Le déjeuner sur l'herbe” (“The Luncheon in the Grass”), it featured band members-as- picnickers and was shot by newly minted art school grad Andy Earl—his first commission.
The frank sensuality of the Manet —a naked woman sitting casually on a riverbank between two fully-clothed men engaged in conversation and seemingly oblivious to her— had itself been controversial when it first appeared in 1863 (Napoleon called it “indecent”).
Its 1981 doppelganger would spark cries of “pedophile pop” since Lwin was only 15 at the time of the shoot .
“We knew it was edgy, obviously, with the naked thing,” says Leigh Gorman. “There wasn’t quite the sensitivity that there is now with being underage this, that and the other. I knew it was going to be something special but I don’t think I grasped that there was going to be so much controversy about it. I was pretty young myself back then–– I just thought it was a cool thing.”
“It was Malcolm stirring the pot. He was good at it.”
Declared one of the 100 greatest album covers in 1991 by the writers of Rolling Stone , “See
Jungle!” could just as well have been titled “Now See Jungle! Now Don’t See Jungle!” as Earl’s astonishing cover photo initially appeared more often in international fashion magazines—the Face, Germany’s Stern, Paris-Match—than record racks.
Initially approved by RCA, it was quickly replaced in England after a small first pressing. Police confiscated Earl’s negatives and the British tabloids had a field day attacking the man who’s already brought forth the Sex Pistols and the Sex and Seditionaries fashion shops.
As for America, Earl’s original cover didn’t see the light of day there until....
Let’s back up a little....
Certainly Bow Wow Wow’s colorful sound and sight— youth- and sex-obsessed lyrics half-
sung,/half-shouted atop driving Burundi beats, the band sporting Vivienne Westwood-designed
pirate fashions— suggested teen tribalism that was a lot more fun than the Sex Pistols version. Of course, working with McLaren meant subversive motivations as continued trying to implode the established music industry from within, a failed Trojan Horse tactic first attempted with the Pistols.
Amazingly, McLaren got Bow Wow Wow signed to already once-bitten EMI, which in July 1980 released the group's debut (the very first “cassingle”), a propulsive McLaren-penned paen to home-taping titled “C30, C60, C90, Go” (playback times for cassettes). One side was blank, for home taping, and the key slogan was “Now I don't buy records in your shop/ I just tape them all!”
Off the radio, as well: a Sounds cover story that same month featured a photo of a TDK cassette (C45, oddly) with Bow Wow Wow’s and McLaren’s names scrawled on it and the headline “Has Malcolm got the future taped?” (At that point, the manager was far better known than the band.)
In “Sun, Gold & Piracy: Malcolm’s Vision for the ‘80s,” McLaren espoused the death of vinyl albums (“an outworn mode and it’s beginning to be too expensive”), the coming rise of cassettes (he’d be right on that front as cassette sales eventually overcame vinyl records) and the allure of home taping (“it makes you feel rich. Like a pirate”).
The vinyl single printed all the lyrics on its cover. Not surprisingly, the British Phonographic Industry was pissed, officially complaining to EMI that the track encouraged the home taping and piracy destroying the record business (foreshadowing the peer-to-peer file sharing/ digital piracy panic that erupted 20 years later). Ironically, EMI was at the forefront of an industry-wide “Home Taping Is Killing Music” campaign, with a Jolly Roger formed from the silhouette of a cassette.
EMI noted that “C30,C60, C90, Go" contained lyrics in which a policeman arrests the singer because home taping “it’s illegal...so I shoved him off and blew his whistle!” Despite minimal UK radio support, it rose to #34.
Next up: “Your Cassette Pet,” a cassette-only release housed in a flip-top case resembling
a pack of cigarettes. McLaren exploited the adolescent sex angle on “Sexy Eiffel Tower,” an ode to masturbation with lyric symbolism underscored by Lwin’s hilariously Donna Summer- like panting and moaning (“I was supposed to be falling off the Eiffel Tower...truthfully,” Lwin insisted later).
In “Louis Quatorze,” Lwin gleefully sings about a man who ravishes her—“”with his gun in my back I start to undress....he’s my partner in this crime of happiness, ‘cos I’m just fourteen”— a catchy song, later reissued as a single on RCA with a sinister single sleeve, also shot by Earl.
Perhaps awkwardly, EMI stood behind the group through four singles, the last one the unemployment-will-set-you-free anthem “W.O.R.K. (N.O. Nah No No My Daddy Don't).” None broke Top 50.
Soon after, EMI, possibly just remembering the Sex Pistols association, set Bow Wow Wow free, as well.
Malcolm McLaren once said that “to question authority and challenge conventions, is
what makes my life exciting.” Fortunately, his plan to concurrently produce a porn-influenced magazine titled “Chicken” as a “junior Playboy for the primitive boy and girl” never got past the planning stage, though graphic designer Nick Egan and photographer Andy Earl both worked on
a prototype that included shots of Lwin and Bow Wow Wow.
The plan was to tape “Your Cassette Pet” to the proposed magazine for “added value”—
something British music magazines have done for decades, first with vinyl, flexi-discs and tapes and these days with CDs and downloads.
The magazine title was pedophile slang for underage boys and McLaren, a cultural magpie in an anarchist’s nest, planned to offer the under-16 crowd advice on contraception and abortion. Aside from some always-welcome controversy, McLaren apparently hoped to embarrass both EMI and BBC television, then chronicling the marketing of his latest project.
There were the usual polemic underpinnings— pop music, which appealed to and was marketed to adolescents, was built on sex, and therefore kiddie porn; adolescent sex drive was not only unavoidable but needed to be encouraged— but the underlying motivation seemed mostly to create another tempest in an overheated teapot.
Adam Ant survived McLaren’s Ants-theft: his next album, “Kings of the Wild Frontier,” similarly pirate-clothed and Burundi-beat driven (McLaren provided both groups with the same African recordings and Westwood fashions) topped the UK charts and yielded three top-ten singles.
Bow Wow Wow cast off the pirate chic and “nouveau savage” esthetic and moved from the over-exposed Burundi beat to a more accessible, equally bracing disco-punk pulse with twangy guitars and elastic bass lines, at which point McLaren got the band a worldwide deal with US- based RCA Records.
At the time, Billboard hailed the signing as a “that-label-gets-it-right-once-a-decade move” in the tradition of Elvis Presley in the ‘50s, Jefferson Airplane in the ‘60s and David Bowie in the ‘70s (the latter had his own cover controversies, of course: see “Ch-ch-ch-changeling”), but RCA would not have anywhere close to the success it had with those artists despite McLaren’s grand schemes.
Ever the provocateur-with-art-school-background, he had a brilliant opening marketing ploy: posing the exotically beautiful, by-now-15 year old Lwin naked for the cover of their RCA debut, knowing full well what would follow. That debut, incidentally, was originally titled “Go Wild In the Country,” the title of Bow Wow Wow’s first UK Top 10, a rhythmically ecstatic song lyrically aligned to the picnic erotics of the Manet painting.
According to McLaren, one of his major inspirations had been Jean Jacques Rousseau’s observation that “craft must have clothes but the truth loves to go naked”—a slogan that also adorned the lintel leading into his and Vivienne Westwood’s Sex shop. In this anti- urban Rousseau/Manet pastiche, the band had clothes while the singer had to go naked and exuberantly squeal “truth loved to go naked” (despite not loving the experience)..
“The idea was to recreate a classic controversial painting,” says graphic designer Nick Egan, then a student at the Watford College of Art & Design. Just a few years earlier he had switched allegiance from David Bowie to the Clash after seeing Bowie’s “Thin White Duke” show at Wembley Area.
“I had a restricted view— if David came to the front of the stage, I could see him,” Egan recalls. “And as I left, five limousines— Bowie leaving with his entourage— almost ran me down. All that gave him a god-like but distant feeling.”
A few months later, Egan found himself at the 100 Club’s soon-to-be- legendary Punk Rock Festival, that music’s first significant exposure to the music press and record industry. Among the unsigned bands that played on Sept. 20, 1976, the night Egan was there: Subway Sect, Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Sex Pistols and The Clash.
The contrast was huge: “The bands are blowing me away and the guys are just hanging out in the audience, drinking a beer like everyone else.” Egan says of his conversion.
Egan would link up with the Clash and their manager, Bernard Rhodes (“the architect of the anarchist thing much more than Malcolm, who was not a political animal”). He’d create cover
art for the Clash’s “White Man In Hammersmith Palais” and “Tommy Gun” singles before later moving into McLaren’s camp, first steps in what turned out to be an acclaimed career as a graphic designer.
Ultimately, says Egan, “I learned more about art from Malcolm in six months than I did in all of art college.” He also recalls one of McLaren’s pronouncements—“‘I use people like a painter uses paint’...which was a brilliant quote.”
For the Bow Wow Wow cover, Egan and McLaren visited several London museums, including the National Gallery, and poured through art books until it came down to three choices.
“Obviously the Manet ....but also Eugene Delacroix’ ‘Liberty Leads the People’ and Jean- Honoré Fragonard's ‘The Bolt.’” [See Artbox]
“Le déjeuner sur l'herbe” would become one of the most famous Impressionist works, but in 1863 it was mostly a hugely controversial one. At the time, nudes were usually depicted
in allegorical settings, as goddesses or creatures (usually nymphs) from Greek or Roman mythology. Manet’s was a modern woman situated in a contemporary landscape , the time period fixed by the men’s bohemian clothing.
And she was gazing directly at the viewer, almost defiantly; classic female nudes usually shielded or averted their eyes, as if ashamed or embarrassed.
Manet’s painting was rejected from the official Paris Salon of 1863, as were numerous other Realist and early Impressionist works. After a group of affected artists protested, Napoleon granted permission for what was called the "Salon des Refusés," to allow the public to form their own views. They apparently hated the Manet as much as the Salon judges , who found it anti-academic because the painter made no transition between the light and dark elements of the picture and didn’t seem intent on proper perspective.
The press snickered, suggesting the scene depicted prostitution in public parks, and that Manet’s nude looked like she needed a bath (maybe because the painting was first shown as “The Bath.”). Manet himself jokingly nicknamed his painting "la partie carrée"—or “foursome.”
Yet the large oil painting (82x105) became a cornerstone of the Impressionist movement and modern art, inspiring dozens of homages and reinterpretations over the next 160 years, including Pablo Picasso’ 1962 cubist take, “Luncheon on the Grass, After Manet,” and a 1963 album—both cover and title— by England’s New Jazz Orchestra (that photo captured the picnickers but didn’t bother to evoke the watery milieu).
For McLaren, there was an added bonus: Not only was the Manet copyright-free and royalty-proof, it fit in with his penchant for cultural piracy, played out that year in his fervent championing of home taping and The Pirate Collection, Westwood and McLaren’s first catwalk
show in West London— with Bow Wow Wow as the runway soundtrack.
“The Delacroix was my choice because it was a revolutionary painting and I thought it was a
powerful image,” Nick Egan recalls.
Perhaps Delacroix's best-known work, “Liberty Leads the People” depicted Liberty as
both allegorical goddess and robust wench, leading the people forward over bodies of the fallen (it celebrated July 28, 1830, when the French people rose —mostly peaceably— and dethroned Charles X, the Bourbon King). As her dress falls down to expose her breasts, Liberty’s holding the tricolor flag of the French Revolution (soon to be the flag of France) in one hand while brandishing a bayoneted rifle with the other.
Critics at the time called the Delacroix painting “ignoble,” but it’s considered among the first political works of modern painting. (Coldplay adopted the actual painting for the cover of 2008's “Viva la Vida").
One suspects Annabella would have made a fine Liberty, the other band members splendid revolutionaries and Earl did a shoot them with that general theme and Napoleonic threads. You get a hint of the possibilities in his portrait of a bandolier-holding, draped Lwin on the cover of the second UK pressing of “See Jungle!” and the RCA reissue of “Your Cassette Pet.”
The third option, Fragonard's “The Bolt” was also revolutionary in the sense that during the reign of Louis XIV, French art tended to favor weighty religious and historical themes. After The Sun King’s death in 1715, the rococo style came to prominence, filled with lighter fare and scenarios full of eroticism and hedonism; by mid-century, Fragonard was one of its masters.
Possibly his best known work, “L'escarpolette” (“ The Swing “) shows a young man hiding
in the bushes, watching a woman on a swing being pushed by her cuckolded husband; she allows her presumed lover a furtive peek under her dress as she flicks a shoe off in the direction of Cupid. Neon Park would adopt that scene in 1972 for the cover of Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes,” hilariously anthropomorphizing the key figures as a cake on a swing (with a key slice missing) sending the title shoe flying over a phallic snail in the grass [see Chapter XXX].
“The Bolt,” painted in 1764, had a more dangerous edge: it featured a disheveled woman half-heartedly fending off her lover's advances as he bolts the door of a bedroom already in disarray. There’s sexual tension in their contact—does it represent a passionate embrace or her struggle to get free?
Didn’t matter, says Egan. “I wasn't so keen on that one—and the band wasn’t even in it.” Which is, of course, why Manet won out. Leigh Gorman says “it seemed the most appropriate
to using the makeup of the band–– the female and the guys on the grass.”
In any event, Egan says, Lwin’s nudity had not been an issue when potential covers were
“I was not even thinking about Annabella at the time because she was underage, so that didn’t
even cross my mind. I knew the history [of the Manet] but I had no idea it would cause the same controversy for the same reasons.”
“I got involved with Malcolm after a student exhibition in London,” recalls Earl, the a student at Trent Polytechnic in Nottingham. His work in that show had been influenced by the late 19th century art photography movement and the works of William Eggleston and Ralph Gibson, the latter encountered in 1976 when he attended the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. McLaren sought Earl out because of the “painterly” quality of his photographs (the same reason many bands have used Eggleston photographs for album covers).
After McLaren, Egan and Earl decided to reenact the Manet, the photographer volunteered as location scout. “My parents lived to the south of London and I knew there were various bits of riverbank down there that might be suitable to match the original painting. I spent more time driving around trying to find somewhere that didn’t have a housing estate opposite.”
He finally found the right spot—a pond in the Box Hill country park in Riegate, near Surrey. According to Earl, “the most difficult thing was trying to find a wooden boat–– everything was fiberglass. Finally we found one and dragged it down for the photo shoot.”
No permits were sought, so the shoot was something of a stealth operation, though hardly a quiet one. Egan recalls that “the guys in the band were all from the East End of London and hadn’t really been out in the country and as soon as they arrived they started throwing bricks at the ducks!”
“It was quite an eventful shoot. Annabella wasn’t ready to do the shoot—Malcolm hadn’t explained she’d have to take her clothes off. It got a little bit out hand at that point, until Malcolm said ‘well, you can’t let the band down now, Annabella, you’ve got to it.’ And reluctantly she did.”
However, Gorman says the band was quite aware of what was going to happen beforehand. “We’d discussed it at length. We discussed everything at length with Malcolm–– it was always a plot or something going on...”
“I remember talking to Annabella on the phone a long time the day before about how it wasn’t salacious but had artistic merit. I believed it. I was young and idealistic, and I wasn’t much older than her, 19, so it wasn’t like I was trying to entice a young girl to do something dodgy— it seemed really cool to me and Malcolm was very persuasive. Everyone was talking to Annabella. It wasn’t sprung on her on that day. We weren’t that evil!”
Gorman remembers the entourage arriving in a Land Rover and a small convoy of cars
and “being amazed how close the setting looked to the Manet. I went up to Malcolm and
said ‘Malcolm, she’s going to do it.’ And he said ‘What are you on about?’ I said I’d spoken to Annabella the day before...
McLaren got mad—“‘it wasn’t your bloody idea!’ He thought I was trying to take his credit away from him...’Gorman, you’re not even going to be in the bloody picture.’ I was concerned with my own fate in the picture at that moment. I knew this was going to be iconic and I’m the one that speaks to Annabella, that does all this stuff in the band, and yet I’m not going to be in the bloody picture?
“I told Malcolm ‘I can be the patch of light in the bloody boat’ [Manet’s boat is unmanned.]. He said ‘OK, Gorman, you can be a bleeding patch of light in the boat.’”
Gorman laughs recalling the boat “had a hole in it and it was sinking and I’m saying ‘take the fucking picture, it’s fucking sinking!’” [The back cover of the “Prince of Darkness” single features the empty boat, still afloat.]
That wasn’t the only potential disaster: according to Earl, as soon as Lwin was naked, “a party of five year old school children came wandering past and sure enough, the teacher had to avert their eyes—‘this is a bit of a different nature show than we were expecting!’”
Age would prove a bigger problem soon after. Lwin had not been accompanied by a chaperone, a legal requirement for her to work with the band. And she hadn’t whispered a word about the shoot to her mother.
“In terms of minors and sexuality, I hadn’t thought about it being illegal.” says Egan. “I didn’t realize that Annabella was only 14 [actually 15], which caused all sorts of controversy, which is exactly what Malcolm wanted.”
Egan had come with his girlfriend—“I felt we needed another woman there to persuade Annabella it was art. We broke it to her at the very last minute that she had to be naked–– she just knew she was going to be in the picture. She had no clue about art or Manet; she just worried about having to get her tits out, but she did it in the end.”
Lwin may not have fully understood what was expected of her until McLaren showed her the Manet and asked her to mimic the “gazing at the artist/photographer” pose sitting between the fully-clothed Ashman and Barbarosa, both sporting New Romantic threads by Westwood.
“Vivienne’s clothes had that wonderful, slightly bohemian style that could have been that [older] period,” Earl notes, “so the whole thing wrapped together really nicely as a visual package.”
The resulting photo, absent any text identifying the band or the album title, was a beautifully composed pastiche, with great attention to detail. Lwin, who looks both shy and as if she’s enjoying herself in film footage from the shoot, later remarked that “Malcolm was much more interested in the placement of the cherries in the fruitbowl than he was in my being naked.”
The back cover offered a smaller black and white photo, the pose slightly different than the front. In both, Lwin is shot from the side; unlike the Manet, the poses are discreet— she’s turned away just enough that no nipples are visible.
Considering this was Earl’s first major shoot and Egan’s first art directing job, “I'm amazed we got it as close to the original as we did,” says Egan, “The one thing no one ever noticed was the cigarette butt in the foreground—that cracked me up, part of the charm of the amateurishness of it.”
The butt is on the original cover, but was airbrushed out when the photo was re-purposed for 1982's “Last of the Mohicans.”
Fortunately for the controversy-courting McLaren, Annabella’s mother, Amie Dunn-Lwin, was outraged when she found out about the shoot the next day. After consulting a lawyer, she sought to block the photo, alleging her daughter “was being portrayed as a sex object without her prior knowledge.”
“We also found out we were in breach of ‘photographing a minor in a public place.’” says Egan. “She was going to have us thrown in jail–– and rightly so when you think about it!”
According to Earl, RCA had initially approved the Manet cover. “They loved it, but when the mother said we couldn’t use it, they weren’t going to pay me. Then we got a phone call from the police saying they wanted all the negatives because the mother had complained that the photographs of Annabella had been taken without her permission and she was obviously under age.
“The police took quite a few of the negatives but obviously Malcolm kept a couple to one side.”
Dunn-Lwin also called the tabloids, which accused McLaren of child pornography and dubbed Annabella “The Cheap Nymphet.” Such reactions were, Earl admits, “fairly threatening, but at the time we had such a cavalier attitude, we all thought it a bit of a laugh, really.”
“We got hounded by the press a little bit,” Gorman agrees, “and there was a slight concern that we might have done a little bit more than we’d realized it was. We kind of took it in our stride but it was a brief moment–– we were busy with touring, recording, and all our other artistic endeavors as a band.”
A thwarted McLaren stirred the publicity pot, sending it to The Face (which ran it as a two-page “Art” feature headlined “Take the Manet & Run”), Stern, Paris-Match and other hip fashion/culture magazines. “We're only in for the Manet,” McLaren crowed, another seemingly clever phrase actually appropriated from a New Musical Express caption.
[For punk historian and pop culture writer Simon Reynolds, such exploitation underscored McLaren’s transition from “a neo-Situationist agent provocateur top a dirty old man.”]
The intended Manet cover appeared on the initial UK pressing of “See Jungle” in October 1981— just the photo, surrounded by a thin white frame. Says Earl, “that was fantastic. To me, that was the biggest compliment I could have, that the photograph was so well know it didn’t need that title on it.”
Ironically, RCA didn’t want to pay Egan because there was no identifying information (“they didn't get the concept”). Not surprisingly, that cover never saw the light of day in America, where RCA executives insisted they’d never be able to get the album into mainstream stores, “though they were actually more concerned that it didn't have the name of the band on the cover.”
Bow Wow Wow’s debut tour in America was briefly delayed when a British magistrate refused to grant Lwin a visa until McLaren and RCA promised to not use the Manet image or to promote Lwin as a “sex kitten.”
The American cover would fea