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‘Search and Destroy’: Iggy Pop, Punk and the Vietnam War.

‘Search and Destroy’: Iggy Pop, Punk and the Vietnam War.

Iggy Pop and Glen Matlock on Iggy’s New Values tour in 1979. (Punk 70’s Tumblr)

As mentioned in my Punk and New Wave memoir, Bombed Out!, since the mid-1970s I’ve been a massive Iggy Pop fan. One of the times I saw him, at Eric’s Club in Liverpool in 1979, I managed to come away with a haul of swag including silk buttons he’d ripped off his shirt when he came onstage, plectrums dropped by the guitarists and the set list I took off one of the PA monitors, which I still possess today.

Iggy's New Values album released in April 1979.

Iggy’s New Values album released in April 1979.

What fascinates me about Iggy, as I shall call him, is that he has been in business since the time of the Vietnam War and he’s still going strong, spanning three generations – those who fought in the war, those who were too young and those who weren’t even born when the war finally ended.

Iggy Pop's Soldier album released in February 1980.

Iggy Pop’s Soldier album released in February 1980.

His album Raw Power contained a track called Search and Destroy, which he named after he saw an article he read in Time Magazine about such operations during the Vietnam War. This is it:

His influence on the world of Punk was immense, and, perhaps appropriately, the ill-fated Sex Pistols bass player, Sid Vicious, also covered Search and Destroy, live.

It’s a perfect live number for Vicious, because he can play the basic chords, even when he’s off his tits.

By the mid-late 1970s when Punk Rock took off in England, the US was still traumatised by its Vietnam War experience and was licking (or ripping open) its wounds. The UK was faced with a deadly insurgency of its own, right on its doorstep, with what is euphemistically called “the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and a deadly war with the IRA.

It is therefore unsurprising, given Punk’s more inward-looking take on life growing up in the UK, that the Vietnam War didn’t really get a look in, although a few bands did reference the war in their songs, especially American Punk bands.

I’ll feature my favourite Vietnam War-inspired punk songs in another post, but for now, here’s the also-ran’s, which failed to make the cut because (a) they’re not Punk (Paul Hardcastle) and/or (b) because I operated a cut-off at 1980, taking the view that anything War-inspired after that date was the musical equivalent of wanking.

At least in 1980 the Khmer Rouge had only just been deposed and the wartime mayhem in south-east Asian jungles was still fresh in the minds of many people around the world.

Alas, that cut-off would have meant no inclusion for British singer, Paul Hardcastle’s outstanding ’19’ which was released in 1985. The video contains some raw, dramatic actual footage from the war:

It also meant no inclusion for the Dead Kennedys’ Chicken Farm, released in 1985 on their album Frankenchrist. 

But back to Wartime Iggy Pop.

I asked Jack Jolis, the CIA’s unofficial and self-declared Head of Rock Music in Wartime Laos, what he thought of Iggy and the Stooges, David Bowie and Lou Reed at the time of the Vietnam War.

Never one to mince his words, he replied:

“I found them all a bit too much “art” and “pose” and not enough actual music for my taste at the time.

In 1969-1970, Iggy & The Stooges, David Bowie and Lou Reed’s esteem was pretty much restricted to the New York City (and to a lesser extent San Francisco and Boston) “art house” crowd. In other words, their fans were a small, self-appointed “elite” who the rest of the rock and roll population at large regarded as more “poseurs” than actual makers of good old rock music.”

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